Gemini Man movie review: Will Smith’s age catches up to him in Ang Lee’s big-budget bungle
Director - Ang Lee
Cast - Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Ironically for a film that confronts obsolescence, Gemini Man sure feels like it belongs to the ‘90s. Directed by two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Director, Ang Lee, and starring Will Smith as a middle-aged assassin being chased by his younger clone, Gemini Man looks and feels like a relic from the era that gave us classics such as Face/Off and Enemy of the State.
Certainly, it makes all the sense in the world for Smith to revisit his heyday as an actor, but was it wise of him to make a film that is the most literal metaphor for a movie star’s age catching up with them? Who knows.
Watch the Gemini Man trailer here
When his character, Henry Brogan, learns that he has been betrayed by the government agency that employs him, he goes on a globe-trotting quest to learn the truth. His mission gets murkier when the shady agency deploys what seems like a younger, more agile lookalike to track him down, and kill him.
I remember reading about how the audience erupted into peals of laughter during the Cannes Film Festival premiere of The Da Vinci Code, particularly during the scene in which Tom Hanks looks at Audrey Tautou with stone cold seriousness and informs her that she is the last remaining descendant of Jesus Christ. There is a scene in Gemini Man that will elicit the same sort of reaction from the audience. It happens around the halfway mark, when Mary Elizabeth Winstead walks up to Will Smith, and tells him that the guy who’s been chasing him; the guy with whom he had a gunfight in the previous scene, is his clone.
To be considered effectively entertaining, Gemini Man needed to be at least 30% better, or at least 20% worse. Right now, as it stands, it has none of the tongue-in-cheek joy of a ‘90s action-thriller, nor does it have the grounded realism of a post-9/11 blockbuster.
For Ang Lee to have decided to direct this feels both odd (it’s quite poorly written) and oddly logical (Lee insists on never repeating himself creatively). The biggest draw for him must have been the opportunity to revisit the high frame-rate technology that he first experimented with in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The buzz that film received pre-release couldn’t translate into box office success, but it deserves a reappraisal. With the involvement of Smith, however, Lee probably secured a bigger budget, and afforded himself a greater chance to show the world what he believes to be the future of theatrical presentation.
I can’t comment on the high frame-rate, but the digital de-ageing they’ve used on Smith is surprisingly seamless. This is the second time in a row that trailers for his films have presented a rather underwhelming glimpse at how digital techniques have been used to alter his appearance. But just like Aladdin, Smith’s CGI avatar in Gemini Man works.
Aside from a couple of shots during a chase sequence in Colombia, in which both the elder Smith and Junior momentarily turn into gobs of rubber, the facial effects aren’t at all distracting. In fact, to the contrary, they help bring an added gravitas to the one-on-one confrontations between Henry and Junior.
Like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, Gemini Man also serves as a prime example of a movie star unpacking their legacy. In scenes where he tries talking Junior out of the life that has been chosen for him by a mad scientist, Smith appears to be questioning his own past decisions, which were no doubt influenced by the managers and agents who insisted on planning his career for him.
He remains, as always, an unbelievably magnetic presence, and despite all the nifty effects and cutting-edge technology, no computer can replicate the sheer hypnotism of watching a movie star on screen. The same cannot be said of the supporting characters, most of whom have been reduced to delivering inelegantly written exposition.
Gemini Man had been stuck in development hell over the last two decades, with filmmakers such as Tony Scott and Curtis Hanson attached to direct a script that has been tampered with by at least half-a-dozen writers. The end result is a hodgepodge of not only tones and aesthetics, but also ideas and voices. The stars have not aligned for Gemini Man.