Movie Review: Will Smith Fights His Clone In Glum & Flat Thriller Gemini Man
Is Ang Lee the best guy to make this sci-fi thriller?
Starring Will Smith, Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead , Clive Owen
Directed by Ang Lee
Let’s get this straight: the Gemini Man script has been kicking around since 1997. During this time, the sci-fi thriller — about an ageing spy being hunted by his much younger clone — attracted many suitors, including Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford. Sadly, there were no takers.
The project, once dubbed by studio execs as “the best action concept in Hollywood”, was left on the backburner because the FX technology then wasn’t that cutting-edge enough to replicate a convincing digital double.
Flash forward to the present. The tools have eventually caught up with the story’s ambitious demands, and it looks like they’ve broken the code under the aegis of two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee. After such a long-gestating period, why does the final product feel like a warmed-over Jean-Claude Van Damme love-fest? Except it’s Will Smith in the lead.
Smith plays Henry Brogan, a black ops specialist with the Defence Intelligence Agency. He’s one of those show-off assassins, the kind who likes to overdo things. Example: Why would Brogan choose to kill a target in a speeding train from a great distance, with a sniper rifle? Why can’t he do it up-close with more efficient and less conspicuous methods (heard of, say, poison?)
Anyhoo, after that assignment, Brogan figures it’s time to hang up his spurs. He can no longer carry the weight of his conscience: “I find myself avoiding mirrors. I take that as a sign.” And off he goes to some much-needed R&R in Savannah, Georgia. There, he meets an old friend (Douglas Hodge, aka Alfred Pennyworth in Joker) who tells him that Brogan’s last mission, the one in the train, was actually part of a cover-up. Just friggin’ lovely.
When Brogan’s boss Clay Vessius (Clive Owen who can’t decide if his character is American or British) gets wind of the whistleblowing, he dispatches a kill squad to tie up loose ends. And when the kill squad ends up getting killed by Brogan instead, Vessius sends in his adopted son, Junior, who happens to be a clone of Brogan, to finish the job. Imagine all the paperwork Vessius would’ve saved had he sent Junior in the first place? Oh, well.
Meanwhile, Brogan goes on a lam, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong (both criminally underused), as a junior DIA agent and an old associate of Brogan’s respectively, watching his six, providing exposition and the occasional comic relief. And off they go to Cartagena and Budapest, searching for answers.
This is the part where Gemini Man becomes Running Man, one big cat-and-mouse chase; along the way, there are explosions, shoot-outs and the usual discussions about traitorous father figures, and whether clones have souls and whatnot. And this being an Ang Lee movie, means he gets to tackle Big Themes: the idea of a man fighting his younger clone as a commentary on the lifespan of an action hero. (The audience is constantly reminded that Brogan is 51, which is how old Smith is this year.)
“It clicked philosophically for me,” says Ang Lee in a Guardian interview. “A movie star can always see his past on screen. What does that do to him? I knew the film could visualise that internal struggle…” Cheem, man.
That’s fine. We like our action flick cerebral. But because it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, we want some stupid too. Yes, there are dumb moments (why would an assassin allergic to bee stings attempt a hit from a grassy hill where there’s potentially lots of bees?), but not the trashy-fun type.
Gemini Man is morose, and strangely inert, made interesting by two elements. One, Smith’s doppelganger, amazingly de-aged (think Fresh Prince of Bel Air-era Smith) and totally animated (no physical body double). Will the exception of a few scenes in the end where Will the synthespian looks like he just stepped out of a PS4 open-world game, he’s startling real. So is that why Smith is so glum — a younger actor has stolen his spotlight?
The other thing that makes Gemini Man more fascinating than it truly is that it was shot in 4K digital 3D at 120 frames a second, as opposed to the standard 24. This high frame-rate gives the movie an immersive hyper-reality quality. But the motion-smoothing can be jarring, especially in the action sequences, more distracting than engaging. It makes the viewer feel like he’s in a hi-def TV showroom. Very un-cinematic.
Remove the deepfake and 3D embellishments, Gemini Man is a bland dish, so ordinary in tone, execution, and payoff that it might as well have been directed by any journeyman straight-to-video hack out there. If it's exhilarating, no BS action you want, just stick with John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
Come to think of it, Gemini Man comes across as a lesser work of John Woo at the tail end of his Hollywood reign. (Let’s just say, it’s very Paycheck-y.) Or did a younger Ang Lee clone make this? (**1/2)
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