Visual Effects Overwhelm Story
Rarely does conventional wisdom hold in Hollywood. Particularly with regards to the notion that less is more and that simplicity is superior to elaborate embellishment. Take, for instance Jerry Bruckheimer, the titan of TNT, who subscribes to the theory that if a candle is needed for a shot, then a stick of dynamite will be even better. Well, heís a producer on the new film, Gemini Man, which stars Will Smith. And in true Bruckheimer fashion, one Will Smith wasnít enough. So the film stars two of them. One, the real deal. The other, a digitally de-aged facsimile of the 51-year-old actor. But as might be expected, two Will Smiths arenít any better than one.
The story is about an aging assassin who comes under pursuit by a younger, even more lethal antagonist who seems to know his every move before he makes it. Thatís because his enemy turns out to be Ö himself. But at only half his current age.
The younger, fitter Will Smith was done via a combination of motion capture and some other difficult to understand visual effects techniques that werenít available to filmmakers until recently. Actors had to film their parts multiple times with stand-ins, by themselves, and on green screen. The pieces were then digitally re-assembled to have Smith face off and appear alongside his younger self.
The result is, indeed, a slick-looking technical marvel. However, it isnít perfect. Especially in some more well-lit scenes where Junior looks and moves more like a video game imitation and where actors struggle to match sightlines. And just wait until you see the giant fake tears rolling down Juniorís cheeks. The drama. It is good enough, but there are many more reasons why this whole thing doesnít work.
Smith is Henry Brogan a veteran ex-Special Forces sniper turned assassin for a clandestine government organization on the verge of retirement from the Defense Intelligence Agency. With his suspicions confirmed that something wasnít quite right about his latest hit, Brogan and cohort Danny Zakarweski (a quite good Mary Elizbaeth Winstead) find themselves in the crosshairs of their superiors as well as with a nefarious military contractor named Clay Verris (Clive Owen) who sics Junior (computer version of Will Smith) on them. We soon learn that Junior was created from the Assassinís own DNA many years ago, and programmed to be some sort of super soldier.
The idea behind the story is ripe for some interesting and complex themes such as nature vs. nurture, and the universal questions surrounding morality. Screenwriters David Benioff and Billy Ray touch on some of those, and even get into some of the more meaty questions of what a man might tell a younger version of himself. But they stay mostly on the surface and never go quite deep enough. After all, we have to get to the next action piece, right?
The film is directed by Ang Lee, who is certainly no stranger to heavy effects-laden films, having won multiple Oscars for 2012ís Life of Pi. So he should know and understand that story is king and that a great tale should never play second fiddle to whiz-bang visual effects. But sadly, in Gemini Man, it does. Full of thin characters, an even thinner plot, and an endless string of over-the-top action pieces, Gemini Man feels as if it was written around a new type of technology. And in a way, it was. For an idea that had been kicked around since the Ď90s as it waited for technology to catch up, it sure feels rushed.
Ang shot the film at 120 frames per second as opposed to the usual 24, as well as in 4K and in 3D. It must be noted that I watched the standard version, so I suppose thereís a chance the digital Junior might appear more convincing at the higher frame rate. But as it is, Gemini Man is a well-acted, poorly written action movie that never takes its unique premise anywhere interesting.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated ďPG-13Ē for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.