MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action-Thriller/ Stars: Will Smith, Late 90’s Will Smith/ Victor Hugo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Theodora Miranne, Douglas Hodge/ Runtime: 116 minutes
Languishing in developmental hell since the late 1990s, the movie that is Gemini Man began life as, surprise surprise, a Disney property with Tony Scott, RIP, initially set to direct, and various stars found themselves attached to the project including Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Sean Connery, all thankfully and hopelessly finding themselves too busy to take it on. Unfortunately after all this time we now, after multiple rewrites and technical setbacks, are getting to see the project finally come to fruition thanks to none other than Will Smith in an attempt to try and reboot his faltering superstar status at least when it comes to the critics seeing as globally he is still as financial of a draw as ever.
All of which brings me to the $64,000 Question: After seeing the finished product was it really worth dusting off this clunky pre-millennial screenplay, and making it into a movie? Honestly not really. This is because while Gemini Man is arguably a significant leap forward for visual effects, it is also a decent step back for gripping, yet also sophisticated action-thrillers. Indeed despite a few deftly handled set-piece action sequences we also get a formulaic screenplay, stock and clichéd to the hilt characters, absolutely wooden dialogue that just feel infuriatingly and gratingly amateurish as well as a ultra, razor-thin premise, about a secret program of rogue government assassins, that also feels embarrassingly familiar seeing as we now exist in a world where Jason Bourne, and John Wick are mainstream pop-culture anti-heroes. Indeed while there are some good things to say about this movie, this is still ultimately a situation where the good is definitely outweighed by the bad.
The plot is as follows: The movie focuses on a man named Henry Brogan who is the best of the best when it comes to the hit men employed by the shadowy Defense Intelligence Agency (didn’t take too much brain cells to come up with this CIA-rip off I hope), but after terminating 72 people with seemingly-superhuman precision, think Deadshot from Suicide Squad-precision, Brogan is finally starting to suffer pangs of conscience. So finding himself weary of the assassination game, Brogan now plans to retire and spend his autumn years fishing off the Georgia coast.
Of course it should go without saying that slimy insiders at the IMF ehh CIA ehh DIA have other ideas with the main one being Brogan’s former Army superior Clay Varris (Clive Owen in scenery-chewing B-movie villain mode), now a military-industrial biotech tycoon. Arguing that Brogan knows too much to be permitted to retire peacefully, Varris is able to discreetly send out a top-secret science project he’s been working on the last 20+ years after him: Junior a younger, faster version of Brogan that can, in theory, outthink and outgun his still-lethal older self. Of course Brogan, sensing imminent danger, has other ideas and decides to go on the run with fellow rogue DIA officer Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his wise-cracking pilot sidekick Baron (Benedict Wong). Ultimately though it isn’t long before Brogan finally comes face to face with his hot-headed young doppelganger in picturesque corners of Colombia, then Hungary, and finally during a spectacular gunfight on home turf in Georgia where loyalties will be tested, and the question of who is better: the man or his clone will finally be answered…..dun dun dun!!!
Now at the beginning of the film, Gemini Man honestly feels more like a conspiracy thriller in the vein of the Bourne franchise meets Smith’s own Enemy of the State from 1998 as we see Henry start unveiling something bigger than himself, and soon enough loose ends are being tied up with bows that consist of clandestine raids and easily covered-up murders. Indeed should the movie have continued down this path, I feel that we could have had a truly great “assassin with a conscience” film to enjoy, and cherish as a delightful ode to those kind of movies.
Sigh eventually though, I suppose the main thrust of Gemini Man’s more marketable, by Hollywood standards, premise has to kick in, and this is the point in the film where Junior finally pops up and starts to royally disrupt Henry’s life. It’s also here dear reader that Gemini Man is supposed to really sell you to make you cough up your hard-earned dollars, as the big sticking point of this entire film is to showcase just how realistic the CGI constructed Junior looks, not only when compared to the highlights of Will Smith’s career, which I am missing terribly right about now, but also when compared to the man himself.
Indeed this truly is quite the daunting hook on which to hang a project, but I can honestly say that to some extent Lee’s technical prowess does certainly shine in both the way the character of Junior is executed. Indeed while it’s not a perfect product, as there are moments where Gemini Man’s effects definitely do not hold up, the creation of a wholly digital young Will Smith does make for an impressive feat when it’s at its best. It also creates quite the unique acting challenge for Smith, who manages to actually act in this movie, unlike say Collateral Beauty from 2016, and decides to bring his acting chops not only to the conflicted Junior, but also to the worn, weary, and borderline cynical Henry. Indeed as creative as the technical achievement of Gemini Man’s central duality is, I can definitely say that the technical aspects would not be anywhere close as effective as they are if it wasn’t for the acting that Smith and body double Victor Hugo, put in on both sides of the central conflict.
Unfortunately Will Smith’s committed performance only gives Gemini Man a limited amount of credibility, and even with a cast of talented supporting actors, they are all embarrassingly let down by a script with such horrific and obvious flaws they, no matter how much you polish and shine, are just too huge to ever go away. Indeed, due to the toiling away in development hell leading to many hands in the industry being involved in numerous rewrites of the script over this beleaguered film’s 20 year history, the story just never really gets to fully take root, and instead chooses to play like a solid B-movie script from the 90’s a ’la 1995’s Fair Game. I say that, because like the best of those gems, we barely get to know Will Smith’s Henry before he’s ready to abruptly retire, we never get the full extent of the backstory of his relationship with the main bad guy, and the minute the main bad guy’s evil organization is mentioned we in the audience are immediately supposed to know that this is a bad and wicked place capable of acts of…..EVVVVIIILLLLLL (ok Mermaid Man moment over.)
Not to mention, but the significant underdevelopment of the Gemini Man script also commits the grave sin of robbing talented co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong of time to shine, as their limited chemistry with the lead actually works exceedingly well. Indeed it is not blasphemy to say, but were this a classic Smith vehicle, especially those made by this film’s producer Jerry Bruckheimer, there would have actually been more time given to show this mismatched team working at its best. Nevertheless we still get to see some sparks fly between the trio as not only is Wong allowed to inject some much needed comic relief into the picture, but Winstead also seems primed on a renaissance as an action lead, as she gets to kick some serious butt, and her and Smith have some decent platonic chemistry together.
All in all though Gemini Man is not showcased by those things; rather Gemini Man is best defined as a film that has finally crossed the finish line, only to look back at what it could have been and sigh with a few tears mixed in. Indeed this is because while Ang Lee’s technical mastery is something you need to see to believe, the story that sits behind the stunning visuals really should have been worked on and updated to fit the visuals in front of it. Thus I will say that this film really is a filmmaking catch-22 as the story would have worked extremely better back in 1997, but by being made in the current-era it now is able to possess the visual effects that truly make this film’s central hook possible. Indeed while Gemini Man is able to showcase some impressive moments of dazzling showmanship and intriguing action, as well as some good performances from its cast, they are still nevertheless let down by a script and story that should have been, like the rest of the movie, updated with the times, but instead has delegated the film to spend the remainder of its’ existence as a film best seen on your TV when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray. On a scale of 1-5 I give Gemini Man a 3 out of 5.