The latest formal experiment from Ang Lee, Gemini Man feels caught between the wholly conventional and the entirely unfamiliar. It deploys two new technologies in tandem, using de-aging and a frame-rate higher than the human eye can technically perceive to make another Lee film about fathers, pondering on the gruelling effects of military service and ‘patriotism’ as in his previous film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
This film follows the plight of Henry Brogen, a world-class assassin whose retirement is cut short as his government turns him into an Enemy Of The State and sends a clone of his younger self, named Junior, to kill him. If this sounds like a Bruckheimer film from decades ago, you’d be half right. Originally intended for Tony Scott, the 20 year old script’s age feels apparent at almost every moment, from Junior first appearing in a backwards cap and Oakley shades to a teenager saying “science is wicked boring!”
It (mostly) sidesteps the usual, unsettling caveats of de-aging technology by creating Junior from scratch, using motion capture performance by Smith perfectly modulated to how he was around that age – Fresh Prince fans may be struck by deja vu during a teary-eyed confrontation with his father/commanding officer Clay (Clive Owen). Gemini Man feels uncanny in a different way; the high frame rate and 3D transforming the screen into a window into reality, or in its worst moments, something resembling the look of a daytime soap.
While scenes focused on conversation suffer from the strange look and heavy-handed exposition, the action thrives, perhaps most during Henry and Junior’s confrontation in Colombia, where the latter pummels the former using a motorbike. It’s all displayed with great confidence and as much detail as possible, chases through buildings and streets and clone on clone fistfights shot in propulsive, thrilling long takes. The film occasionally flirts with a video game aesthetic – POV shots of rifle scopes in 120FPS, 2K 3D recalling the twitchy motions of first person shooters.
As an experimental cinematic experience, Gemini Man is wholly unique and shouldn’t be missed, more than worth seeing for its dynamic, immaculately staged action. But it’s a better tech showcase than a story, strange and enthralling to look at, if not listen to, as the kinks are still being ironed out for this new mode of filming.