starring Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
screenplay by David Benioff and Billy Ray and Darren Lemke
directed by Ang Lee
by Walter Chaw Many stories are like this, about how heroes reach an age where a younger doppelgänger shows up on the scene to establish their reputation at the expense of the old Alpha. As hairless primates fond of the Oedipus story, we're attracted to this tale of the son becoming the father. When a phantom Marlon Brando frames Superman Returns thusly in that film's prologue, it's stated so magisterially it rings with the heft of cathedral bells. What Ang Lee's Gemini Man presupposes is: what if the young gunslinger looking to make his mark is a literal clone of the old gunslinger? It's kind of an intriguing idea, if you think that cloning someone from DNA and a surrogate uterus will result in shared skills and memories--like those stories about identical twins marrying women with the same name and knowing when the other is in danger or some shit. It's considerably less intriguing when its premise relies on this but, knowing that's stupid, then tries to shoehorn in a ton of exposition and backstory to explain what should probably have been left unexplained. At the mid-point of Gemini Man, when what millions of dollars of advertising have already spoiled needs to be explained, it's poor spook Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) left to mouth the "you just need an egg!" explanation. Better if said explanation were that they'd figured out some way to clone someone and then implant the training. Oh, never mind.
Benedict Wong lends his talents as an old pilot buddy, and because this screenplay has sat around unproduced since the '90s, he does what Asian sidekicks have always done in American movies and goes into the great adventure before bwana. Likewise, Danny, who may have been written as a man but is assuredly now a woman, becomes a hostage with tape over her mouth. I would have liked if a film this interested in revolutionary technology was as interested in a progressive script--especially with our most feted Asian-American director at the helm. Lee, alas, seems most invested in the HFR and advanced 3-D gizmos that make the film look exactly like the porn knock-off of itself, calling attention to the absolute artificiality of the sets, the props, the smallness of the illusion of cinema when it's not shot on a medium that simulates, or is, film. High frame rate may be a space-age innovation, but to the naked eye it looks like the local news, or that home video you took on your phone of the community-theatre spring production. For Lee, it's a mountain to be climbed without first assessing if there's any point to the ascent, other than that it's there. There isn't. In truth, I'd be curious to see Gemini Man at a standard frame rate. I'm now the old man shouting at clouds.
Credit Gemini Man at least for allowing Lee another shot post-Hulk at eliciting human emotion through a digital simulacrum. An extended sequence--really, every sequence is extended--where Junior confronts his "dad" Clay (Junior should've been named "Clay," because the Bible) has the distinction of causing me to wonder whether Lee himself, as he did in Hulk, had done the face-mapping performance for the CGI puppet instead of Smith. Even money he did some of it. There's fascination in the conversation about why Lee is obsessed with this sort of Frankenstein pursuit and even some level of poignancy in connecting that impulse to create life from parts to the urge to create for any artist. Shelley's Frankenstein, after all, was originally credited to her husband and dissected as a patchwork of various male poets' styles. She had written a story about a jigsaw man using jigsaw pieces of poesy. If only a real examination of the generally disastrous urge for men to biologically reproduce were the centre of Gemini Man rather than this awkward, solipsistic metaphor for the pain of getting older for a movie star. That's been done endlessly, and better (though less literal, The Rock's The Rundown, with its cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger, is better)--and is too clearly a pretext for Lee to continue his field-testing of HFR. It's a proof of concept, not a feature; a high-concept, not a screenplay. It'll have a half-life, but for all the wrong reasons. There's your metaphor.