– for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language.
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: October 11, 2019
Blu-Ray Release Date: January 14, 2020 (Amazon.com)
An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself. (from IMDb)
The action movie genre is often times its own separate niche “animal,” so to speak. In the 80’s and 90’s, it ruled the box office — long before the heroes wore capes or iron suits — and they often didn’t take themselves much too seriously. Today, viewers and especially critics seem to demand a lot more from their entertainment, and it leaves little room for movies that are more aimed to entertain than anything else. Enter Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, which stars former box office golden boy Will Smith in the titular role as a ready-to-retire sharpshooter who gets caught in the crosshairs himself.
Everyone in front of the camera seem to take the story and situations pretty seriously, but the story and action often beg the audience to suspend their disbelief. Smith turns in a solid and committed performance as Henry, a 50-year-old man who has begun feeling his years and questioning his talents. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) joins Smith on the run as a burned agent named Danny, and the two have enough chemistry to make their partnership carry the film. Some of the plot elements–and even character models–may seem a little too familiar for their own good (like Clive Owen’s take on the film’s main antagonist, Clay Verris), but the fact we don’t really get many movies like this anymore–and the fact that it’s still crafted pretty well–makes it seem a little more forgivable. Gemini Man feels like an homage to a genre of days past, and on that front, it mostly works.
Director Ang Lee, whose credits include the hot mess that was 2003’s Hulk (prior to the launch of the MCU 5 years later), and the acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, returns to the action drama, and delivers an entertaining film with strong players, but he leans far too much on special effects to fuel a lot of the action. Back when The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers debuted some 17 years ago, audiences and critics marveled at the emotion and detail that was able to come through Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance of the digital creature, Gollum. Over a decade and a half later, there is still a tangible struggle to get a realistic performance out of digital characters, and Will Smith’s younger, digitally-created self, is seldom convincing (especially when you consider how Marvel successfully and convincingly de-aged Samuel L. Jackson for Captain Marvel just a few months ago!) In the action scene he’s introduced in, he seems completely digital (couldn’t a real stand-in be employed for this?!), and then the first time his face is fully revealed, it feels like an unconvincing mixture of a live human character in a scene with a digital creation. But what’s odd about that is that only a couple scenes later we see far more realistic effects used for the character, with a following scene being actually impressive as he is forced to deliver an emotional performance. But by the film’s end, the effects used for the clone are borderline embarrassing (maybe they were scenes from a reshoot session, so they ran out of time and/or money for the effects?). This movie puts its entire existence on the line with its concept, and the fact that it is so inconsistent just really hurts the end product even more. A great film can often overcome these kinds of shortcomings, but Gemini Man isn’t that kind of movie. Part of that is also due to some ridiculous action moments. Smith is in his early 50’s now, and his character is said to be 51, so when he survives things like tumbling off a motorcycle at a high speed and then getting hit in the head with the wheel of a motorcycle, you have to wonder how they could expect viewers to accept such extreme action as believable. Then, moments later, Smith performs the world’s most impressive push-up as he leaps into the air to avoid getting sliced by the motorcycle yet again. (To be fair, he wears some pretty serious road rash for the rest of the film, but it barely slows him down or seems to affect him all that much.) One other nitpick I have to mention, too–and I’m not sure if it was just especially noticeable on an IMAX screen–but there seemed more than just a couple scenes where characters were inexpicably set against a green screen. They’re mostly talking scenes, but things like a city street or a horizon behind them are visibly green screen shots, albeit to a more keen eye. Again, a movie this reliant on technology and special effects seems like it should be able to deliver more impressive effects.
Big box office blockbusters like Men In Black or Independence Day aside, Will Smith has had a very noteworthy film career, and Gemini Man feels more like a cousin to the more character-driven sci-fi vehicles he made in the 2000’s, like I, Robot and I Am Legend. Smith is a solid and charismatic actor–and maybe that signature cocky attitude of his was what his character of Henry could have benefited from in Gemini Man, but his character here makes sense as a more serious portrayal since he’s clearly experiencing an existential crisis of sorts as he tries to retire from his hitman ways but can’t seem to escape his demons. Furthermore, he’s being hunted by his younger self and tries to confront his shortcomings in the process. You can’t say that Smith and Lee don’t try to make Gemini Man more than a mindless action film, but it does fallback too much on what the genre in its heyday used to be. (There’s even a scene toward the end that is altogether out of left field and predictable that makes the bewildered look on the characters’ faces all that more appropriate).
