You’re familiar with the type of movie where a best-of-the-best secret agent is betrayed by his own government and must go on the run. Gemini Man is a very basic one of those with one twist: The assassin sent to kill our secret agent is his clone. Maybe this is on me for not finding clones interesting anymore, but this lone variation on the formula isn’t enough to make the film any better than so-so, and it’s dispiriting how heavily the screenplay (by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke) leans on it while neglecting everything else.
Pity, too, because director Ang Lee pulls off one incredible action sequence and a few very impressive fight scenes, all of which seem to benefit from having been shot in high frame rate (HFR) — 120 frames per second instead of 24, in 3D, with 4K resolution. (No theater in America is actually showing it that way, though. A handful have it in 120 fps at 2K resolution; most are 60 fps.) In the motorcycle chase through Cartagena, Colombia, between Will Smith’s newly retired black-ops sniper Henry Brogan and his clone — digitally ensmoothened to look like Smith circa Independence Day — the HFR helps sell the reality of what you’re seeing even as your brain tells you it is impossible. The abundant CGI is less noticeable, and the action feels more immediate. The same goes for all of Will Smith’s fights with himself, which are nearly seamless. We are a long way from Hayley Mills standing in one half of an unmoving frame pretending to talk to another Hayley Mills in the other.
The rest of the time, though, the HFR just makes everything look like a cheap soap opera, like the Hobbit movies did. Occasionally there’s a tight close-up where you go, “Wow, each of Will Smith’s pores is the size of a manhole,” and marvel at the technology, but mostly it’s a distraction. I suppose I’ll get used to it if this becomes the standard way of making movies, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.
The story — which I want to reiterate is purely standard-issue potboiler stuff — is that Henry has just retired after a career of killing worthy targets for the Defense Intelligence Agency, only to find himself targeted by his former employers. Henry used to work for a shadowy, off-the-books project called Gemini, led by one Clay Verris (Clive Owen), but never really knew the scope of it. (You gotta hand it to Verris. If I started a secret cloning project that I didn’t want anyone to know the true nature of, I’d never have the guts to name it “Gemini.”) Now Henry is on the run, aided and abetted by a fellow DIA agent, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and an old pilot buddy from the Marines, Baron (Benedict Wong), while trying to determine why he has a clone and why that clone has been sent to kill him.
But clone or not, “Why do my former bosses want me dead?” is an overly familiar action-movie trope, and Lee’s film doesn’t do anything new with it. The handful of hints about Henry’s childhood and psychology establish him as just another loner who feels haunted after being trained to kill by his government (you might say he was Bourne into it). Smith’s ample charisma and the enjoyable presence of Winstead and Wong can only carry the film so far, though I guess it’s fitting that a movie about clones should seem so much like a copy of other movies.