Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 10 October 2019
Synopsis: Gemini Man is an innovative action-thriller starring Will Smith as Henry Brogan, an elite assassin, who is suddenly targeted and pursued by a mysterious young operative that seemingly can predict his every move.
Not content for the high frame rate (HFR) stereoscopic technology which he first experimented with in 2016’s ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ to be a one-hit wonder, Ang Lee employs the same method in this science-fiction action thriller to give it the same pin-sharp clarity. The impact is plainly apparent right from the start if viewed in the HFR 3D format – not only are we led to observe an astonishing extent of visual minutiae in the opening scenes where Will Smith’s special-forces assassin Henry Brogan positions himself atop a grassy knoll to assassinate his target on board an express train, the crispness and clarity of the images are startling to say the least, although some may not be quite so enamoured with the effect.
Regardless, there will probably be no argument that the most stunning technological achievement here is the digital de-aging of Smith, which allows the 51-year-old actor to play a character 25 years younger than he is. Junior, as that character is named here, is a clone created by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative Clay Varris (Clive Owen) under the ethically suspect ‘Gemini project’, which aims to manufacture biotech warriors to fight our wars for us. Specifically for Junior though, Clay has been raising him as his adopted son, in the hopes that he may equal Brogan at his own game one day – and that game so happens to be the business of sharpshooting, which Brogan has demonstrated his prowess in through 72 unblemished kills for the DIA and is now more than ready to retire from.
That, in essence, is the premise of ‘Gemini Man’, which has been languishing in development since the 1990s and passed through the likes of Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery before finding its lead in Smith. Thanks to the contributions of Weta Digital, Lee has accomplished what the late director Tony Scott never managed to, although we suspect that achievement will likely be lost on an audience who will wonder why all those years evolving the technology was not similarly spent on developing its undercooked script (credited to three distinguished Hollywood veterans no less, including ‘Game of Thrones’ creator David Benioff and ‘The Hunger Games’ co-writer Billy Ray).
As appealing as the idea of an aging hitman who is targeted by a younger clone of himself may sound, the very concept itself is flawed – indeed, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that just because two individuals have the same DNA means they will possess the same abilities. That logic gap would have been easier to ignore if the movie itself were simply a popcorn blockbuster; unfortunately, it also figures itself to be a thinking-man’s thriller about the age-old debate between Nature and Nurture. Indeed, rather than kill each other outright, Brogan decides to engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Junior, believing that Junior could very well be a different person if he knew the truth about his origins.
Why Brogan would hold a soft spot for his clone is never satisfactorily explained during the movie or even at the end, except to allow the storytelling to pit Smith against Smith and then to have two of them go up against Owen’s resident villain. Yet because Owen is not an action star, the finale turns out underwhelming, leaving only the two set-pieces involving a battle of Wills to hold your attention. Thankfully, owing to Lee’s deft staging, they are pretty amazing to watch – one of them takes place against the picturesque streets of Columbia, unfolding along its rooftops before culminating in a dizzying motorcycle chase; and the other happens in the underlit catacombs of Budapest, where both men engage in a furious exchange of kicks and punches before one of them almost drowns the other.
Even so, these sequences are not enough to compensate for the sheer inertness of the rest of the movie, which comprises of weak banter and plenty of thudding exposition. Despite roping in Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a fellow rogue DIA agent and Benedict Wong as a wise-cracking pilot sidekick, there is hardly any fun to be had in their team dynamics (unlike say that between Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg in ‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’), no thanks to the leaden dialogue. Not only is the science highly suspect, the whole narrative itself is frustratingly thin, with the barest of excuses why they have to go from Columbia to Hungary before heading back to Georgia, or even how they can somehow borrow a Gulfstream jet to fly them from country to country.
In fact, we’d dare say you’ll be bored stiff during the two-hour duration, because other than the action, there is little momentum to the storytelling at all. Lee’s attempt at fleshing out Brogan and Junior’s respective reckoning falls embarrassingly flat, not so much because Smith doesn’t try his best to emote both ways (and we mean both here because he plays both characters), but rather because the character development here is so blunt it hardly even matters. Whether deliberate or otherwise, the fact that the movie pretty much revolves around these five roles (Smith, Smith Jr, Winstead, Wong and Owen) is even less excuse for the sheer laziness in the scripting, both in terms of plot and character.
Much as we’d love to embrace Lee’s techniques here, ‘Gemini Man’ is ultimately a high-concept misfire. Like we said, the very premise itself is flawed, and the rest of the movie does itself no favours by thinking itself smarter and more intelligent than it really is; worse still, it doesn’t even much try to be credible, which neither Smith’s charisma or Lee’s filmmaking ingenuity can compensate for. Oh yes, the HFR realism and digital fakery are novel probably for the first 10 minutes, but soon wears off and reveals instead the artificiality and superficiality of the whole enterprise. It may sound appealing to have two Smiths in the same movie, but you’d wish they’d went right back to the genesis of this project and change up the whole DNA of this dull, almost lifeless, big-budget failure.
(Neither Ang Lee's innovative HFR technology or Will Smith's digital de-aging can save this lame, inert and frustratingly pointless thriller from being an utter high-concept misfire)
Review by Gabriel Chong