Review of “Gemini Man”

Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is considered one of the best government assassins there’s ever been. He’s 51 and beginning to be worn down by his job, having nightmares, missing his targets (still killing them, but not hitting them where he wants) and can’t look himself in the mirror. After he completes his last job, he meets with a former associate that informs him his target was not a biochemical terrorist working for the Russians, but a biochemical researcher working for the US. Henry has been given bad information by his handlers to hide a program run in conjunction with the government and a private security firm called Gemini owned by Clay Varris (Clive Owen). Henry and Clay served together in Special Forces and Clay offered him a job when he started Gemini. Henry declined. Now Gemini is doing a great deal of work for the government and Clay has a side project he’s been working on for over 20 years. Clay meets a young woman working at the dock where he keeps his boat. Her name is Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and he quickly figures out she is a government agent sent to surveil him. When Henry’s former associate is murdered and a kill team is sent to his house, Henry knows he is part of the cleanup operation. He gets Danny and together they run away. Henry contacts another former Special Forces member, Baron (Benedict Wong), a pilot with a knack for getting exactly what is needed. The trio fly down to Colombia to stay in one of Baron’s safe houses, but an assassin has found them. Henry leads the killer away from Danny and Baron. While he’s having a running battle with the killer, Henry gets a look at his assassin and is shocked to see an overwhelming resemblance to himself. The killer is only scared off by the local police. Danny collects a ballcap the assassin was wearing as well as samples of blood from Henry’s injuries. Calling in a favor from a friend at a genetics lab, the samples are tested, and the DNA is identical. The assassin is a clone of Henry.

Director Ang Lee has had an eclectic career. He has made everything from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Hulk” to “Brokeback Mountain” to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to “Life of Pi” and now “Gemini Man.” While the degree of commercial success has varied widely, Lee has always turned out technically well-made movies, often pushing the boundaries genre and innovating the way films are made. There was no reason for the war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” to be shot in 3D with an ultra-high frame rate of 120 frames per second, but he did it (a mixed bag and I gave it two stars out of five). Lee believes the medium needs a kick in the pants and must embrace technological advances to produce the best looking and most entertaining products for viewers. He’s gone the same high frame rate and 3D route for “Gemini Man” and has produced an interesting looking but predictable film.

The visual trick of “Gemini Man,” Will Smith fighting a 25-year younger version of himself, mostly works. When Junior, the clone, is on screen with Clive Owen or in a shot by himself, the digital artistry of scrubbing all the decades from Smith’s face and making him look like a certain Fresh Prince, works pretty well. A scene where Junior cries as he’s confronting his father has all the emotional resonance one can expect from an action movie. The pain of coming to grips with your created existence for the first time and realizing everything your father told you is a lie is etched into the de-aged face of Smith in a believable way. I was looking for anything that would give the performance away as a computer creation, but there wasn’t a clue. Had I been unaware of Smith and his age, I would have believed I was watching a talented young actor express the pain of learning his life was a fiction.

That same praise cannot be given to every scene in the film. At times, the younger Smith looks vaguely Asian. His eyes are narrower, and the outside corners appear to be angled slightly upward. There are other times when both versions of Smith are onscreen when there are some glitches in the face that couldn’t be edited out. The fight in the catacombs under a church is the longest time the pair are onscreen and battling. There are moments when the younger Smith’s face appears to be a mask that’s slipped out of place or contorts. These are momentary and so fleeting that most viewers will never notice. However, other scenes are more obvious and can’t be blamed on fast action movements.

