Ang Lee is no stranger to blockbusters where the main lead struggles with a digitally manipulated, darker version of his id – after all the guy made 2003’s Hulk – however, Gemini Man takes it that little bit further while pushing some impressive technological boundaries. You see the adversary that this hero has to face (in this case, Will Smith) is a younger clone of himself, played by the same actor but digitally de-aged to about 23 and it’s this technological boundary that has kept the script on the shelf for so long (nearly 20 bloody years) and has previously had such directors attached as Tony Scott, Curtis Hanson and Joe Carnahan while racking up an impressive roster of aging action stars to possibly lead including Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone (bizarrely all of the above has appeared in an Expendables movie as some point – coincidence…? Yes).
Henry Brogan is a hugely talented government assassin, able to snipe a target on a speeding train while miles away in a field, but he’s experiencing some problems. At 51 he’s starting to miss a step and on top of his advanced years is the troubling fact that over the years he’s grown a conscience. Not much of a problem for you or me but when you’ve racked up over 70 confirmed kills I would imagine it would cause you a fair bit of bother when trying to sleep at night, so Henry wisely chooses to step down and retire. However, things aren’t necessarily so easy as an old marine buddy of his gets in touch with some worrying news: the last guy Henry sent to prematurely meet his maker wasn’t the bio terrorist like he was lead to believe but is actually an innocent scientist.
This triggers Clay Varris, the man who trained him and who currently runs Gemini, a privately owned black ops unit regularly hired by the government to undertake tricky tasks, who sends his best agent out to take Henry out.
At this point, Henry has teamed up with idealistic fellow agent Danny Zakarweski, who had been hired to spy on him but had her cover blown by Henry’s keen eye and experience, and both go on the run to avoid Gemini personal repeatedly putting bullets in their vital organs, but Varris has yet to play his most dangerous card. Enter Junior, a 23 year old clone of Henry raised by Varris as his adopted son and trained to have all of Henry’s strengths and none of his weaknesses, who squares off against his double in a series of bruising encounters that take them from the States to Columbia and back. Can Henry save the soul of his murderous clone and perhaps, in a way, save his own or has Junior been swayed too much by his adopted “father” to listen?
For those of you who choose to plonk down your hard earned cash to watch Will Smith beat himself off for two hours (phrasing…), you may get a nagging sensation that Gemini Man seems oddly light considering the weighty themes and director involved. After all Ang Lee, director of Brokeback Mountain and Life Of Pi no less, is a filmmaker who usually delves deep into the psyche of his (usually quite stoic) protagonists to get right to the root of their dilemmas, be it physical or mental, but here he seems at peace at making a simple spy thriller with a doppelganger twist.
To be fair, the spy stuff is pretty on point and the action is staged with plenty of energetic flair (remember, Lee ALSO made the beautifully hypnotic and utterly kickass Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) with both combatants indulging in a rousing bout of “bike-fu” where they beat the shit out of each other with revving motorcycles. In fact the intelligent and surprisingly brutal action makes you wish Lee had been content to simply bang out a slick Jason Bourne clone and not waste such a delicious concept on something so breezy.
Whereas other movies have stirred up many a thematic conundrum where heroes have had to, in essence, combat the worse part of themselves (see everything from Looper to Face/Off), Junior seems just itching to shed himself of Clive Owen’s domineering, military patriarch before the movie even starts making his climatic allegiance never truly seem in doubt. Plus neither the heroic “Old Man Smith” or his bright eyed sidekick Mary Elizabeth Winstead seem at any point particularly worried about the predicament they’re in, I get that they are hard edged professionals who are trained not to blink at the sign of danger but the relative unphased nature of the leads washes out into the audience leaving a distinct lack of danger.
However, the real draw here is the magical technology that ultimately pits essential Suicide Squad era Will Smith against Fresh Prince Will Smith and for the most part he state of the art de-aging is admittedly fairly impressive – although at many noticable points in the movie Junior is clearly sporting a distinct case of “Henry Cavill Justice League mouth” which eventually gets fairly distracting. Also, Smith is in such good condition for his age that the age gap doesn’t visually seem that severe where a more “grizzled” actor might have been more suitable for the gimmick to work better.
So despite some legitimately gripping action beats and Smith pumping out his usual charisma at a rate of a crop duster on overtime, the 20 year journey to bring the movie to the screen seems oddly all a waste of time for everyone involved considering the talent it has compared to the impact it makes.
Twin Smiths indulging in double trouble doesn’t mean you get twice the fun and at the end of the day, Gemini Man is ultimately only good for a single serving.