It may be time to put the phrase “visionary mind” in moratorium from film trailers. The latest Will Smith vehicle is Gemini Man, and its marketing suggest that it’s one of those films that just could not be made without recent advancements in moviemaking technology. It’s something you hear from the likes of Kubrick, Cameron, or Cuarón in the past, and brought to you by Ang Lee, who somehow made both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk.
With two Oscars in his belt, perhaps Lee really does have the clout necessary to be labeled a visionary director. But in Gemini Man, I’m puzzled by what the “vision” really is. Was it to make the most comedically absurd action premise as boring and underwhelming as possible?
Director: Ang Lee
Release Date: October 11, 2019
In Gemini Man, Will Smith essentially reprises his role as Deadshot from Suicide Squad, if that version of Deadshot was a bit more world-weary and tired of shooting people from ridiculous distances. His character of Henry Brogan has finally decided that he’s had enough of the assassination business, and elects to retire.
Since that’s the setup of the movie, you can assume that this doesn’t go very well. Brogan learns that there was more to his last hit than he realized, and once he begins asking too many questions, his former agency decides to take up arms and permanently silence him. Of course, you don’t get rid of Will Smith that easily.
So who better to kill Will Smith than (gasp) younger Will Smith! The closest to get to Brogan is a younger clone of himself, with the two exchanging blows at the end of the film’s first act. “Junior,” as the clone is called, is also seen to have a strange father-son dynamic with Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the director of the cloning program leading the charge to strike Brogan out.
It all sounds like a premise from the 1990s, something that would have competed with John Woo’s Face/Off. The comparison is apt, considering that it took literal decades for this project to finally get off the ground, with a number of different stars rotating as the assassin facing off against his younger self.
With so much history behind this production, it was surprising just how by-the-numbers everything felt. Besides Brogan, there’s fellow assassin Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as the female lead with very little to do other than to open an ear as Brogan airs his dirty laundry, and Baron as the practical wingman throwing the good guys some assists every once in a while.
Gemini Man cycles through so many tropes and cliched lines, to the point where it isn’t even unintentionally funny the way those 90s action flicks were. In one instance about halfway through the film, Winstead gravely delivers the bombshell revelation line: “He’s your clone,” to shock and surprise from the characters—even though it’s quite clear to the audience what is already happening. Even without watching the promotional material, anyone watching the film will feel two steps ahead of the characters and story.
But we’re not here for the drama, right? We came into the theater to watch young Will Smith smack old Will Smith in the face with a motorcycle wheelie. Yes, there is a good amount of action in this film, and Lee shoots sequences quite smoothly. Seeing the highly-skilled, precise, and physics-defying feats of the Brogan should be a thrill and bring the film to a sort-of heightened reality, but there’s simply too little of it.
If you’re going to have a bit where young Will Smith shoots a grenade that bounces off a mirror towards old Will Smith, commit to that style of action. Everything else in the film seems so vanilla in comparison that I came out of the film questioning what the draw of the movie was meant to be. The stylistic action was too sporadic throughout for me to think that this was it. In a few months time, this film will only be remembered through YouTube 4K HDR clips of select action sequences.
Was it merely to showcase how far we’ve come with de-aging CGI, even though every damn Marvel movie beat this one to the punch? Or was it for the novelty of seeing the same star on the same screen twice, something Hollywood probably already mastered in the Lindsay Lohan remake of The Parent Trap?
Thematically, there just isn’t anything to chew on with Gemini Man. The setup of a disillusioned hitman, while possibly overdone at this point, could lead to something interesting, but this film bungles it with a lack of subtlety. At one point, Brogan laments that he is unable to look at the mirror anymore after everything he’s done, which couldn’t be more obvious telegraphing for the fact that he’s going to face off against literally himself.
Every potential theme is only brushed upon: preventing PTSD in soldiers by creating soldiers without consciences, what it really means to be human, how the same person can come out differently under different conditions, and so on. For someone advertised as pushing boundaries in filmmaking and storytelling, all Ang Lee seemed to have accomplished is making a 120 FPS remake of Star Trek: Nemesis.
It’s hard for me to even say that Gemini Man feels like it comes from the wrong decade, because it feels behind in every regard. It’s a story that’s already been told in different, more effective ways, and one could even look to a movie like Looper to see that it doesn’t need that fancy CGI. At the same time, it’s hard to convince audiences that the visuals we see on the screen are groundbreaking.
Perhaps there’s something we’ve missed from Ang Lee’s vision by not watching Gemini Man in the proper technical conditions he intended while making the film. Unfortunately, no number of frames-per-second can save it from being as trite as it is.