I find it both unexpected and interesting that Ang Lee has become a technology director. I can understand wanting to push boundaries to create Life of Pi, for instance, as the artifice of that world plays into the film’s dramatic themes (and is also very beautiful to see on the big screen). But sometimes these folks put technology ahead of story, and I will never understand pulling out all these stops for a film where Will Smith fights himself.
In fact, that’s as good a place to start as any. Gemini Man exists in service of a flawed novelty. We’ve had digitally de-aged actors going for a while now. And we’ve had actors playing against themselves for decades. So in 2019, the idea of an entire movie built around the premise of Will Smith vs a younger Will Smith is not as interesting as this film thinks. Even if you picked an actor with a greater age contrast (think like Mickey Rourke or something), the idea still wouldn’t be worth much.
As for Baby Will Smith, just on a technical level, we’re not quite there yet. He looks close to good when silent, but something about mouth movement disrupts the illusion and gives us undeniable CG face. There is a fully-lit sequence near the film’s end that is especially bad. Gemini Man’s story is an afterthought to its technology, but that technology simply is not up to the task.
Perhaps if I saw it the way Ang Lee intended, my opinion might be different. Viewers are supposed to see Gemini Man in 3D with a high frame rate, which would give the film that strange motion smoothing effect almost no one wants. My screening had neither enhancement. It looked like a regular old movie to me, though filled with odd framing for the 3D, and I have to assume that’s how it will appear for a majority of people who see it.
Ultimately, I don’t think Gemini Man justifies its own existence. But it does exist. People paid for it, and the thing is now on our doorstep. And I’m here to tell you that if someone drags you to the film or you pay to see it just out of curiosity, you could do a lot worse.
Will Smith plays Henry Brogen. He is an ultimate badass type who gets embroiled in an action movie conspiracy. Since normal government operatives can’t kill him, Clive Owen sends his younger clone to do the job. There is action, but there is also a whole lot of Sad Will Smith. No matter how old he is, Henry Brogen is sort of fucked up.
The action in Gemini Man mostly works, though a lot of it recalls the undetailed bullets and explosions of ‘90s action cinema. It’s more Terminator 3 than T2. A motorcycle chase mid-way through the film offers a definite highlight. Old Will Smith is already somewhat superhuman in the film, which means Baby Will Smith has to flip around like Yoda to appear superior. But really, the film never makes much of a case that being younger gives the clone an advantage. Better body, yes, but he lacks the trauma and experience that makes Old Will Smith so good at what he does. Kids are stupid.
There is a lot more drama than you’d expect (though maybe not since this is Ang Lee). Will Smith’s performance as the older Henry Brogen at first seems emotionless and subdued almost out of laziness, but that’s not the case at all. He’s just really troubled. Technological issues aside, someone made a decision to present Baby Will Smith as emotionally pathetic throughout, which adds a pathological angle that can survive his weird-ass face. Amazingly enough, you feel something for both versions of the character. Add in solid support from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong, and you have a solid 1998 popcorn film.
In 2019, however, this is more of a curiosity. For all its supposed technical marvel, Gemini Man is a perfect film to watch on a plane. It knocks on an interesting door - like, in ten years we might not need new actors anymore - but that door is simply not ready to be opened quite yet. Obviously when it is, that shit will be terrifying.