The film’s action scenes are stellar. The motorcycle chase in Colombia is something that may make the added cost of 3D worth it (I saw the 2D version). Some of it is shot POV with bullets and cars dodged by the slimmest of margins. Movie reviewer Alan Cerny posted on Twitter, “GEMINI MAN as a movie is just okay. GEMINI MAN as a 3D 120fps experience? Whoa. That motorcycle chase is next f-ing level. If this is the future of action cinema, count me in.” “Gemini Man” is a film that may need to be seen in 3D and at the highest frame rate possible to judge its quality. Director Lee has complained most cinemas are unable to properly display the movie as it was intended since they aren’t set up for 120 fps. I can understand his argument, but maybe he should make films based on the technology that’s most available. If he wants to make films that must be displayed at five times the normal frames per second, maybe he needs to invest in a projection system that can handle multiple FPS and sell it to theaters. He’d likely make more money than making movies.

“Gemini Man,” for all its filmmaking wizardry, is a standard action thriller with a core group of appealing protagonists and a slimy antagonist that oozes evil from every pore. Once the clone is introduced, he’s shown to be a sweet kid that is a slave to the programming his “father” instilled in him. The story progresses as these types of films always do, with our heroes trying to keep one step ahead of the bad guys then rallying for a (spoiler alert) victory in the end. There is a third act twist I didn’t see coming, but that’s my bad, as there’s always a surprise the evil villain keeps hidden away until the very end. It’s also easy to guess which of our heroes isn’t around when the credits roll. “Gemini Man” plays by all the rules despite being mostly about a bad guy that ignores all the rules to win. There’s nothing new to see here.

“Gemini Man” is rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language. There are numerous shootings, stabbings and beatings throughout the film. Early on, we see a character has had most of their teeth beaten out of them for information (it isn’t as gory as it sounds). There is a chase that shows some unique uses of a motorcycle as a weapon. A character is shot in the chest three or four times by a shotgun while they are on fire. Foul language is scattered and there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

The end of “Gemini Man” is far too sweet and ignores all the death and destruction that precedes it. This didn’t really come as a big surprise as the film sets up a fatherly relationship between both versions of Will Smith and the script from David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke takes no leaps into new territory or an imaginative approach to the subject. It won’t burn your eyeballs out, but “Gemini Man” is at best average.

“Gemini Man” gets three stars out of five.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “Zombieland: Double Tap” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week:

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil—

Listen the podcast I do with my wife, Comedy Tragedy Marriage, where we take turns each episode selecting a movie or TV show to watch, then discuss it to see why we love it, like it or hate it. Find Comedy Tragedy Marriage wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Doctor Strange”

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon. He takes on cases that are difficult but he feels he can help the patient recover and live while turning down cases he is concerned might besmirch his perfect record. His former girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is a trauma surgeon in the same hospital. While they are no longer in a relationship they are still friends. While driving to an awards banquet in his honor, Strange has a car crash that severely damages his hands. The nerve damage is so severe he can no longer operate. Strange is lost and searching for some kind of remedy while at the same time driving Christine away with his self-pity and lashing out. His physical therapist tells Strange about a former patient of his named Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who had a spinal cord injury that confined him to a wheelchair but had found a treatment that let him walk again. Finding Pangborn playing basketball with his friends, Strange begs to find out how he was cured. Pangborn tells him to go to Kamar-Taj in Tibet. As Strange is walking through the streets of Kathmandu asking people if they know where Kamar-Taj is, he is seen by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Saving Strange from some street thugs looking to rob him, Mordo takes Strange to Kamar-Taj to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a teacher of the mystic arts. Showing Strange there are other realities besides the one he knows, Strange begins to study and soon is able to cast spells that conjure shields and weapons as well as open portals that allow instant transportation to just about anywhere on the planet. The Ancient One also teaches Strange about the dangerous realms where creatures of great evil dwell and to avoid being seduced by their power. She tells him of one of her former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who was tempted by a dark power and is trying to use a forbidden spell stolen from The Ancient One’s library to open our world up to being taken over by this evil creature. Kaecilius and his followers have attacked and destroyed one of the three sanctums that protect the Earth from threats of the metaphysical kind. It’s now up to Strange to use his newfound powers to protect the Earth from Kaecilius and a dark evil from another dimension.

