The decisions accomplished Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee has made over the years regarding his choice of scripts has been strange, to say the least. He gained international acclaim after the release of his “Father Knows Best” trilogy which were family dramas that could almost be described as soap opera.

But by 2000 he would emerge as the director of one of the most highly regarded martial arts movies of all time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, before making the soppy superhero movie Hulk. His adventures do not end there. Just two years later he would make Brokeback Mountain, a romantic drama to progressives but a terrifying freak show to conservatives. In the 2010s, after the magnificently photographed survival movie Life of Pi, he has now brought us the sci-fi action thriller starring Will Smith, Gemini Man.

The concept of Gemini Man would have blown our minds away had Rian Johnson’s Looper and Duncan Jones’ Moon not come out earlier. Worse, Looper is a much more fascinating movie about a guy on the run from an older version of himself, while Moon is a much more touching philosophical film about the consequences of cloning human beings. Gemini Man, on the other hand, takes on both subjects only to do them a complete disservice.

Smith plays Henry, a highly valued government assassin on the edge of retirement. His last job is assassinating a Russian bioterrorist, which he later finds out from an old colleague is actually not a terrorist and did not “deserve” it. This piece of knowledge leads a corrupt government agency behind the hit to decide to have him killed.

Henry, being a highly accomplished assassin, but most importantly, the film’s protagonist, manages to escape with an agent placed to surveil him. Under the impression that he is too clever, the agency then sends the product of the GEMINI project, a clone of Henry himself. The clone is younger, dedicated and as a result of his upbringing has no self-doubt.

Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the movie's baddy, explains the thought process behind the project. Soldiers, he believes, are likely to complete their mission without misgivings when they are young. But as they grow old they grow a conscience and are likely to hesitate and question. It is best then to replace high-asset assassins with the younger, cloned versions of themselves.

The film’s theme might have been revolutionary had it come out in the 1980s. But in the 2010s, people are a great deal more knowledgeable about the subject matter and advancements in biotechnology have been debated and discussed endlessly. It is not that the issue does not deserve any more reflection but that any point that an action movie such as Gemini Man was about to make about it was likely to sound reductionist.

Instead of the vanilla philosophising the film treats us to, it could have contented itself to the father-son dynamics Lee is highly adept at portraying. Henry is the father and his clone is the younger version of himself he would have loved to go back in time and advise to avoid the largely unfulfilled life he has lead. This was the movie Lee obviously wanted to make but probably had to bow to the corporate demands of pop psychology.

Gemini Man is a product of its time in more ways than one. It also makes use of a highly fascinating technology called de-aging. Unfortunately, it is being overused to sell the marvels of modern computer generated effects. And indeed, what the special effects artists have done in making Smith look three decades younger is immensely impressive even if there are shots in the movie where he looks cartoonish.

What is not impressive is the fact that the technology has become the movie in this case. Expositions, lighting and shots had to be deformed for the sake of either hiding the shortcomings of the technology (evidenced by scenes that are under lighted) or adoring the achievements of the special effects team (as in the endless close ups of Smith’s de-aged face).

This film exists merely because computer technology has progressed far enough to allow an actor to appear with a younger version of himself in the same shot in a live action movie. This is not reason enough to make a movie; it is less so to see it.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 19,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1016]

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