Review: ‘Gemini Man’ Is Bad, But You Should Still See It Anyway

Will Smith stars in Paramount's ″Gemini Man″

Will Smith stars in Paramount's "Gemini Man"

Source: Paramount Pictures

Before I dive into what makes Gemini Man bad, and what it has that you need to see, let’s get the financials out of the way.

With a budget in the $150+/- million range, Gemini Man is intended to be a major release with a popular cast – led by Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead – in a sci-fi action genre picture that has the hallmarks of a summer popcorn flick. Instead, it wound up in October and is suffering in the wake of Joker’s blockbuster Fall performance, and taking significant hits from critics who overwhelmingly dislike the movie.

Gemini Man is headed for a likely $20+/- million domestic debut, having taken a weak $7+ million from foreign markets so far. With P&A pushing total costs north of $200 million, it needs to pass at least $400 million worldwide just to break even, and it already looks unlikely to reach that benchmark.

Will Smith’s box office and critical track record over the past decade has had some ups and downs, but he remains one of the few true movie stars of the modern age who is capable of opening films on his personal brand.

This year's Aladdin was a $1+ billion grosser and beloved by most audiences despite mixed reviews, and his 2017 Netflix movie Bright is among the streaming service's most-watched offerings of all time, even though critics definitely didn’t like that one. In 2016, Smith's film Collateral Beauty did a modest $88 million despite horrible reviews, while Suicide Squad was a huge hit to the tune of $746 million in the face of negative critical reception. The excellent 2015 release Concussion only took $48 million and faced mixed reviews, unfortunately, but the same year Smith had more financial success – but still mixed critical reactions – alongside Margot Robbie in the $159 million grossing Focus. And 2013 saw two big sci-fi would-be blockbusters from Smith, with the critically panned After Earth scoring $243 million and Men In Black III taking a terrific $624 million as well as positive reviews.

So it’s rare for Smith to have an outright flop, with his less popular films typically still managing at least moderate box office results. However, Gemini Man is off to a bad start and it is already looking like it will be among Smith’s rare financial failures. My guess is Gemini Man will end up with $60+/- million domestic, perhaps $120-150 million international, and a global haul in the neighborhood of $200-250 million.

There’s a chance, however, that the involvement of Alibaba Pictures will mean China gives the film a strong push when it opens there next weekend. That could potentially help boost Gemini Man toward $300 million territory, which would look better even though it still puts the film well below profit territory.

Besides the grim financial future, what else is wrong with Gemini Man? Plenty. And what’s right with it? Well, also plenty.

Gemini Man is a bad story that makes no sense and fails all over the place. It’s inconsistent, it doesn’t earn its emotional beats, it presents a shallow examination of its themes, and it feels like a movie made from a synopsis of an idea rather than a fully formed and finished story.

However, it also contains a charming cast with terrific chemistry together who have fun moments together with enjoyable banter. It also features some top-notch action sequences pushing the envelop with new technologies you need to see to appreciate. Combining these elements with the positive aspects mentioned above regarding the cast, all Gemini Man needed was a good story to hold it all together and turn it into a win... which is the crucial ingredient the film lacks, and why it ultimately fails.

In other words, Gemini Man has several important ingredients demonstrating what you could and should be getting from future blockbuster film releases, in terms of immersive experiences through cutting-edge technologies, even though this particular movie is – in the final estimation – bad.

It’s set in the present, but feels like it should’ve been set in the near-future. It posits moral ambiguity for the lead character, without providing any good context or demonstration of his restraint in the face of his uncertainty about his path in life.

The restraint Smith shows toward his primary “antagonist” in the story is – as you can probably guess if you know anything at all about the movie – selfish in nature, considering who that person really is. Meanwhile, he goes around killing pretty much everybody else who gets in his way, despite the fact they are all part of the same program and “path in life” which make Smith’s character sympathize with his antagonist and which serve as the “excuse” (read: audience buy-in) for his own character flaws. We are supposed to forgive Smith and his antagonist for their own past, while ignoring the fact they go around slaughtering other people who are just another example of themselves.

