I was wary approaching Gemini Man, which I saw at 120 frames per second (about four times normal film speed) in 3-D. I got a headache the last time I watched a high-frame-rate feature but I came away from this film a believer. Director Ang Lee is trailblazing new territory, as he did in Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, but this time he has a highly enjoyable, action-packed story and a perfect star in Will Smith. The entertainment value is high and cutting-edge technology organically suits the content.
Smith plays a government black-ops sniper who is considered the best in the world, but he’s reached a pivotal moment. After 72 hits he is beginning to question himself and knows that means it’s time to move on. As it turns out, retirement is not an option: he quickly becomes a target himself and takes it on the lam, bringing a young woman he’s just met (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) along so she won’t be gunned down, too. They are joined by an old comrade of Smith’s, played by the always-welcome Benedict Wong.
This globe-trotting action thriller adds another player to the mix: a younger version of Will Smith as his designated assassin. He’s a digital actor who mirrors a 23-year-old version of Smith, executed by the same team that created a tiger from scratch for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi seven years ago. This sleight of hand creates mind-blowing action scenes in which Smith engages Smith in a hand-to-hand brawl, after pursuing “himself” in a hair-raising motorcycle chase on the streets of Cartagena, Colombia. (That point-of-view sequence is simply dazzling, a milestone in 3-D filmmaking that won’t easily be topped.)
The screenplay, credited to David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke (from a story by Lemke and Benioff) is engaging and exciting in equal measure. It borrows from standard-issue espionage yarns but outdoes them at almost every turn, adding a much-needed story thread about the morality of cloning. If the finale calls on some familiar tropes it’s easy to forgive in light of all that’s come before it.
I can’t say what it’s like to see Gemini Man the way most people will, at a normal 24 frames per second in 2-D—only a handful of U.S. theaters are capable of showing it the way Lee intended—but its handling of action and introduction of an actor doubling his younger self raises the bar for what’s possible and gives new meaning to the phrase “seeing is believing.” I thoroughly enjoyed Gemini Man and that’s what really matters.