“Doctor Strange” is a middling entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” of even the first “Iron Man” film. It has some interesting ideas about realms beyond this universe and terrific performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong. It also has some of the same problems as many other comic book movies.

My biggest issue with the movie is the miscast villain. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor as he has shown in the TV show “Hannibal” and numerous movies. Kaecilius is a role that doesn’t allow Mikkelsen to use his great ability of quiet menace. Kaecilius is a flashy villain that casts spells and makes a big show of his power. While Mikkelsen does an admirable job of portraying Kaecilius as both thoughtful and ruthless, the part doesn’t match up to the actor’s strengths. Either the role needed to be written with less action, allowing Kaecilius’ acolytes to do all the fighting and running and he gets to be quiet and menacing, or another actor should have been cast. The part of the action villain doesn’t really fit Mikkelsen.

The story also lacks emotional heft. It never made me feel like the characters were the kinds of people that I was concerned for. At times, I wanted worse things to happen to Strange as after the accident he becomes even more self-obsessed and cruel, especially to Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer who shows him nothing but concern and compassion. I realize the character has to be portrayed as selfish in order for him to come around and be a hero but the script by director Scott Derrickson along with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill does almost too good a job at making Strange a monster before putting him on the path or redemption.

Speaking of McAdams, she is criminally underused in the film. While her character, which shares the name of a comic book character known as the Night Nurse, might have a recurring role in future films, it will likely be either as a damsel in distress or as a love interest for the hero: In other words, more of the same for women in comic book movies. McAdams does a great job in the limited time she has on screen but both the actress and the character could have done a great deal more other than being a stereotypical doormat for Strange.

Aside from those problems, “Doctor Strange” is at times a visual acid trip. While I’ve never personally used a hallucinogen I can’t imagine the sights being much different than those when The Ancient One sends Strange on a quick journey into the multiverse. Between that and when Strange and Mordo battle Kaecilius and his followers in what looks to be a M. C. Escher-inspired New York landscape, “Doctor Strange” has some of the most inspired visuals of any MCU film. The non-acid trip parts of the movie look great too, including the car crash that ironically starts Doctor Strange on his journey and the introduction of the Cloak of Levitation which seems to have a personality that both matches and clashes with the wearer. There are some genuinely amazing sights to see in “Doctor Strange.”

I saw the IMAX 3D version and while the added dimension really never pops off the screen in an entertaining way, the larger format certainly made the movie feel more immersive. Still I don’t know if the added cost was worth it.

“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. The violence is both fantastical and intense. Kaecilius and his followers conjure spears that look like glass. There is also a whip that is made of orange energy that looks like it burns. While it isn’t directly shown, one character is beheaded. Another character appears to lose an arm. There are numerous fights of both the magical and non-magical kind. Blood is minimal. The car crash, while clearly computer generated, might scare smaller children. Strange is shown being thrown around inside the car and his hands being crushed. Foul language is scattered and consists of words often heard on basic cable shows.

For all its mind-bending visuals and talk of the multiverse, “Doctor Strange” is a pretty conventional superhero origin story. Stephen Strange is a flawed character that needs something extraordinary to open his eyes to the world (and worlds) beyond his knowledge. Most who become super beings from relatively normal beginnings bring along some kind of flaw or issue that needs to receive an other worldly kick in the pants to straighten them out. Much like Tony Stark and Thor Odinson, Stephen Strange was presented with a problem he couldn’t fix and had to set aside his ego to become a better person. As superhero origin stories go “Doctor Strange” isn’t breaking any new ground. It also doesn’t give us an emotional connection to the characters that would set this film above the middle of the Marvel pack. It isn’t great but it is pretty good.

“Doctor Strange” gets four magical stars out of five.

This week, the holidays arrive early, the help arrives to find strangeness afoot and the aliens just arrive. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Almost Christmas—

Arrival—

Shut In—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.