Gemini Man is an impeccably crafted paperback thriller
Note: Our press screening of Gemini Man was shown in 2D and 24 frames per second, so I can’t comment on the technical aspects.
If Gemini Man had come out fifteen years ago, the advertising would have likely been something like this: “LEE. BRUCKHEIMER. SMITH. SMITH.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s brand was primarily The Rock, Enemy of the State, Bad Boys, and Black Hawk Down, action movies for dads that prioritized spectacle, odd characters, and quippy one-liners over coherent plotting. In fact, convoluted plots were often substituted for clever ones, but if a Buckheimer actioner is doing its job, you won’t even notice it doesn’t add up, because they’re more about the moment-to-moment ‘this is awesome’ feeling. There was a turning point in 2003, when Bruckheimer productions steered both Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II and Gore Verbinski’s The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. From there, we got four more Pirates films and a smattering of other would-be franchise starters for Disney, but 2006’s Déjà Vu is the most recent film I’d describe as a proper Jerry Bruckheimer action movie. Until now. Because Gemini Man presses a specific nostalgia button I didn’t even know I had, for this specific style of movie, intended not to spawn a trilogy, but to tell a fun story that made me feel ‘this is awesome’ at least a dozen times while watching it. Bruckheimer is back, baby!
This movie’s concept–of an older hitman being hunted by his younger clone–has been floating around Hollywood since 1997 (with everyone from Harrison Ford to Jon Voight attached at various times), and through how many untold rewrites and changes, it retains that kind of 90s science fiction action thriller sensibility that used to star Arnold Schwarzeneggar, then Tom Cruise. Delivering it into the extremely capable hands of Ang Lee gives the film a much different feel than it would from a lot of other filmmakers. The spectacle isn’t Michael Bay-style explosions and symphonic action, but rather a much smaller character movie where one of the characters is the spectacle.
Lee imbues the entire film with themes. Mirrors are talked about almost as often as they’re seen. Smith’s character, Henry Brogan, talks about ghosts as well, and laments some of the choices he’s made. The film opens with him killing someone he’s told is a terrorist, and the fallout from that assassination drives the plot forward. Gemini Man is fully similar to The Bourne Identity or any of those airport thriller novels, in tone and focus, with ‘one good man’ going up against a government twisted by conspiracies and secret agendas. In this case, it is the existence of Junior, a clone of Henry, played by Smith with a heavy dose of computer assistance.
As an effect, Junior is at times extremely impressive, and at other times still feels a bit more rubbery than he should (there’s a couple moments in the motorcycle chase seen in the trailer where he seems like he’s a bit too floaty). But it’s enough to sell the film, and it’s necessary since Junior is more or less the heart of the film, as the older Brogan goes up against his old commander (Clive Owen) in a battle to save his younger clone’s soul. It would be easy to call the plot of the film half-baked, but to do so is to miss the point of the film. Lee is much more concerned about how we confront our present selves through the lens of our past choices. Each time a trigger is pulled–a decision is made in our lives–it creates an irreversible mark on ourselves. We are forever changed. And Brogan seizes the existence of Junior as his chance to steer a younger him onto a different path.
And while Lee certainly has a vested interest in the weighty themes this film is barreling through, this movie is just as fun as the best paperback capers. Part of that has to do with supporting turns from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong. Winstead plays an agent that gets wrapped up in Brogan’s fight accidentally, but also gets one of the best fights in the movie. And Wong. What can I say about Benedict Wong? He’s clearly having a blast playing the quippy sidekick role, as the exhausted ferryman flying Brogan around the world when he’d prefer sipping frozen margaritas and watching soccer.
The other part is that the film does not skimp on the action. Shooting for 3D and high frame rate means that the action has a rhythm and clarity missing from so many other blockbusters. Aside from your Missions: Impossible and John Wicks, Gemini Man is one of the best looking in recent memory. There’s a whole bag of tricks Lee is deploying in tandem to make this happen, including long takes, quick bursts of speed ramping, and unusual perspectives.
Gemini Man is a great reminder that occasionally a throwback can feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s the exact kind of movie I didn’t even know I wanted in 2019 but I’m so glad we got it.
Gemini Man opens in Philly theaters this evening in 60 FPS 3D and 24 FPS 2D. The closest theaters to Philadelphia playing it in the ultra high frame rate of 120 FPS are the AMC White Marsh 16 in Baltimore and the AMC Lincoln Square in New York City. Philadelphia and Phoenix are the largest cities in the US without a theater capable of showing the film in Lee’s chosen frame rate.