If you can’t stand the sight of what stares back at you in the mirror, then it’s time to assess why. After decades of serving his country, Henry Brogan (Will Smith) has had enough. He’s regarded as the United States’ best government assassin, protecting her interests and national security. But even the most cold-blooded assassins get worn down mentally, ultimately questioning why they do what they do. After another improbable mission success, Henry decides to turn in his resignation. Time for retirement.
As these things tend to go, Henry knows too much, and must be wiped for good in fears of exposing nasty government truths. How do you take out someone who knows one million ways to take out anyone who comes after him? Send a man who also knows one million ways to take out someone. That person is Henry himself; a younger version that was cloned in a lab in the GEMINI black ops program overseen by Henry’s old boss, Clayton Varris (Clive Owen). As older Henry is pursed by younger Henry, his mindset changes from survival to support. If he can show his younger self “Junior” how not to be him, his mental burdens and scars will be lifted and lessened.
Tea leaves can be read that Gemini Man is a parable and an examination for two things. One, the unfortunate plight of child soldiers who are raised to be nothing but killing machines, and two, a pseudo-look at the career genesis of Smith. It’s telling that his younger self, doe-eyed and seemingly impressionable in a way not unlike a person who’s unexposed to the underbelly of life or their chosen profession, is sporting the mid-flat-topped look everyone associates with his rise to fame beginning with The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and punctuated with Bad Boys and Independence Day. The issue is, neither of those make for a sound narrative to support a feature length movie that houses more issues than narrative.
Written at various points by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke, Gemini Man feels like a misguided lovechild of multiple films that came before it (not all of which are good). The trio do establish a compelling set-up, but that quickly devolves into something that resembles the worst parts of the recent Jason Bourne mixed with pieces of Minority Report and The One. Corrupt government officials with similar sounding names conducting clandestine programs reads as a pretty bland sentence, and it’s doubly bland hearing the characters wade through numbing exposition. The dramatic stakes never appear to be that high or interesting enough to care about whether they’re in doubt. And that’s on top of the science fiction aspect being woefully underdeveloped when considered the film’s subject matter. Pair all of that with frequent clunky stretches of dialogue or weirdly interspersed humor, and Gemini Man can be a chore to get through. There’s an interesting philosophical discussion only slightly touched upon at the end regarding whether it’s better to save people from the horrors of war if it means sending in clones/androids who would not experience pain or have their families subjected to their potential losses. That’s a thread that could have powered Gemini Man’s story.
Gemini Man shows its over 20-year-old age. At times, it’s easy to envision the movie fitting right into place in the late-90’s and early 2000’s; a flimsy blockbuster driven by a bankable superstar to commercial success and middling acclaim. As we come upon the start of a new decade at a time where movie stars rarely sell box office tickets solely on their own, directors arguably have as much cache in selling a movie as their cast does. Give a hand to director Ang Lee, who consistently has shown to be interested and generally capable of handling multiple genres. The bulk of the focus on his latest feature has been on the graphical output, using motion-capture de-aging filmmaking wizardry along with HFR to bring young Junior to life. It’s extremely impressive anytime Lee chooses to have the CGI creation in a room talking with other actors doing normal acting things.
Where the effects start to show their fabricated wear is during the action sequences. The standout scene of Gemini Man beginning in a deserted building and ending on the foreign streets of Budapest is equally captivating and somewhat dopey. For all of Gemini Man’s technical prowess, seeing Smith fight a digitized version of himself does look like someone punching air, and seeing the digitized version “punch” back at someone real looks as if it should be the next video game coming out for PS4’s holiday season.
As for the cast, Smith is, and will likely always be, Smith. That means he’s likable and remains in possession of the gravitas needed to lead a movie that viewers won’t totally check out on. It’s also his downfall. His filmography shows that outside of a few outliers, he’s himself in about everything he appears in. Truth be told, he’s got a few moments that he sells emotionally (probably his best work since Concussion), yet the majority of his character resembles Smith as himself, making it a tall task to get invested. His co-stars in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict “Must protect the sanctum” Wong are fine, merely filler to support Smith as needed through explaining the plot. All Owen is missing is a fitting mustache for his baddie status.
Gemini Man…the future of motion cinema? Potentially. The mostly brilliant technological aesthetics can’t be ignored, but neither can its average-ness. Fully realizing the power of 21st century technology still involves making a story worth investing into.
Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, comicbookmovie.com, and mtv.com.
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