REVIEW: 'Gemini Man' feels like a video game come to life

Marcus Goh

PHOTO: United International Pictures

SINGAPORE — The use of high frame rates for theatrical presentations has always been a little contentious, since many feel that it detracts from the traditional cinematic experience. The standard frame rate for films is 24 frames per second, but Gemini Man comes at you with a whopping 120 frames per second — literally making it a VHFR (very high frame rate) film. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given that director Ang Lee experimented with this frame rate in his last film, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. And since Gemini Man is a science fiction flick, it sort of suits the genre, even though it changes the feel of the movie quite a bit.

Gemini Man follows the retirement of the best hitman in the world. Predictably, he finds himself on the run from forces who see his retirement as somewhat of an issue, and eventually finds himself face-to-face with an opponent that literally equals him in skills and abilities. He soon discovers a sinister conspiracy that threatens not just him, but the entire world.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

In case you haven't figured it out from the poster and trailer, the film's premise is that of a man meeting his younger clone, which is a fairly standard trope in science fiction. It's not stale, but the approach also doesn't bring anything new to the table. And it tries to make this reveal a surprise... which it isn't, given that all the marketing for the movie has practically given it away. The film follows the expected beats of a story where someone meets their younger double, and ends so predictably that we could have done without the last scene.

But there's also this heavy video game aspect to the film. If you've ever wanted to play a video game in which Will Smith is the main character, this film is as close as you'll ever get to it. The plot, dialogue, and direction all feel like they were plucked out of a first-person shooter game. That's not to knock the writing or direction of video games, which can be masterpieces in their own right (look at 2018's God of War and Spider-Man on the PS4). But video games have a reason for simplistic cinematic choices — gameplay is prioritised over story (most of the time), so shots and dialogue have to be kept short and blatant to help maintain the pace of a game. Gemini Man is not a game, so it makes all the directorial decisions incredibly weird.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

It doesn't help that the film is delivered at 120 frames per second. It looks realistic and lifelike, to be sure — but it also feels like something you'll see on your state-of-the-art television, rather than what you'd see in a cinema hall. All these factors combine to make the movie look like a video game on the big screen. In fact, the plot even tosses in a final boss that literally comes out of nowhere for the protagonists to face, which has negligible emotional impact on the story.

The action scenes are fun to watch, which is the main reason why it feels so video-gamey in the first place. But they're inconsistent in quality, with a jarringly awkward stunt that involves Will Smith getting slapped around with a motorcycle in slow motion. Nevertheless, the action is still satisfying.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

The shots are also rather... basic. There's nothing wrong with that, since not every frame needs to be from some groundbreaking angle, nor does it have to reinvent the whole idea of film directing. But when the very first conversation in the film is comprised of talking head shots, you have to wonder: wasn't there a more visually impactful way to shoot that?

As a video game come to life, Gemini Man is amazing. And if that's what Ang Lee was gunning for, he's succeeded splendidly in that respect. But if we're to take the rest of his work and compare it, the film does raise a sneaking suspicion. Has Ang Lee lost his touch?

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you're a Will Smith fan.

Score: 3.2/5

Running time: 117 minutes

Gemini Man is a science fiction action film.

It is directed by Ang Lee, and written by David Benioff and Darren Lemke, with screenplay credits for Billy Ray. It stars Will Smith (Henry Brogan/Junior), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Danny Zakarweski), Clive Owen (Clay Varris), and Benedict Wong (Baron). It is rated PG-13.

Gemini Man opens in cinemas:
- 10 October, 2019 (Singapore)
- 9 October, 2019 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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