Ang Lee is a director that I’ve never really had strong feelings about, one way or the other. I’ve seen several of his biggest films, and liked most of them, but there are also a whole lot of blindspots on his filmography for me. But, last year when the wonderful Blank Check podcast did an entire miniseries on his films, I did grow a certain amount of respect for him. I still haven’t seen all of his movies, but it’s hard to deny that he isn’t an interesting director, and one who is usually game to try something really weird. And, it makes sense, because historically it seems like whenever Lee tries to do something safe and predictable, it’s a failure, and when he swings for the fences and makes a movie that’s seemingly for no one, it’s a huge hit. And, in that vein, his latest obsession seems to be pushing the boundaries of digital film-making, both in terms of CGI and in terms of digital photography. I personally haven’t seen too many movies accurately projected in High Frame Rate, but what few I have haven’t really been positive experiences for me. The science behind it, and the weird sociological factors of what humans have been trained to find acceptable in their movies, visually, it fascinating, but in general this era of Lee’s filmography has been largely academic for me. He’s trying bold and weird things with the camera, but the movies just aren’t for me. And yet, after the fascinatingly bizarre choices of his last feature, Billy Lyne’s Long Halftime Walk, it seems like Lee has learned some lessons and it attempting to throttle back his new interests by making a much more mainstream film, Gemini Man. It’s a movie that looks and feels like a 90’s blockbuster, which isn’t necessarily a compliment or an insult, and it certainly is a strange film. One that I’m still not quite sure exactly how I’ve landed on.
Gemini Man is largely the story of Henry Brogan, an over-the-hill assassin working for the government, and who is largely considered the finest killer the government has ever had. But, after a mission doesn’t go completely perfectly, Brogan decides it’s time for him to retire, hoping to go out on top before he does something he can’t forget. Which, doesn’t really make his superiors happy, since he’s been a very useful tool for their machinations. But, Brogan doesn’t really care, and goes off to live a life of quiet retirement, while being watched by a young agent named Dani Zakarweski. But, Brogan’s retirement is put in jeopardy when an old colleague of his asks to meet, giving him information that his final assassination target wasn’t actually who he was told they were, and in actuality was a scientist involved in a government program. Brogan doesn’t really give this much thought, until government killers arrive and try to kill him. He manages to escape, and rescues Dani before she too is murdered, proving to him that he’s accidentally stumbled upon something dangerous. Brogan and Dani meet up with an old friend of Brogan’s named Baron, and they fly across the world to meet with a contact who maybe has some information about the people trying to kill them. And, before getting too much info, Brogan is attacked by a young operative who seems to know all of his moves, and outclasses him in every way. But, Brogan gets lucky, and the operative flees while Brogan recuperates with his new team, and head off for more information.
We then learn about Gemini, a military contractor company which is ran by a former mentor of Brogan’s named Clay Varris. He is training a breed of supersoliders, through genetic manipulation, and even has a genetically crafted son. Who just so happens to be cloned from Brogan’s genetic material. This man, Junior, doesn’t know the truth of his life, and he was the one fighting Brogan. He is sent back out to kill Brogan, at the same time that Brogan and Dani realize who and what Junior is. So, they come up with a plan to try and reason with Brogan, offering up Dani as a hostage so that she can pump him for information, and eventually let Brogan in to try and talk with Junior. Junior refuses to accept the truth and flees, but ends up confronting Varris and learning the truth. It’s more than he can handle, and he ends up aiding Brogan, Dani, and Baron in their assault on the Gemini headquarters. Baron dies in the process, and the three agents are forced to deal with Varris’ super soldiers, eventually killing a third Brogan clone that can feel no pain. This finally proves that Varris is evil, and Junior allows Brogan to kill the man, freeing them both. Junior then sets out to have a normal life, while forging a relationship with Brogan.
Like I said earlier, I was completely shocked at just how much this movie looked and felt like a 90’s action flick, something that Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have produced in 1997. Which, certainly makes sense when you learn that the script came from the 90’s. And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly an aesthetic that I have a lot of nostalgic affection for, and Gemini Man definitely ends up feeling like something I would have watched a bunch on TNT back in the day. But, that’s not necessarily a glowing endorsement. The movie is just kind of fine. It’s an incredibly goofy film, with a laughably cheesy plot, that is honestly mostly carried by its lead performances and the technological aspects of it. And, I didn’t even end up seeing it in the high frame rate that Lee shot it in, since no theaters anywhere near me where even doing that. And, I was kind of surprised at just how unsettling the whole de-aging thing really was. Which, kind of caught me off guard, because I feel like Marvel has been using it pretty well, especially with something like Captain Marvel which featured Samuel L Jackson wearing digital makeup the entire movie. But here it just felt incredibly unnatural, especially whenever little Will Smith was out in the daylight, which was weirdly one of the movies bigger draws. And yet, Will Smith is certainly one of the more charismatic people on the planet, and this movie gives us two of him, both of which are putting in pretty decent performances, which really go a long way to make up for the lackluster script.
By and large, there’s nothing too special about Gemini Man’s plot. It’s pretty boilerplate actually. Its a story about the world’s greatest assassin learning that the government has sanctioned a corporation to do something wildly unethical. I mean, aside from the world’s greatest assassin stuff, that’s kind of everyday news right there. Maybe this idea would have been revolutionary back in 1997 when it was first pitched, but we live in a world where it’s kind of understood that corporate America and the US government are up to all sorts of shady shit at all times. I mean, the movie even kind of makes it seem shocking that Gemini would be training these soldiers to send out and essentially commit war-crimes, as if there aren’t dozens of companies that do just that in employ in the Middle East. It just completely feels like a movie out of time, a weird time capsule from a more naive time where this plot would be shocking and interesting, instead of something that we could conceivably read about in the New York Times before shrugging and moving onto the next atrocity.
Gemini Man was written by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke, directed by Ang Lee, and released by Paramount Pictures, 2019
Categories: Reel Talk