Sunday, 20 October 2019

Review: Gemini Man

Gemini Man (SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 117 mins / Dir. Ang Lee / Trailer

Who among us ever thought they'd see the day, where old and new can collide seamlessly before our eyes? The marriage of cutting-edge technology (to the point where it's not yet finished, in fact) and some of the most retrograde action filler you've seen since the early 90s straight-to-video boom? Yet here we are, standing agog as US Government black-ops hitman Henry Brogan (Will Smith) battles it out with someone who looks a bit like Will Smith used to look a quarter of a century ago, if you squint. And you've had a couple of drinks. And if you never really paid that much attention to Will Smith a quarter of a century ago.


But hey, it's all good fun! No wait, it's not is it? That's right, it's not good fun. I'm always getting those mixed up. The first act of Ang Lee's Gemini Man lopes along like a perfectly serviceable moody thriller that's about to set up its mind-shattering reveal. Except that reveal has already been completely undercut by a) the film's title, b) the film's poster, and c) the film's trailer which explains the entire fucking concept before its audience has even had a chance to buy a ticket.

Dropped into the October schedule like a badly rendered stepchild, Gemini Man comes over as a shelved 199x Van Damme thriller which has been waiting for the technology to catch up, and when it did Jason Statham said he was busy so they phoned Will Smith instead. And then it turned out the technology had lied about catching up. And lied badly.

So it's Looper but for people who don't like thinking about stuff. Will Smith trying to kill his other self, except one of The Will Smiths is younger and both of The Will Smiths are good people really and it was all Evil Clive Owen's fault anyway, with the latter's accent from the Washington DC suburb of Walthamstow and having gone up four trouser sizes on account of all the fucking scenery he's chewing. Benedict Wong stars as the gadget-guy / pilot / comic-relief. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is The Girl One*1. More on her later.


On the plus-side, the action sequences are relatively well shot and directed in terms of actual physicality. The movie features a gorgeous continuous tracking shot of Smith-Senior on a motorcycle, and that's doing so well until he starts being chased in turn by Smith-Junior. The resulting fracas contains some of the worst animated acrobatics in living cinematic memory (think of the swing-sequences in 2002's Spider-Man, except it's 2019 and now there's really no excuse). Your leading man puts in a satisfactory turn in a role which isn't more than half-written anyway, as do Winstead and Wong. But Gemini Man was never about characterisation to begin with.

Yes, as to the main attraction? Well, future-phobes will be relieved to hear we're not there yet. Much like Tarkin and Leia from Rogue One, the digitally de-aged Will Smith looks more or less fine. Until his face begins to move that is, at which point we're sent hurtling down the Uncanny Valley fast enough to give us whiplash. Although as much as Smith-Junior looks like Pixar's work-in-progress of animating a new turnip character, his digital visage still emotes more feeling than that of Clive Owen; the cinematic equivalent of a bookmark in that he just sits there inert, not adding anything to the plot and whose only function is to periodically remind you where you'd got to. Gemini Man is clinical proof that any mediocre film can always be made worse by Owen's presence.

So in the third act where, coincidentally, a third Smith turns up (in a twist so ham-fistedly telegraphed that you can almost hear Ang Lee hoping that no one in the audience has seen Oblivion) - I was thinking 'Oh, hang on... ace-marksman assassin, super-fighter, wearing a mask... is Will Smith's other self Deadshot? Is this a deftly-marketed Suicide Squad lead-in?' Nope. No such luck, mate. Wishful coincidence. It's just another Will Smith.


The passage of time is treated as an inconvenience throughout, international air journeys undertaken off-screen and in apparently zero-time according to the conversations continuing around them. The whole thing is edited as if a two-hour movie has been commissioned for a 45-minute TV slot (oh that it were so short). Although at one point during an in-car, background-painting conversation as Smith-Junior asks his progenitor "you grew up in Philadelphia, right?", I at least thought we were going to get some rapping thrown in to add some much-needed goodwill nostalgia. Nope, another opportunity missed.

Still, at least a flick like this can bring some woke 21st century sensibility to the action genre, right? As if. At one point where Smith-Senior is fighting his younger self in the Budapest catacombs*2, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's sole purpose as a trained, qualified and experienced government agent is to stand pointing a shotgun at them. Not as a threat or a warning, but because it's got a torch mounted on the top and the audience wouldn't be able to see what's happening otherwise. Five minutes later when the brawl has moved to a subterranean pool, she drops a flare in and jumps in after them. I mean does the Bechdel Test even matter when your supporting actress is doubling as your lighting technician? Isn't that equality enough, guys?

We close with some faux-philosophical bantering about the ethics of cloning and patriotism (no, seriously), a payoff which probably looked neat on the page followed by the kind of implausibly happy ending that feels like it was written and assembled over a year after principal photography. Not least because Smith-Junior's CGI face is by this point so warped and distended that it looks as if a swarm of wasps may be about to emerge at any moment.

"I'm gonna be okay!" says our reformed demi-protagonist as the credits beckon. No. You're really not, mate. None of us are going to be okay until the Uncanny Valley is left out of Hollywood journey-planning for good...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Screaming into a mirror and noticing your reflection is out of sync.
And is drawn in crayon

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is not.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Not particularly.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Ric Olié is in this.

And while we're on the subject, David Benioff has co-written the screenplay to Gemini Man. That's David Benioff as in "Benioff & Weiss" from The Game Of The Thrones. Now, I don't watch GoT (long story, no real agenda but catch me about it another time), but if Gemini Man is anything to go by then the upcoming Star Wars project from Benioff & Weiss is probably in the shit already...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And if you find yourself in the fandom subset of being a) British, and b) slightly in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, you'll be pleasantly surprised when Will Smith arrives on his aggressively pursued date to find Mary already halfway through a pint. Fantastic stuff, albeit another callback to mid-90s UK culture. Mind you, a waiter brings over two more pints a minute later and all of a sudden the one she had in front of her is gone. Like the waiter's taken that away. We didn't see her finish it. Either the continuity sucks in this movie or the table service does... [ BACK ]

*2 And why does this part of the film take place in Budapest? No idea. No real reason at all mate. Not mentioned. Scenery and/or tax breaks, one imagines. But they come and go back to Langley VA like it's nipping round to the Co-Op for some milk. Which would be arguably a more interesting film... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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