I have been suspicious of “Gemini Man” from the moment the phrase “From the visionary mind of Ang Lee” was placed prominently in the official trailer. It is not that name-dropping Ang Lee isn’t a power move, but if a marketing team needs to try that hard to convince you it is special by telling you directly it will be visionary then chances are it knows damn well it really won’t be. The concept of having two main characters be played by the same actor at the same time was supposedly revolutionary and the only thing that held up production of this film was the technology to de-age an actor, but that is a tough pill for me to swallow. The ability for one actor to play multiple characters that have different outward appearances is not all that outlandish considering Eddie Murphy managed to pull it off in “Norbit”. It really makes one wonder what was so special about this concept that it still managed to finagle getting produced after enduring almost 20 years in development limbo littered with warning signs.
The film comes off as a Will Smith vanity project, even though he was easily the best part of the whole production and had nothing to do with the creation of the story. The big selling point of the movie is that Will Smith plays two main characters, which despite being played for a mystery in the theatrical release, was made ABUNDANTLY clear in every single pre-release material. And after watching the concept play out, the only route they take in execution is that the older version is constantly told how special he is, and that is the reason they need to make another one. The only thing that can save Will Smith from himself is himself. It is just a film about how amazing Will Smith was, is, and will be. It is not that I disagree with that premise, because I have always been a big fan of him since I was a child, but the notion that a film is based entirely on that premise feels as though its sole purpose for existing is to boost the ego of an actor that we are constantly reminded is aging but could still be the best if he really set his mind to it.
The worst aspect of the film, however, is the fact that the plot is insultingly simple but is treated as if it is too complex for anyone to grasp without at least half of the film’s runtime being dedicated repetitive exposition. I can’t stress this enough, but the trailer explained 100% of the plot already! Will Smith is a killer and a younger clone is chasing him. That’s it! Insisting on overexplaining it with any more information is simply gratuitous and a waste of everyone’s time. It is so patronizing that the only characters in the movie each take multiple scenes to slowly deduce the very concept that everyone in the theater already knew before watching it. The film thinks so highly of itself that it thinks the concepts of cloning and being a trained killer, ideas that have been a common theme in cinema for at least 50 years now, are way more cerebral than they really are.
It is even more frustrating when you realize that none of the events of the film logistically make any sense. I’ll walk you through it all as a personal favor. Older Will Smith, Henry, starts out in Georgia where he lives, and there he meets a friend who tells him he has another friend who gave him some information, but not all of it. The information, obviously being incomplete, compels Henry to ask him where this other guy is, but the friend says the guy doesn’t want to see him, then reluctantly gives him the contact for a guy anyway. The guy lives in Budapest, but first Henry needs to flee to Cartagena, Columbia for a quick action sequence (which I’ll get back to later) before he flies to Hungary for a 3-minute conversation with the guy who had the information. He reveals that the real bad guy was that one guy Henry always knew was evil and was talking about the whole film, and he is waiting for Henry back in his office building that is about 10 miles east of Henry’s home back in Georgia. Why did he need to travel to South America then Europe to get information that he could have easily deduced on his own? And, why did that information have to tell him to go back to his starting point? The answer is to give Benedict Wong’s character a reason for existing since he is their pilot and serves as nothing more than a glorified PowerPoint transition animation. If you think about it, 70% of the movie could have been avoided with a phone call.
With all that being said, you’d be inclined to believe that the special effects of this film would be groundbreaking to carry the necessity of such a large budget. I think it would be fair to say we were given a mixed bag here. Most of the attention is given to the 120fps frame rate that the film was shot in compared to the usual 24fps that most films use, which is definitely different. Is it other-worldly? Not in my opinion but maybe it really hits home for you. The other major special effect is the de-aging effect that was used to render Will Smith’s young clone, Junior, and this one is objectively very convincing. Junior’s facial features and emotions are very clear and well-defined, which is noteworthy with just how many close-ups are used.
Where the effects fail are the action sequences. Junior’s rendered body movements are a visual crime only comparable to a bowling alley cutscene that is sped up 3 times its usual pace. He is doing backflips and bouncing off the ground in ways that just totally suck you out of the experience. There is one sequence in particular where Junior is repeatedly beating up Henry with a motorcycle as if it were a melee weapon, which is cool in concept until Henry does a push-up jump 4 feet in the air to dodge a swing in slow-motion. I couldn’t help but audibly laugh out loud when this happened. It is simply perplexing that a film with this sort of budget and emphasis on computer-generated renderings would allow this to be the final product.
I really do not mean to beat a dead horse, but the script also offers some remarkably frustrating dialogue. Aside from constantly retreading the idea of what a clone is, there is a scene where Junior and Henry first meet and Henry is trying to explain to him what is going on. Junior responds to him by looking Henry in the eye and saying “you’re just trying to rattle me”. YOU HAVE THE SAME GODDAMN FACE! What do you mean he is just trying to rattle you? How many times have you seen a person identical to you, telling you that you are his clone, that your dad who works for a biologic paramilitary company was the guy who cloned him, and proving it by repeating ALL of your most intimate secrets and thinking “Nah, this guy is definitely lying”? Also, what did Clive Owen’s character think would happen when he sent Junior to confront Henry? He acts like he had hoped he would never know that he was a clone but sent him face-to-face with literally the only proof that exists. How could that man possibly be surprised Junior learned the truth? If you told me that no one read this script at any point before it was released in theaters, I’d believe you without much further convincing needed.
It is not that this film is unwatchable, it is just so full of itself that it doesn’t even realize how simple all of its concepts are. The action scenes are underwhelming, the philosophy is ham-handed, and the special effects are much less than advertised. You may be somewhat entertained at a few points but the total sum of this film is wholly unremarkable. Unfortunately, “Gemini Man” is doomed to be a box office failure, but luckily the film will be mercifully forgotten in two weeks.
I give “Gemini Man” a seemingly generous 5.0 out of 10
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Directed by: Ang Lee
Runtime: 1 Hour and 57 Minutes