Way back in 1997 a concept was born by screenwriter Darren Lemke that would see a man battling a younger clone of himself. The idea seemed to be ahead of its time with Disney even getting involved to develop CGI capabilities to see the idea through to fruition and have the same actor portray both the younger and older versions of themselves. After several years and numerous rumored stars the concept was buried in development hell until in 2016 Skydance Media acquired the film eventually signing Will Smith and Director Ang Lee to lead the project. Now, after over twenty years, we finally have the final product, “Gemini Man” where Smith portrays a retiring assassin named Henry Brogan as he attempts to outsmart his younger clone, also played by Smith. Joined by hitwoman ally Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Brogan attempts to reason with his enemy and take revenge on his former commander (Clive Owen) who is behind the cloning. Sporting an intriguing amount of creative film techniques including de-aging and a heightened frame rate, “Gemini Man” had potential to become a landmark feature of sci-fi action, but after all this time did the final result pay off? Let’s take a look in my review of “Gemini Man”.
“Gemini Man” is an ambitious project to be sure but it does miss the mark in terms of embracing its neat concept and the technology available to make that idea come to life. De-aging effects have become a new fad in cinema, and a divisive one at that, but of all the films where the practice has been utilized this movie felt like the perfect opportunity to show the capabilities of that technology. Sadly, a high concept is nothing without story, originality and performances and “Gemini Man” only succeeds in a few of those areas. The story and script in particular are nothing original and I kept feeling like I’d seen this all before. “Gemini Man” seems to be a pretty inspired idea on the surface as it pits an assassin against a younger clone of himself, but instead of fully exploring ideas of existentialism, purpose and the moral conundrum of cloning in any interesting way it devolves into a generic action thriller that pits the older, more skilled combatant against a cocky younger counterpart with predictable results.
I will say some of the action set pieces are fun although what you saw in the trailer is pretty much the best of what you get on screen. For what he’s given and considering that he’s playing two different characters at two different stages of their lives, Will Smith’s duel performances are engaging and present us with interesting characters even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also a standout and seems to be having a lot of fun as a fellow assassin who aids Smith’s character through the story. But then you’re given a bland villain performance by Clive Owen and a generic script and screenplay that, again, does little to nothing interesting with the idea making these invested performances feel wasted on an undeserving film. Even the quality action we get is betrayed by the film’s use of a high frame rate making everything feel way too fast and busy. It does create a neat effect where the audience can feel the energy and chaos of the moment, but the action moves so fast that it becomes almost video-gamey and makes the visual effects, especially the CGI, stand out in all the wrong ways.
Speaking of special effects, the de-aging didn’t impress me. On one hand it is neat to see Will Smith work off himself and play two different characters, but the younger Smith is unconvincing and simply looks fake. This is especially frustrating for me personally because I’ve been hearing input from friends and fellow cinephiles that de-aging usually leads to horrible results in films and serves as cheap gimmicks. Despite seeing this effect in several films it’s with THIS film, the movie that based its entire production on the idea, that it finally started to bother me in the same way it seems to have bothered everyone else. The younger Smith’s facial features and movements look cut and pasted on to the motion capture actor portraying him and although we still do get to see Smith’s performance in full, from subtle mouth movements to even a few tears, the younger Smith is clearly a product of digital effects and looks like a CGI product. After spending so many years developing technology to try and create a realistic younger copy of an actor for the sake of this movie this final result is not only underwhelming, its borderline unacceptable.
With all that said “Gemini Man” does not live up to its long awaited arrival to the big screen. In the hit or miss filmography of Director Ang Lee it’s certainly in the miss category and while it does sport some fun and engaging performances, especially from Smith-squared, good performances can’t help it rise above its bland script and uninspired use of what was a promising idea. All in all I got exactly what I expected from this movie. Watching the trailers I legitimately felt it would be a bland film that showed its best in the previews and I was spot on. The final result showcases effects that still feel inadequate and a story that wastes its talent and high concept idea in favor of clichés, predictability and a drawn out experience that only barely tries to touch on some of the deeper themes that would have made this idea so much more interesting. I give Ang Lee and the rest of the crew credit for trying some neat experiments, especially with the high frame rate, but sadly few of these risks payed off and the rest of the movie feels much too safe. This sadly results in one of the most underwhelming films of 2019.