The content for Gemini Man is a firm PG-13, with quite a bit of violence and a fair amount of language. There are stretches of the film without either, but the language did pick up as the film’s story gained momentum. There is one casually spoken “F” word (when someone asks what “AMF” stands for, and Danny answers), and then Danny, with her mouth taped up, clearly muffles out a “*bleep* you.” Otherwise, there’s about 11 uses of the “S” word and “h*ll,” as well as an assortment of other colorful words, including blasphemy. The violence is heavy at times, with blood mostly being shown on wounds and as part of the aftermath of the action. We see a couple characters with big bloody road rash abrasions on their face and body, and at one point, a close-up of a deep cut on Henry’s arm that Danny is sewing up. There’s also a brief moment where Danny threatens to interrogate a guy without his teeth (meaning she’d extract them), and then the next shot shows her dumping a handful of teeth into Henry’s hand (we don’t see anything else though). Several characters sustain facial injuries, too, which leave them with some bloody cuts on their face throughout the movie.
With all the bad buzz surrounding Gemini Man, I was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did (and Lorne Balfe’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout-style film score definitely didn’t hurt the feel of this movie either). It’s hardly a great movie, but it’s well-acted and enjoyable enough to be worth watching for anyone who can enjoy a big action popcorn film as much as an Oscar-winning drama. It doesn’t live up to Smith’s prior film legacy (hey, it was better than Wild Wild West and Collateral Beauty at least), which is a shame, but I think it shows that Smith can still deliver in this genre, even if the script may be lacking. If you can appreciate a flawed action movie and not take it too seriously, than Gemini Man is the kind of rainy afternoon matinee (or lazy evening rental) that should get the job done.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/19/19)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The 4K UHD combo pack of Gemini Man includes the feature film in stunning 4K UHD, the standard Blu-Ray disc and a digital copy, along with the following Extras:
Gemini Man in 4K UHD – Gemini Man was filmed in 4K at 120 FPS (frames per second), which is almost 100 frames more per second than the standard 24 FPS presentations. The 4K UHD disc presentation shows the film at 60 FPS, which is still over twice the usual frames per second. As such, the film has that ultra-smooth quality to it that many TVs come factory set to. Ang Lee wanted to avoid the “skipping” and choppiness that the usual frame rate gives, and I can definitely say this does do away with that. However, some scenes and sets look more like B-roll footage than cinematic. However, I did find myself mostly adjusting to it while watching the movie. It’s incredible seeing every little wave in the water and every tiny spark of an explosion. This is a great example of what 4K can show. And while the digital younger version of Will Smith’s character is still a bit jarring at times, this 4K presentation works a lot better than the theatrical IMAX presentation I had first seen the film in. Some scenes are super impressive – like Junior’s emotional talk with Clay, or some of the catacombs scenes. Overall, this movie was literally made for the 4K presentation and should be watched in that format if possible.
Deleted Scenes – There are three deleted scenes, shown separately. “Alternate Opening” (5:50) is the same as the theatrical version, but it also parallels Henry on the job simultaneously with his younger self also doing a hit. The only reason this would have been good to see is that we never actually get to see Junior “in his element” like we do Henry. “I Found a Plane for Us” (0:40) is a little snippet of Benedict Wong’s character making a phone call. Finally, “Original Yuri Scene” (3:55) had been originally shot in Budapest. It was then rewritten, recast and reshot in New York 10 months later. This scene feels much different than the one in the finished film, and the newer version works a lot better.
The Genesis of Gemini Man (2:54) – The film has been over 20 years in the making, with Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford having been in the running for the role years ago at one point. The technology just hadn’t been there yet to make it possible.
Facing Your Younger Self (5:41) – This featurette focuses on how Will Smith had acted out both characters, using motion capture for his younger self, and even had to go back and rewatch himself when he was younger to try to recapture who he was then. (Specifically the fact that he was more reckless.) (There’s 1 “g*dd*mn” and 1 “J-sus” from a scene)
The Future is Now (18:33) – Will, director Ang Lee, and the crew talk about the technology they used to make this film. Smith says that they went back to his look in the first Bad Boys movie and used that as a model for his younger self in this film. Smith did the motion capture for Junior during principal photography, and then he was replaced by a 100% computer generated character. They show us the fine details of animating Junior as well, including the layers of color of his skin, the shine of the skin, the muscles, and even the tiny pores. When Will had to act in the same scene with Junior, stand-ins were used, and then he’d act out the scene as Junior and a stand-in was used for Henry. The rest of the featurette then talks about the details of the motorcycle chase with how they did it, then the catacombs fight and finally, the climactic fight of the film.
Setting the Action (15:46) – Here, the cast and crew talk about learning from director Ang Lee and his grand vision for raising the bar regarding technology within filmmaking. It also covers the on-location set pieces in Savannah, Colombia, and Budapest. In Colombia, they utilized historical villages with 400-year-old walls and 500-year-old streets. They reveal more details of the motorcycle fight, the catacombs fight, and filming in Savannah for Danny’s big one-on-one fight early in the film. They then take us to Glennville, GA, which served as the setting for the climactic fight at the end. There, we see them setting up the convenience store to be rigged for exploding effects (which is pretty neat to see how they accomplished this).
