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

Also opening this week:

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil—

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Review of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

A space station that once orbited Earth is now massive and inhabited by thousands of aliens from hundreds of planets. The station now called Alpha was pushed into deep space to act as a beacon for any and all intelligent life to come and share their knowledge and technology. Alpha has existed in peace for over 500 years but something is threatening to destroy it. An area of deadly radiation has appeared at the core of Alpha and its growing. All attempts to investigate the cause have failed. Human police force agents Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are called in to provide protection for Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), the leader of Alpha; but he is abducted by a group of aliens whose DNA does not register on Alpha’s sensors. Valerian and Laureline begin a search for the Commander and stumble into a mystery involving the destruction of a planet 30 years earlier and the desire to keep all details of that event a secret at any cost.

Director Luc Besson has been trying to make “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” for 20 years. He had been a fan of the comic book “Valerian and Laureline” when he was a kid and while making “The Fifth Element” he used the services of the comic book’s illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières who suggested he take a crack at adapting the story for a film. Besson thought the technology to create all the various alien species wasn’t available at the time but when James Cameron released “Avatar” he knew it would be possible. Now his dream has come true and the massive special effects movie is in a theatre near you. Should you invest the time, gas, money and effort into seeing Besson’s creation? The short answer is probably not.

That’s not to say “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” doesn’t have it good points. First of all, it looks amazing. The visual style of the film dazzles you with amazing colors and more alien species than you can count. From massive aquatic creatures to small bird-looking bipeds with big noses to tiny animals that look like a cross between a hamster and a lizard, the creature creation in the movie shows enormous imagination.

The concept of the story, about a giant space station filled with thousands of alien lifeforms all living in peace, is thanks to the comics written by Pierre Christin and the aforementioned Jean-Claude Mézières. While the setting of the film and the comics is vastly different, the idea of human/alien cooperation is clearly shared in both. Also the notion that a seemingly benevolent government might also be to some extent corrupt plays out in both. The comics, which ran for over 40 years, represented Christin’s political views. Besson doesn’t seem all that interested in making a political statement but in telling a fantastical story. That’s where the film runs into trouble.

The story of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a mess. While we are treated to a several alien species and amazing looking planets, the story has apparently had a great deal less care taken with it. The main story threads are left to dangle for large parts of the film. As we blast through walls with Valerian and go on an underwater adventure with Laureline the main story is mostly abandoned. I don’t want to give away the major plot points and the movie apparently feels the same way. We are finally given a long section of exposition that lays out everything late in the film but by then I had lost so much interest I took it as a good sign the movie was almost over.

There’s also the issue of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne having zero chemistry with each other. Valerian is supposed to be both Laureline’s partner and lover but when the two flirt with each other it lands with an audible thud. Delevingne looks more annoyed and bored than attracted to DeHaan. DeHaan in these scenes looks more creepy than anything else. It’s a pair that does not strike me as a believable couple and that makes any effort to humanize the characters with their alleged attraction to one another fail miserably. I didn’t like the idea that these two highly trained agents would also be emotionally and physically involved with one another. That would tend to violate any code of conduct in any military service today and would render one partner susceptible to compromise should the other be captured by an enemy. It also would damage their working partnership should their relationship end. None of their romance worked on any level for me.

DeHaan also appears to be doing a Keanu Reeves impression through the entire film. Speaking in what seems to be an unnaturally low vocal register, DeHaan sounds very similar to the “John Wick” actor while not having the same physical presence. DeHaan is a very good actor and has turned in great performances in “Chronicle” and “Lawless” along with other films so I can only blame his choices on director Luc Besson who apparently wanted some effort at menace in everything Valerian says. Sadly DeHaan isn’t able to dredge up any menace but plenty of breathiness.

The best actors in the film are all the CGI aliens and the creatures created with motion capture. Meanwhile, all the humans that aren’t digitally altered don’t look like they are having much fun. Cara Delevingne only looks like she’s trying when the character is screaming in anger and while going into battle. Clive Owen, who is missing for a big chunk of the middle of the film, is chewing as much digital scenery as he can to make Commander Filitt as much of a villain as possible. It doesn’t work. Rhianna turns in a passable performance as a cabaret entertainer with a secret. She isn’t on screen for very long and most of her performance is voice acting but still she holds her own.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language. Guns of a futuristic type are fired in various scenes throughout the movie. We see characters hit by the weapons but there is no blood. One character is briefly tortured by having a gun fired into its shoulder. Another character is shown being tortured in a lab. The suggestive content includes a pair of characters tussling playfully while on a beach in their swimsuits. Also the dance done by Rhianna’s character could be considered risqué. Foul language is scattered and mild.

There’s probably a good movie to be made from the source material but “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” isn’t it. It ignores its own story for far too long to get in some action scenes and it has a couple of lead actors that have no sexual chemistry at all. While the film is a visual wonder it doesn’t need to be seen in 3D. The movie doesn’t have the visual pop with the added dimension I had hoped. I guess I’ll have to reinstate my moratorium on seeing movies in 3D that weren’t actually filmed in 3D. And knowing what I know now I can’t suggest you see “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” with any enthusiasm.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” gets two stars out of five.

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This week Charlize Theron kicks it up a notch and one emoji tries to save his digital world. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Atomic Blonde—

The Emoji Movie—

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