Right off the bat, Gemini Man is not a bad movie. It’s not a great one, either, but Will Smith’s double duty performance remains the highlight. The technical wizardry and 120 frames per second that have been touted are certainly entertaining to watch on the big screen – and in 3D – but they don’t enhance the quality of the story.
The story at Gemini Man‘s center is rather simple: Henry Brogan (Mr. Smith himself) wishes to retire from life as an assassin for the government, only to find they don’t want to let him go so easy. Friends, new and old and played with charm by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong, help him go on the run. Unfortunately for them all, they quickly realize a younger version of Henry (an entirely digital Will Smith, brought to life by himself via motion capture) has been sent to take them in.
Gemini Man Provokes Some Thought
Naturally, cloning is the moral quandary at stake in Gemini Man – and that fact alone makes it a good film for dinner debates. The only problem is that the vast majority of arguments for or against will come from the audience themselves, because the movie doesn’t get much further than the thesis statement.
The villain behind the cloning project – codename Gemini, because it’s the sign for twins, get it – is Clay Verris (Clive Owen), and he gets a few words in defending his perspective that actually wind up being the most compelling part of the film, philosophically speaking.
But ethical arguments aside, the performances are top-notch. Especially from Will Smith in both his roles, and from Clive Owen whose character is torn between his hatred for Henry and his love for Henry’s double, “Junior.” The father and son dynamic between the latter two could actually have made its own promising story, but that would require a script as nuanced as its actors, and a flesh-and-blood performance rather than a digital one.
Because while Smith gave it his all and succeed admirably, the technical side of Junior did not always reach his standard. This is to be expected, and it’s probably a relief to know that CG can’t and shouldn’t replace humans onscreen, but does detract from Gemini Man an key moments.
Ang Lee’s Directing Choices Shine
On the other hand, there were moments of visual mastery throughout Gemini Man, thanks in large part to Ang Lee’s poetic directing and Dion Beebe’s crisp cinematography. A motorcycle chase scene on the streets of Cartagena felt realistic and thrilling, utilizing the obstacles that would be in anyone’s way and ramping up tension without carelessly exploding everyone in the background. The dark and cramped brawl near the end of the film was just as fascinating for the opposite reason, as the characters were no longer holding back and the low visibility made viewers more afraid of what they couldn’t see.
The biggest drawback may be that the plot feels a bit basic. Gemini Man‘s decades in development hell have been greatly talked of during its marketing, and its age shows in the film itself. Despite rewrites (or perhaps because of them) from David Benioff and Bill Ray, Darren Lemke’s script still feels like a relic of times past. There are wooden bits of dialogue and lessons that feel more general than they should, all of which prevent the movie from being truly memorable. But for anyone who’s a fan of Will Smith or who wants to have a moralistic debate about scientific advancements with their friends on the ride home, there are worse ways to spend your weekend.
Gemini Man premieres in American theaters on October 11th, with a runtime of 117 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for violence and strong language.