Where once multiple actors or questionable prosthetics were employed to represent a character at different stages of their life, now CGI does all the legwork. De-aging technology has grown from a tool that lends a little extra credibility to flashback scenes (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand) to one which transforms actors into younger versions of themselves for the entirety of a film with startling believability (Samuel L. Jackson in 2019’s Captain Marvel).
Upcoming sci-fi blockbuster Gemini Man seeks to take de-aging technology one step further by enabling star Will Smith to simultaneously play both the protagonist and his younger clone – because apparently his role as the Genie in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin wasn’t enough to fulfil his CGI fix for 2019.
Finally rescued from a two-decade stint in development limbo, the self-billed ‘innovative action-thriller’ pits assassin Henry Brogan (Smith) against a 25-year-old version of himself created from his DNA. ‘You made a person…out of another person!’ the younger Brogan accuses midway through the overly-dramatic first trailer, seemingly unaware that he is describing the way in which all human beings come into existence.
The rest of the trailer similarly leaves much to be desired, and the special effects largely appear to be only half-finished. But while it would be easy enough to dismiss the film as another generic blockbuster, Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee’s attachment suggests there will be more to it than meets the eye. After all, if there’s anything we can expect Lee to bring to the project, it’s heart.
Lee is no stranger to experimenting with technology, but he keeps his movies grounded in stories and emotion. The director is known for his exploration of identity and human relationships, evident in everything from the wuxia epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to the quietly heartbreaking Brokeback Mountain; it will be interesting to see how these themes play out on screen between Smith squared, joined by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane), Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange), and Clive Owen (Sin City).
Lee’s last project, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, opened to mixed reviews in 2016 and was a box office flop, failing to break even. It was the first feature to shoot at 120 frames per second (the standard is 24), garnering criticism for its video game-like appearance, and only a handful of cinemas around the world had the necessary technology to screen it in the correct format. Nevertheless, Lee remained determined to champion the high frame rate, and Gemini Man was similarly shot at 120 frames per second in order to achieve hyper realistic visuals. If successful, this will make Smith’s de-aging all the more impressive.
The film promises to be a unique technological feat, though its first trailer offers little more than an outlandish premise and some hammy dialogue (‘I think I know why he’s as good as you: he is you.’). Sometimes that’s all you need for a couple of hours of passable entertainment, but I have faith in Lee’s storytelling to elevate the project to something more. I just hope that, this time, his risks pay off.
The Gemini Man is now available to stream or buy from most good streaming platforms. More information about the movie can be found here.
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