Meanwhile, there is no serious consideration of the ethical questions surrounding the film’s premise regarding how to make and train an “ultimate army,” other than having villains literally state the concept aloud so Smith or someone else can offer quick denouncements based on simplistic statements. The film seems to think the moral objections are obvious enough that they don’t require further consideration or vocalization, but if that’s the case then there’s no real moral questions or themes in the film at all – it’s just “bad people do a bad thing, so someone should kill them.” But with a hero who was part of those bad people and who did a bunch of the bad things himself, such a black-and-white assumption about the issues doesn’t work.

Likewise, we get almost no serious foundation for the moral struggle or decisions of the antagonist either, and his reversal happens way too easily and quickly. What should’ve been third-act twists wind up in the trailer and as midpoint reveals, leaving almost nothing of substance for the second half of the story.

Not that there was really much substance to the first half to begin with, but at least it involved some questions and choices to keep things interesting for a while. Sadly, even those questions wind up relatively easy to answer, and events tend to remove any doubts about what’s happening and which choices the characters will have to embrace.

So much of the setup for the plot and the way it unfolds is nonsensical, you just have to stop trying to make sense of it or consider why anyone is making such foolish decisions, and just wait for the next amusing interactions from the stars or the next action set piece. If you can turn your brain off this way and wait for something of value to pop up like that, though, then there are some payoffs worth discussing.

First and foremost, there’s the cast. As noted, Smith and Winstead work great together, as charming leads who seem to legitimately like one another and play off one another’s strengths. They take dialogue that otherwise wouldn’t work and make it fun. Likewise, Benedict Wong is a welcome addition to the cast who brings added humor and earnestness to the proceedings.

Clive Owen chews up some scenery, but it works well for his character and he reminds me of Ronny Cox in Total Recall – a villain who, despite his overall evilness and cruelty, still seems to harbor genuine emotional feelings for a main character and desperately wants things to work out between them. The problem is, his villainy still doesn’t make much sense and a great deal of potential for his character’s perspective and plans is completely ignored. Still, Owen wrings every drop he can from what he’s got to work with.

Now let’s talk tech, because this is what makes me say Gemini Man is worth seeing on the big screen, despite all of the complaints noted above.

Put simply, the 4K at 120 frames-per-second, the gloriously vivid and unparalleled Dolby Vision, and the 3D all combine to make Gemini Man look spectacular. Director Ang Lee is once again trying to give us a new way to experience cinema, something that makes it seem we’re witnessing events taking place all around us in real time. Crisp, vivid imagery with brilliant colors and a form of 3D that not only creates solid objects projected out of the screen but also multi-layered depth deep into the screen create the sense you could climb straight into the movie yourself.

I’ve long preached the beauty and superiority of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for theatrical experiences, since there is simply no other format comparable to the quality of visuals and color and sound offered by Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. And I’ve explained how 3D is infinitely better in Dolby Vision, because the range of colors and sharper contrast means images look more solid – and, if (like me) you’re among the 25-30% of the public who are color blind, Dolby Vision lets you see versions of colors you’ve not seen before, which alleviates the problem of 3D images sometimes looking translucent and blurry.

The 120 FPS in 4K enhances the Dolby Vision with smoother, clearer images, and the 3D is even more solid and convincing as a result. Action scenes look amazing in this combo format, and the better the CGI and artistry is, the more it all pays off gorgeously. To wit, there is a fantastic chase-and-fight sequence in Gemini Man that will make you realize just how mindblowing any Mission: Impossible or Fast & Furious extended action sequences would look in this format.

While watching Gemini Man, I instantly started hoping the Avatar movies (for just one example) would all be in 4K at 120 FPS with Dolby Vision and 3D. Theaters need to upgrade to ensure they can provide films in this quality, and studios should help foot the bill for theaters to make these expensive upgrades, because the longterm payoff is giving audiences more reasons to see films at theaters instead of at home. This format combo is the gold standard for big blockbuster releases going forward, as far as I’m concerned, so that’s what audiences should demand and expect, and it’s therefore what theaters and studios should provide.

