There was a point in time where a movie centered around a Will Smith double assassin role would have killed in theaters: from the mind of Ang Lee, no less! But that time isn’t 2019, when the box office is struggling, Ang Lee is pushing high-framerate digital cinematography too many years too early, and when Will Smith’s guaranteed money-making spark has gone out. Gemini Man by all counts should be a sci-fi action epic for the ages: it isn’t. But it’s decent.
Will Smith, as Will Smith often does, is an assassin with honor. A likable killer, if you will, like Dexter! As usual Smith is the focal point, so much so that he’s doing double-duty here playing his younger cloned self. He gets a few zen-like monologues that seem right up Ang Lee’s alley, and finally makes the transition to full-on dad jokes, keeping that same carefree Fresh Prince-era sense of humor. The thing is, I still buy Smith as a leading man. I know I’m absolutely on an island here, but he has the gravitas to pull it off, gives it his all, and seems to actually care: which reflects well on his respectable dual performances as a learned vet and a conflicted young killer.
I also love the concept and in a way how meta it is. Like many of the Fast & Furious boys, Smith seems to pick projects that elevate him and add riders that he has to be the “best” or coolest character in any given film. So how do you circumvent that technicality? By figuratively cloning him. We’ve seen the “A-list actor gets cloned” shtick for decades, but not in this full action capacity with Ang Lee at the helm. I know that’s very specific, and yes I remember “The One” with Jet Li, but Li has a history of taking on-screen beatings. It’s summer blockbuster for sure, popcorn fare, but it’s never able to really move beyond that mid-tier bar throughout the runtime of the film.
Smith assembles a team who are also likable, and very resourceful (they can get a Gulfstream instantly!), but outside of also looking cool there isn’t much development there. Compare them to members of the IMF, who Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is able to connect with directly and emotionally. That’s not just on Cruise, but the production team, the script, and the director behind the project. Similarly, there’s no real intrigue here, so don’t expect a “web of spies” type espionage film: it’s an action romp. It’s all kind of just laid out through exposition, and by the time it has something to say at the very end, you might not be listening.
That action, mind, is popcorn, as I mentioned already. There’s a decent amount of long takes and a very thrilling intro for Smith’s clone, but most of the carnage takes place in the dark to conceal the CGI. This might have been acceptable 20, or even 10 years ago, but with flicks like John Wick 3 upping the ante it just isn’t cutting it anymore.
At the end of the day
Gemini Man will not change any facet of the film industry like Lee hopes it
will, but I was entertained throughout with a minimal amount of eye rolling. I
truly believe Will Smith can still carry a movie, he just needs to pick better projects.