WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Gemini Man, in theaters now.
One of the biggest draws of Ang Lee's Gemini Man is the photorealistic double of Will Smith, who plays 50 year-old Henry, an ex-US government assassin, who goes on the run from a 23 year-old version of himself. From the trailers alone, fans could tell it looked just like Smith in his youth, predating even The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
While the story doesn't turn out to be as big a spectacle as its visuals, this aspect of the film is surprisingly better than what the Marvel Cinematic Universe did with its "de-aging" of characters like Tony Stark and Nick Fury.
Well, that's until the final sequence, where it falls to shambles for Gemini Man.
In the MCU, fans saw a "de-aged" Tony played by Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War via the future Mysterio's BARF technology, bringing to life memories of old. The studio also left fans impressed with a younger Fury in Captain Marvel, making Samuel L. Jackson look like he did in the '90s, not to mention Michael Douglas' Hank Pym and Kurt Russell's Ego, too.
This was all down to LOLA Visual Effects, with the actors shooting their scenes normally, and then the effects team applying digital compositing to facilitate the "youthening" of the faces in post-production. It's a Photoshop-like process that lets them retain the actor's performance and nuances even after extensive effects -- all done by manipulating frame rates. This was seen way before in films like X-Men: The Last Stand (with younger versions of Professor X and Magneto), as well as famously in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Gemini Man takes it up a notch, though, because it isn't face replacement or "de-aging." Instead, Lee's team created a digital construct from scratch. It's a completely digital creation by WETA for the clone, known as Junior, driven by Smith's performance capture and his emotions. Lee analyzed hours of footage of a younger Smith and used an ultra-high resolution camera and ultra-high frame rate to nail his expressions and facial features down to his skin structure to create a fully animated version that looks hyperrealistic. Think of Andy Serkis for The Planet of the Apes, with Smith doing mo-cap in a similar manner for Junior, only to then have the digital clone literally swapped into the scene using the special 3D tech WETA offers.
"This is the first 100 percent digital human. So the process before was de-aging and that's not what this is," said Smith. It's hard to dispute it because you really feel, when watching the film, like Lee got in a time machine and dropped a Smith in his '20s into this movie. It's uncanny how convincingly the clone looks, moves, speaks and winces like the actor, so much so even Smith wondered if this could lead to different versions of actors being used in movies with respect to age, size, etc.
It works wonders because it makes Junior's hunt of Henry more believable, from the fights to the revelations about him being created in a lab, to the emotions both share when we find out they were nothing more than pawns in the GEMINI program run by warlord Clay Verris (Clive Owen). The texture and aesthetic of this model doesn't skip a beat at all, which is all the more impressive as it's not a cameo -- Junior's in the film for the entire duration.
However, this polish is lost in the very end, falling apart when the clone teams up with Henry and Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to finally take GEMINI down. Henry eventually cuts a deal with the government so America doesn't get exposed for its super-soldier program and Junior's enrolled at an Atlanta college where Danny's lecturing on marine biology. But, when they meet in the final sequence for a catch-up session, the CGI is horrible -- on par with when The Fast and Furious Franchise digitally recreated Paul Walker following his death.
Junior looks amateurish -- as if a first-year student composed his 3D model, not even syncing up with the sunny background on campus. His face seems warped and it appears Lee either ran out of budget, had to meet a deadline to get a product out or simply cut corners at the final hurdle. It could even be a poorly reshot scene because nothing about this finale looks like the creative team took time to ensure fluidity and consistency with Junior from what we saw previously throughout the movie. His voice doesn't even align to the movement of his mouth, leaving a bad aftertaste on something which worked so well for the majority of the film, leaving us wondering why Lee would let the uniformity be broken with such a shoddy ending.
In theaters now, Gemini Man is directed by Ang Lee from a script written by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke. The film stars Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong.
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