The only downside of this format is, if your CGI or costumes are dodgy and unconvincing, then 4K at 120 FPS will definitely reveal every flaw. And while Gemini Man overall looks grand in this format, it suffers from one glaring flaw that 120 FPS mercilessly reveals – the CGI for the antagonist, which looks acceptable in the few shots you will see of him in the trailers, winds up looking like bad video game graphics. It’s uncanny valley from hell, and it becomes laughable at some points.

It’s obvious the process for creating the antagonist involved using a stand-in actor and then creating a purely animated face inserted over the stand-in. So it wasn’t really comparable to de-aging CGI you’ve seen successfully created in other recent films, and the difference is painful to behold in Gemini Man.

It could be that in regular format theaters, the lower frame rates and lower quality of visuals and color creates a false impression of acceptable quality for the CGI. If so, then frankly Gemini Man just isn’t good enough to justify paying for a ticket to a regular theater to see it. This movie is only worth seeing in theaters precisely because of how revolutionary the 4K at 120 FPS + Dolby Vision + 3D looks, and how it will help shape your expectations for future blockbuster releases. So I recommend finding a theater screening it in that format, and just prepare yourself for the flaws in exchange for the benefits the screening provides.

One other thing worth mentioning about Gemini Man – I’m betting the audience scores for the film will be much more positive than the critical reviews, even lacking the impressive immersive experience of 4K at 120 FPS, Dolby Vision, and 3D. And I think a lot of those folks will enjoy Gemini Man as a simple action popcorn flick they don’t need to think too much about, with some nifty action and likable leads. The film will probably be seen by more people on home release than in theaters, and the fact it’s cheaper to rent for home release will mitigate some of the story flaws for people who just want escapism that doesn’t make them think too hard.

Gemini Man has story potential it never lives up to, and winds up a disappointment. But Ang Lee’s commitment to pushing the envelop with technology to create a new sort of cinematic experience deserves to be seen anyway. So, I recommend you ignore the negative things I’ve said about Gemini Man and see it anyway, as long as you can see it in a theater the way Lee intended – in 4K at 120 FPS, Dolby Vision, and 3D.

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It’s rare that I’m torn about whether to recommend a film or not, and even rarer for me to think I should recommend a film that isn’t actually good. Yet here we are, with Paramount Picture’s Gemini Man arriving in theaters this weekend as a perfect example of a rare exception. It’s bad, but you should still see it anyway. Why? Read on and find out...

Before I dive into what makes Gemini Man bad, and what it has that you need to see, let’s get the financials out of the way.

With a budget in the $150+/- million range, Gemini Man is intended to be a major release with a popular cast – led by Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead – in a sci-fi action genre picture that has the hallmarks of a summer popcorn flick. Instead, it wound up in October and is suffering in the wake of Joker’s blockbuster Fall performance, and taking significant hits from critics who overwhelmingly dislike the movie.

Gemini Man is headed for a likely $20+/- million domestic debut, having taken a weak $7+ million from foreign markets so far. With P&A pushing total costs north of $200 million, it needs to pass at least $400 million worldwide just to break even, and it already looks unlikely to reach that benchmark.

Will Smith’s box office and critical track record over the past decade has had some ups and downs, but he remains one of the few true movie stars of the modern age who is capable of opening films on his personal brand.

This year's Aladdin was a $1+ billion grosser and beloved by most audiences despite mixed reviews, and his 2017 Netflix movie Bright is among the streaming service's most-watched offerings of all time, even though critics definitely didn’t like that one. In 2016, Smith's film Collateral Beauty did a modest $88 million despite horrible reviews, while Suicide Squad was a huge hit to the tune of $746 million in the face of negative critical reception. The excellent 2015 release Concussion only took $48 million and faced mixed reviews, unfortunately, but the same year Smith had more financial success – but still mixed critical reactions – alongside Margot Robbie in the $159 million grossing Focus. And 2013 saw two big sci-fi would-be blockbusters from Smith, with the critically panned After Earth scoring $243 million and Men In Black III taking a terrific $624 million as well as positive reviews.

So it’s rare for Smith to have an outright flop, with his less popular films typically still managing at least moderate box office results. However, Gemini Man is off to a bad start and it is already looking like it will be among Smith’s rare financial failures. My guess is Gemini Man will end up with $60+/- million domestic, perhaps $120-150 million international, and a global haul in the neighborhood of $200-250 million.

