As far as filmmaking goes, Lee has never been afraid to push the envelope. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon saw him bring Asian cinema to the American mainstream, while Brokeback Mountain tackled taboo topics and showed once again why cinema plays an important part in opening up discussions in society. Then there was Life of Pi, a film which used CGI in a way that no other director had ever dared to imagine.
Therefore, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise when it was announced that Lee’s new film Gemini Man would once again attempt to use cutting-edge technology to bring its audience something fresh and new. The technology that Lee decided to use saw the film shot digitally at an extra-high frame rate of 120 frames per second and then modified to 3D.
Lee thought the finished product would make audiences feel like they were standing right there amongst the action. Instead, what has been delivered is a terrible cinematic experience on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s fall from grace when he helmed the ill-fated The Last Airbender.
When it comes to plot, Gemini Man is made up of a story that action heroes like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have fallen over themselves to be involved with back in the 1990s. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, one of the government’s top hitmen. After a hit becomes too close for comfort, he decides to retire, but when he learns a painful secret about his career, he suddenly finds another agent, Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is sent to kill him. After explaining to her that she is mistaken, an even deadlier enemy arrives to finish off the job: a clone of Brogan’s younger self.
With a plot like that, you could easily imagine a brilliant film that delivers an intense exploration of cloning alongside the suspense of a big action blockbuster. Sadly, though, Gemini Man just doesn’t deliver at all.
First of all, it looks bad. You may remember that this type of extra-high frame rate film technique failed miserably when it was trialled in The Lord of the Rings franchise, and here it does exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason.
The problem is it leaves the image way too clear, which results in a sun-drenched look that you would normally see on a television soap like The Bold and the Beautiful. And while some may say that it makes the audience feel part of the action, that crystal clear vision also means that the filmmaker can no longer “hide” all the magic of cinema.
Suddenly, fake blood is identifiable as fake blood, and as we see here a stuntman filling in for Will Smith is forced to cover his face in an absolutely ludicrous way so the audience can’t tell that he isn’t Smith. Yes, for the motorcycle sequence you will be gasping in wonder, but for the rest of the film you will be groaning with disappointment.
If the visual aspects of Gemini Man don’t have you groaning, I can guarantee that some of the cheesy lines and woeful dialogue certainly will. There’s a scene in the film between Danny, Brogan and the clone where the dialogue is so bad that you would swear it had been lifted from some terrible family soap opera. Then there are the cheesy lines throughout the film that sound like the screenwriter was desperate to try and deliver a catchphrase.
Hearing Brogan declare that he is from Philadelphia as he gives his life story does, for once, get the audience to laugh but for all the wrong reasons as they recall the lyrics that Smith sang during the title credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
It’s easy to see that what Ang Lee wanted to deliver with Gemini Man was an action film that went down in history for changing the face of cinema. What he has created, though, is a film so bad that it’s likely to become a cult classic for the same reason The Room has become a must-see – a film that shows young filmmakers how not to make a film and has them laughing from start to finish.
Perhaps one day a filmmaker will take a look at something as serious as cloning in a way that can open up discussion for the audience, but Gemini Man certainly isn’t that film. Like Ang Lee, Will Smith rarely delivers a flop, but somehow them working together has resulted in one of the worst films of the year.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus