Here’s a crazy thought: The dopey Will Smith sci-fi actioner “Gemini Man” has been in some stage of development for nearly as long as I’ve been alive.
Darren Lemke originally sold his script to Disney in 1997 (when this reviewer was five) as a vehicle for director Tony Scott. And between then and the film’s release in Oct. 2019, there have been no less than 30(!) leading men attached to the project- from Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood to Ben Affleck and Dwayne Johnson.
“Gemini Man” isn’t the first film to see the light of day after decades of development hell, of course. Sometimes, the wait is worth it – see “The Irishman” or “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But sometimes you end up with films like “The Dark Tower” or “The Postman” that make you wonder just why folks were so determined to see these long-gestating projects to fruition.
“Gemini Man,” unfortunately, falls into the latter category. It’s not bad necessarily, but it’s bland and generic enough that it’s hard to see why it has been such a hot commodity for over two decades.
Jerry Bruckheimer’s producer credit probably tells you all you need to know about “Gemini Man” – it is indeed a big, dopey, high-concept action thriller in the vein of “The Rock” or “Con Air.” And the central hook is fairly promising.
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is a former assassin for the Defense Intelligence Agency whose attempt at a quiet retirement is interrupted (naturally) by a government conspiracy and attempts to assassinate him. And here’s the twist: The assassin tracking Henry is a younger clone of Henry (also played by Smith using digital de-aging technology).
As you may expect, this battle of Wills is the best part of “Gemini Man” and really the only part worth recommending.
Smith proves himself the right person for this job, bringing the right amount of charisma and gravitas to his characters. As always, he boasts high levels of chemistry – not only acting against himself, but also with old pros like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong. He also nails the action beats including an early motorcycle chase between Will #1 and Will #2 that is enjoyably kinetic and frenetic.
But as Smith and pals jet around the world – from the U.S. to Columbia to Hungary- “Gemini Man” falls into very familiar action beats. The repetitive action sequences would be enough to lull you off to sleep if they weren’t so loud.
Director Ang Lee is a confident, competent filmmaker – keep in mind he’s won the Best Director Academy Award twice- but even he can’t breathe much life into this nonsense. I think Lee was trying to address some interesting themes in “Gemini Man” including the debate of nature vs. nurture and the ethics of technology. But those big ideas only get lip service on the way to the next action scene.
The whole enterprise is comfortably bland enough that you wonder why a two-time Oscar winner felt the need to get involved. The answer to that is simple: “Gemini Man,” like Lee’s “Life of Pi” and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” before it, is a tech demo disguised as a film- an opportunity for the great director to be on the forefront of digital de-aging technology, motion capture animation and high framerate usage.
All that technical effort pays off – especially with the “Junior” Smith character. The de-aging on Smith is convincing and gripping and rarely wanders into the uncanny valley. You believe that “Junior” is not only Will Smith but a living, breathing character.
But it would have been nice if Lee had put as much effort into the script and fixed some of its unbearably cliched dialogue and unwieldy plotting. And if only he had found a way to rise above the bone-crunching action movie beats and deliver the humanity and intelligence we know he’s capable of.
If Lee had done that, “Gemini Man” may have been more than a harmless diversion. As it is, those looking for a time-killing actioner won’t be disappointed, but just about everybody else will be.
“Gemini Man” (rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout and brief strong language) is not bad necessarily, but it is bland, which is worse since Lee, Smith and everybody involved are capable of so much more. Like the evil cloners at the film’s center, Lee spent so much time obsessing over whether he could make “Gemini Man” that he didn’t bother to ask whether he should.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.