There’s a chance, however, that the involvement of Alibaba Pictures will mean China gives the film a strong push when it opens there next weekend. That could potentially help boost Gemini Man toward $300 million territory, which would look better even though it still puts the film well below profit territory.

Besides the grim financial future, what else is wrong with Gemini Man? Plenty. And what’s right with it? Well, also plenty.

Gemini Man is a bad story that makes no sense and fails all over the place. It’s inconsistent, it doesn’t earn its emotional beats, it presents a shallow examination of its themes, and it feels like a movie made from a synopsis of an idea rather than a fully formed and finished story.

However, it also contains a charming cast with terrific chemistry together who have fun moments together with enjoyable banter. It also features some top-notch action sequences pushing the envelop with new technologies you need to see to appreciate. Combining these elements with the positive aspects mentioned above regarding the cast, all Gemini Man needed was a good story to hold it all together and turn it into a win... which is the crucial ingredient the film lacks, and why it ultimately fails.

In other words, Gemini Man has several important ingredients demonstrating what you could and should be getting from future blockbuster film releases, in terms of immersive experiences through cutting-edge technologies, even though this particular movie is – in the final estimation – bad.

It’s set in the present, but feels like it should’ve been set in the near-future. It posits moral ambiguity for the lead character, without providing any good context or demonstration of his restraint in the face of his uncertainty about his path in life.

The restraint Smith shows toward his primary “antagonist” in the story is – as you can probably guess if you know anything at all about the movie – selfish in nature, considering who that person really is. Meanwhile, he goes around killing pretty much everybody else who gets in his way, despite the fact they are all part of the same program and “path in life” which make Smith’s character sympathize with his antagonist and which serve as the “excuse” (read: audience buy-in) for his own character flaws. We are supposed to forgive Smith and his antagonist for their own past, while ignoring the fact they go around slaughtering other people who are just another example of themselves.

Meanwhile, there is no serious consideration of the ethical questions surrounding the film’s premise regarding how to make and train an “ultimate army,” other than having villains literally state the concept aloud so Smith or someone else can offer quick denouncements based on simplistic statements. The film seems to think the moral objections are obvious enough that they don’t require further consideration or vocalization, but if that’s the case then there’s no real moral questions or themes in the film at all – it’s just “bad people do a bad thing, so someone should kill them.” But with a hero who was part of those bad people and who did a bunch of the bad things himself, such a black-and-white assumption about the issues doesn’t work.

Likewise, we get almost no serious foundation for the moral struggle or decisions of the antagonist either, and his reversal happens way too easily and quickly. What should’ve been third-act twists wind up in the trailer and as midpoint reveals, leaving almost nothing of substance for the second half of the story.

Not that there was really much substance to the first half to begin with, but at least it involved some questions and choices to keep things interesting for a while. Sadly, even those questions wind up relatively easy to answer, and events tend to remove any doubts about what’s happening and which choices the characters will have to embrace.

So much of the setup for the plot and the way it unfolds is nonsensical, you just have to stop trying to make sense of it or consider why anyone is making such foolish decisions, and just wait for the next amusing interactions from the stars or the next action set piece. If you can turn your brain off this way and wait for something of value to pop up like that, though, then there are some payoffs worth discussing.

First and foremost, there’s the cast. As noted, Smith and Winstead work great together, as charming leads who seem to legitimately like one another and play off one another’s strengths. They take dialogue that otherwise wouldn’t work and make it fun. Likewise, Benedict Wong is a welcome addition to the cast who brings added humor and earnestness to the proceedings.

Clive Owen chews up some scenery, but it works well for his character and he reminds me of Ronny Cox in Total Recall – a villain who, despite his overall evilness and cruelty, still seems to harbor genuine emotional feelings for a main character and desperately wants things to work out between them. The problem is, his villainy still doesn’t make much sense and a great deal of potential for his character’s perspective and plans is completely ignored. Still, Owen wrings every drop he can from what he’s got to work with.

Now let’s talk tech, because this is what makes me say Gemini Man is worth seeing on the big screen, despite all of the complaints noted above.