Next Level Detail (3:44) – In this segment, the VFX Supervisor talks about how they based the catacombs set in Budapest on one that really exists underneath Paris. He talks about the materials they used to make it, too, including wood, plaster, and “lots of” paint. He even reveals that the floor is made of rubber to protect the actors during the fight scenes.
The Vision of Ang Lee (5:30) continues talk on Ang’s goal for the technological aspects of the film. He shot it at 120 frames in 3D and 4K, with some theaters presenting the film in this way. (Normally, films are only shot in and shown at 24 frames per second!)
Visual Effects Progression – Presented by WETA (3:03) – Here are a series of visual effects passes, showing the originally shot images with a wipe that shows their final product after VFX were added in. Scenes covered include the motorcycle chase, various shots of digital Will being substituted throughout the film, and digital set recreations (like the store during the film’s climax).
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/12/20)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Henry’s friend Jack is clearly married, but we see a beautiful young blonde in a bikini walking around on his yacht. Henry calls him out on it and Jack makes an excuse that he’s making up for the years he spent in service. Henry then makes a crack about Jack having done this sort of thing back then, too. Later, we see the girl standing on the back of the yacht wearing just a thin robe of sorts, with it being open, covering her chest, but revealing a sliver open down the center past her bellybutton. (No explicit detail is seen.); A woman is forced to strip for a security check. We see her in her bra and a man walks around her looking her up and down (nothing explicit is shown); A man asks another man if he’s still a virgin (because he has trouble getting close to people).
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word (and 1 additional muffled one), 9 “S” words, 11 “h*ll,” 4 “a” words, 1 “*ssh*le,” 3 “J-sus,” 3 “g*dd*mn,” 1 “p*ss off”
Alcohol/Drugs: Henry’s friend comes to his house and asks for a drink. Henry gives him his; Jack has a drink on his yacht; Danny and Henry order boiler makers at a restaurant; We see people drinking in a bar; We see Henry’s friend with a drink, but Henry takes it and replaces it with a Coke.
Blood/Gore: After Henry shoots a man on a train, we see footage of blood splattered on the seat next to him and blood on his head; Danny has bloody cuts on her face and blood running from her nose after a fight she has with a hitman. We see smaller, dried versions of these cuts on her face for most of the rest of the film; Danny dumps a handful of slightly bloody teeth into Henry’s hand after she interrogated the hitman; Henry has bloody abrasions on his arms and side of his face and neck after falling off his motorcycle; We see Junior with a large, slightly bloody abrasion on his back as Clay cleans it for him; We see Danny briefly helping to clean and sew a wound on Henry’s arm; We see a catacomb with lots and lots of skulls and bones of dead people; A man sticks a knife into another’s bicep and we briefly see this. He then holds up a bloody microchip; A person is shot in the leg and we see them tie up their leg which is soaked in blood (it just looks wet because their pants are already dark)
Violence: We see Henry shoot into a moving train to kill a man. We later see phone video footage of people running around in a panic after this happened. We also see some of the bloody aftermath; Henry swats a bee with his hat; We see some tactical team members attacking and killing people. Henry takes out a squad at his house by shooting them down dead; Danny fights off one of these guys in a pretty brutal hand-to-hand fight; We see a man and woman get taken out and dumped off a boat into water. This transitions into a nightmare Henry is having of a memory of his childhood where he feared drowning; A man is murdered off screen while on the phone with Henry; Two men engage in a heated chase through city streets and across rooftops on motorcycles. At one point, one throws a grenade at the other which causes an explosion. They shoot at each other and engage in fist-fights. One knocks the other off a motorcycle and then hits him in the face with the wheel of their motorcycle. The man being attacked gets thrown over a car and jumps to narrowly miss getting hit by the motorcycle again; We see characters having wounds being cleaned or stitched up; A woman is gagged and tied up; Two men have a violent fight underground that ends in a pool of water with one of them getting shot in the shoulder; We see photos of a dead tactical team on an iPad; We see a flashback of a body floating in the water dead after Henry drowned at the start of his training; A man uses a knife to cut a chip out of another man’s arm (not seen in detail); We see gunmen shooting in the air with a crowd of people around them. They launch a drone and shoot people in the head with darts. We then find out it’s just a training simulation; A man is injected with bee venom, who is allergic to it, and falls to the ground, struggling to breathe (he’s saved before he can die, however); A van is blown up by a missile, killing someone inside; Henry and Danny shoot up some tactical soldiers. There is more fighting and explosions; A masked soldier uses martial arts while attacking a couple of people. He is shot in the head multiple times with grenades from a grenade launcher and is doused in fire. He eventually dies from injuries we do not see; A character is shot in the face with a shotgun, but we don’t see anything graphic, just the body flying backward.