I saw two Will Smith films last week, Bad Boys for Life and Gemini Man. While I had a blast with the over-the-top action, mayhem and humor in in the long-awaited third Bad Boys film, I found Director Ang Lee's Gemini Man dull and predictable, with only moments of fleeing excitement and a distracting visual presentation. Bad Boys for Life shows Smith still delivers as an action star, but Director Lee gives him little to work with in Gemini Man outside a stale screenplay from three credited writers. While Bad Boys feels like a nostalgic rush of ‘90s action and adrenaline, Gemini Man feels like a poorly executed thriller that was made two decades ago and shelved, save the hit-or-miss, cutting-age effects. I expect more from Smith and the director of The Life of Pi and Brokeback Mountain; Gemini Man takes an interesting concept about a cloned super-solider and does little to earn viewers' attention.
Smith plays Henry Brogan, a former Marine Scout Sniper now employed as a gun-for-hire by the fictional Defense Intelligence Agency. Henry hesitates during a difficult assassination job but manages to kill his target, causing him to doubt his skills and voluntarily retire from this work. An old friend informs Henry that the man he killed was innocent of any crime and something is amiss in the DIA. Its director, Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond), and head of the secret "GEMINI" program Clay Varris (Clive Owen) plan to kill Henry for asking too many questions. With the help of DIA operative Danny Zakarewski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and friend Baron (Benedict Wong), Henry fights to stay alive. Clay sends his adopted son, nicknamed Junior, to kill Henry, who quickly realizes Junior's appearance, movements and fighting style are eerily similar to his own.
In more ways than one, Gemini Man feels like half a movie. The marketing team had no issue letting audiences know up front that Junior is a clone of Henry. That is an interesting concept, sure, but Gemini Man does little with that core idea. The DIA and its goons are not interesting villains, and the GEMINI program and its purpose are hardly developed plot points. Lee and company are content to feed viewers a quick speech from Clay about saving "real" lives by using clone soldiers, but Gemini Man barely scratches the surface of those sticky implications. I was surprised that the movie winds up being so light on story, and the majority of the film is about Henry meeting up with and fighting against Junior. This occurs in a couple of exotic locations and there are several decent action sequences, particularly a motorcycle chase down city streets, but the film offers little we have not seen before.
Lee made several controversial visual choices here: He shot the film in the high frame rate, 120-frames-per-second style he used for his 2016 film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, a style Peter Jackson also used for his Hobbit trilogy, albeit in 48 frames per second. Lee also used motion-capture and computer effects to de-age Smith for the Junior character. The high frame rate look grew on me in Jackson's epics, but I loathed Gemini Man's visual style and overall appearance. While the included Blu-ray includes a standard 24 frames-per-second presentation, the 4K Ultra HD disc offers the HFR presentation at 60fps, which is downright distracting. Although everything appears in hyper clarity, the HFR presentation gives Gemini Man an ugly, cheap, soap opera look, robbing it of a cinematic appearance and of any grandeur. The de-aging of Smith is more successful, though the Junior character at times is very obviously a completely digital creation. Junior also has a somewhat soulless appearance in close-ups, but that is not necessarily inappropriate given his DNA-replication creation.
Unlike in his performance in Bad Boys for Life, Smith looks a bit bored here, rolling through the action without much conviction. At about two hours, Gemini Man feels longer than it is thanks to the scant story and repetitive action bits. While there are a couple of entertaining sequences and Winstead is good in her supporting role, this is an overall huge disappointment given the talent behind and in front of the camera. With a budget north of $138 million that likely went toward Smith's salary and the digital effects, Gemini Man is shorted by an uninspired story and weak execution. This is one movie you can catch on cable at some point if you are a fan of Lee or Smith. Viewers fond of memorable action films can do better with more successful entries in Smith's filmography.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
I am not a fan of the visual style of this film, but the 4K disc's 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 presentation in native 4K and featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 is fantastic. The 4K disc presents the high frame rate version of Gemini Man in 60fps, while the included Blu-ray, which offers a strong picture, too, presents the film in the traditional 24fps format. I'm going to focus on the 4K presentation here. Detail and clarity are absolutely astounding; texture is off the charts; and the entire presentation is razor-sharp. Although this novel filmmaking approach is not exactly pleasing to this reviewer's eye, there is no issue to be had with this 4K transfer. Fine-object details like facial features and intricate set dressings are abundantly visible; wide shots are clear and miles-deep; and shadow detail is impressive. The HDR pass offers rich, gorgeously saturated colors, particularly in brightly lit, outdoor scenes, and black levels are deep and stable. I noticed no issues with aliasing or edge enhancement; this truly is an amazing 4K image.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I listened to as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is also outstanding. There are no volume issues on this completely immersive and rambunctious mix. Dialogue is totally clear, whether delivered from the center channel or directionally, and is balanced appropriately throughout. Ambient effects like crowd noise and weather place viewers directly into the environment, and action effects, like gunfire, explosions and combat clatter, are absolutely impressive, making use of the entire sound field and subwoofer. The score and soundtrack are given appropriate heft, and all elements work in harmony. A host of 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set comes in a black 4K case and includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray and a digital copy code. The case is wrapped in a slipcover that duplicates the generic key artwork. On the 4K disc you get one brief but interesting extra: Visual Effects Progression by Weta (3:02/4K) is a reel of visual effects progressions that show some of the SFX studio's work here. On the Blu-ray you get an Alternate Opening (5:49/HD); Deleted Scenes (4:34/HD); The Genesis of Gemini Man (2:54/HD), a brief overview of the project; Facing Your Younger Self (5:40/HD), about Smith's dual roles; The Future is Now (18:32/HD), about the tech used to de-age Smith; Setting the Action (15:46/HD), about the stunts and on-location action; Next Level Detail (3:45/HD), which focuses on the catacombs scene; and The Vision of Ang Lee (6:04/HD), a look at Lee's use of high frame rate photography.
I cannot help but think Gemini Man is overwhelmed by its visual quirks. Had this Will Smith-led thriller focused a bit more on its narrative and less on gimmicky high frame rate photography, the end result may have been more satisfying. As it stands, this is a disappointing thriller from Ang Lee that even a pitch-perfect 4K presentation cannot save. Rent It at most.