Put simply, the 4K at 120 frames-per-second, the gloriously vivid and unparalleled Dolby Vision, and the 3D all combine to make Gemini Man look spectacular. Director Ang Lee is once again trying to give us a new way to experience cinema, something that makes it seem we’re witnessing events taking place all around us in real time. Crisp, vivid imagery with brilliant colors and a form of 3D that not only creates solid objects projected out of the screen but also multi-layered depth deep into the screen create the sense you could climb straight into the movie yourself.

I’ve long preached the beauty and superiority of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for theatrical experiences, since there is simply no other format comparable to the quality of visuals and color and sound offered by Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. And I’ve explained how 3D is infinitely better in Dolby Vision, because the range of colors and sharper contrast means images look more solid – and, if (like me) you’re among the 25-30% of the public who are color blind, Dolby Vision lets you see versions of colors you’ve not seen before, which alleviates the problem of 3D images sometimes looking translucent and blurry.

The 120 FPS in 4K enhances the Dolby Vision with smoother, clearer images, and the 3D is even more solid and convincing as a result. Action scenes look amazing in this combo format, and the better the CGI and artistry is, the more it all pays off gorgeously. To wit, there is a fantastic chase-and-fight sequence in Gemini Man that will make you realize just how mindblowing any Mission: Impossible or Fast & Furious extended action sequences would look in this format.

While watching Gemini Man, I instantly started hoping the Avatar movies (for just one example) would all be in 4K at 120 FPS with Dolby Vision and 3D. Theaters need to upgrade to ensure they can provide films in this quality, and studios should help foot the bill for theaters to make these expensive upgrades, because the longterm payoff is giving audiences more reasons to see films at theaters instead of at home. This format combo is the gold standard for big blockbuster releases going forward, as far as I’m concerned, so that’s what audiences should demand and expect, and it’s therefore what theaters and studios should provide.

The only downside of this format is, if your CGI or costumes are dodgy and unconvincing, then 4K at 120 FPS will definitely reveal every flaw. And while Gemini Man overall looks grand in this format, it suffers from one glaring flaw that 120 FPS mercilessly reveals – the CGI for the antagonist, which looks acceptable in the few shots you will see of him in the trailers, winds up looking like bad video game graphics. It’s uncanny valley from hell, and it becomes laughable at some points.

It’s obvious the process for creating the antagonist involved using a stand-in actor and then creating a purely animated face inserted over the stand-in. So it wasn’t really comparable to de-aging CGI you’ve seen successfully created in other recent films, and the difference is painful to behold in Gemini Man.

It could be that in regular format theaters, the lower frame rates and lower quality of visuals and color creates a false impression of acceptable quality for the CGI. If so, then frankly Gemini Man just isn’t good enough to justify paying for a ticket to a regular theater to see it. This movie is only worth seeing in theaters precisely because of how revolutionary the 4K at 120 FPS + Dolby Vision + 3D looks, and how it will help shape your expectations for future blockbuster releases. So I recommend finding a theater screening it in that format, and just prepare yourself for the flaws in exchange for the benefits the screening provides.

One other thing worth mentioning about Gemini Man – I’m betting the audience scores for the film will be much more positive than the critical reviews, even lacking the impressive immersive experience of 4K at 120 FPS, Dolby Vision, and 3D. And I think a lot of those folks will enjoy Gemini Man as a simple action popcorn flick they don’t need to think too much about, with some nifty action and likable leads. The film will probably be seen by more people on home release than in theaters, and the fact it’s cheaper to rent for home release will mitigate some of the story flaws for people who just want escapism that doesn’t make them think too hard.

Gemini Man has story potential it never lives up to, and winds up a disappointment. But Ang Lee’s commitment to pushing the envelop with technology to create a new sort of cinematic experience deserves to be seen anyway. So, I recommend you ignore the negative things I’ve said about Gemini Man and see it anyway, as long as you can see it in a theater the way Lee intended – in 4K at 120 FPS, Dolby Vision, and 3D.

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I work as a screenwriter for film & TV. In a former life I was a media specialist & campaign ad writer/producer. Follow me on Twitter @MarkHughesFilms, and re...