Will Smith faces off against himself in double-trouble mess of sci-fi thriller
Starring Will Smith, Clive Owen & Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed by Ang Lee
You get two Wills for the price of one in Gemini Man, a sci-fi action-thriller about a hitman who becomes stalked by a younger version of himself.
Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an elite assassin for a shady, CIA-like government-ops organization that deals in all sorts of underhanded global dirty tricks—kidnappings, torture, death-squad training. Whenever the “Defense Intelligence Agency” needs an undesirable taken “off-book,” removed from the record with one clean, untraceable shot, they call Henry.
But after 72 kills, Henry’s ready to call it quits and retire, trade his guns for a fishing pole and putter around in his motorboat. But not so fast—Henry knows too much.
So, of course, now it’s Henry’s turn to be taken “off-book.” And his diabolical DIA boss, Varris (a scenery-chewing Clive Owen), has just the man for the job—a younger, leaner, meaner version of Henry. The assassin Varris sends to kill Henry is, in fact, an exact duplicate of Henry himself, replicated years ago from his DNA by a secret cloning project.
The young assassin, code-named “Junior,” has been trained for one thing: to become a new breed of killer, a warrior without a conscience, remorse, emotion or a past.
The cloning project was called Gemini, as in the mythological twins.
Imagine Henry’s shock and surprise when he comes face-to-face with a younger version of himself. “I find myself avoiding mirrors lately,” Henry tells a fellow DIA defector (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). No kidding! Especially when the man in that mirror might be trying to murder you.
Benedict Wong plays Baron, a wisecracking pilot with connections to get just about any kind of airplane, anytime, anywhere. Baron comes in handy for jet-setting to Belgium, Colombia and Hungary. Why? Something about someone named Yuri.
Will Junior complete his seek-and-destroy mission? Can Henry not only survive, but convince his younger self that Junior’s been programmed for a hollowed-out, toxic nowhere life? Do Henry’s allergy to bees, and his lifelong fear of drowning, come back later in the movie as plot points? If you don’t know the answers to all those questions without even seeing the movie, well, I humbly suggest you need to see a few more movies.
That’s the story of Gemini Man, but the real story here is the back story. This film has been knocking around in development for more than 20 years, and it’s cycled through various directors and numerous other leading men—Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger—who considered the starring role.
The challenge was the story’s central special effect: how to convincingly make one character interact with his much younger self. Finally technology caught up to the premise, and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee took up the gauntlet. (Lee, you may recall, made a very realistic, make-believe CGI tiger in The Life of Pi.)
Here, the two Wills talk, hug, fight, blast away at each other and have a gritty, dual-motorcycle duel. Junior is basically Smith’s computer-generated younger face—recreated from archives of his previous movies and TV show—digitally placed onto heads and torsos of body doubles. (So, yes, sometimes Henry is fighting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.) Sometimes it looks pretty amazing, which is to say natural, but sometimes it looks pretty freaky and artificial, like something from a bargain-bin computer game.
Which is all the more surprising because the movie was made using super-sophisticated, high-tech camera gimmickry—a high-speed, high-definition innovation that renders images surgically crisp and super-sharp (but likely beyond the capacity of many theatre projectors to display). Ironically, it also shows the special-effect “seams” when trying to join things together, like the real Will and the fake Will.
Smith, once a king of the box office with slam-bang, fan-boy blockbusters like Independence Day, the Men in Black franchise and I Am Legend, has in recent years marinated in more meditative fare (Seven Pounds, After Earth, Concussion, Collateral Beauty). Gemini Man might be seen as a combo platter, a bit of both—it’s got guns and explosions, but it also wants to explore ideas about the dogs of war, growing old, fatherhood, nature versus nurture and the ill-advised, age-old quest to play God.
But alas, the movie is a double-trouble mess with more than one problem. It’s a sub-par thriller with clunky dialog, an unwieldy, unoriginal plot, cheesy acting and special effects that don’t look so special. We’ve seen other—much better—movies about clones and cloning, and assassins who want to give up their guns, and there’ve been a bunch of Bonds, Bournes, John Wicks and even an Atomic Blonde to bring some real action-movie spark, spunk and sizzle to the screen while the idea for Gemini Man has been gathering dust on the shelf for more than two decades.
Two Wills for the price of one? “It’s not every day you get to see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents—by himself,” says Wong’s character, Barton, after Henry and Junior have beaten each other to a pulp in some catacombs underneath the streets of Budapest following a roustabout earlier in South America.
Gemini Man is something to see, all right—if you want to see Will Smith beating himself up in a movie, in perhaps more ways than one.
In theaters Oct. 11, 2019