Gemini Man has the type of action sci-fi premise I love: an aging government hitman who decides to retire after realizing his skills are starting to diminish must face off against a younger clone of himself that’s been sent to retire him permanently. With Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) at the helm it’s also the type of movie with a director I admire. It may be hard for some younger viewers to believe it, but high-concept action movies like this were once all the rage, especially during the late 80s + 90s, an era when the original concept for this movie comes from.
I’ll admit I don’t enjoy watching movies in 3D, for many reasons. But after learning that Ang Lee made a film with technology designed to minimize the intrusiveness of the technology, including the use of HFR (high frame rate) and digital projection so advanced few theaters can play it as intended, I bravely donned the 3D glasses and dove in. On this front, at least, Gemini Man succeeds where others – including Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey back in 2012 – had failed. But is the allure of a wild sci-fi premise, cutting-edge tech and two-times the Will Smith enough
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is one of the best shooters in the world. He has served his country loyally and has an impressive kill count that is only surpassed by his skill with a rifle and his personal integrity. But he’s getting old. He can feel his skills slipping and when his last mission does not go as calculated as he had planned it, he decides to retire before he makes a big mistake that costs innocent lives. But it’s not going to be that simple. The last target he “AMF”ed, though, was no regular bad guy.
After learning from his friend Jack Willis (Douglas Hodge) that the last person he killed was possibly an innocent, Henry decides to learn the truth about why he was lied to about his target. But government bad guy Clay Verris (Clive Owen) who heads the top-secret black ops unit codenamed “Gemini” (in a not so subtle building mind you) has other plans. He sends a young and talented hitman called Junior (Will Smith) – his clone – to kill the aging hitman-with-a-conscious before he learns the truth about the target and the truth about his youthful adversary.
Fortunately for Henry, his wealth of experience is enough to compensate at first for the physical superiority and lack of experience of the new and improved version of himself. However, it’s only a matter of time before the determined young hitman ends his life. Henry must team up with government agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – who was originally assigned to watch him – and his old pilot friend Baron (Benedict Wong) in order to stop Clay Verris, shut down Gemini and stop his clone.
Will Smith does a decent job of playing both the aging hitman and the younger and ruthless hitman replacement. As the veteran soldier who just wants to retire in peace, Smith does an adequate job of portraying a man who is more than just a two dimensional hitman. Brogan is a victim of his chosen path after surviving a rough childhood. He suffers from a life full of regrets, the irony is that he has a lifetime of love to give, yet cares so much about other people he doesn’t dare get close to them out of fear his career would jeopardise their safety. Will Smith does an admirable job of conveying this professional, yet tortured soul while still throwing in that trademarked wit we’re accustomed to seeing from him.
As the young and obedient intended replacement for Brogan, Junior allows Smith to tap into something more hot-headed and agile, yet with a level of naivety and innocence. Raised to be an instrument of death who follows orders Junior has been groomed his entire life for a purpose he doesn’t have a full picture on. With the help of CGI Will Smith does a great job of portraying an angry and confused young soldier torn between being loyal to his “father” and doing what he feels is right.
Clive Owen, on the other hand, didn’t really provide the goods in this film which is disappointing because I’m a fan of him as an actor. Clay Verris is the head of Gemini and raised the clone character Junior like a son, even if his dialogue was written like a cheesy bond villain, he’s never quite convincing as a man who is supposed to love his “son”. The story itself makes this a difficult sell already, but Owen’s performance ends up matching his wooden, robotic dialogue, which is particularly cringe-worthy in scenes where he give long, patriotic monologues about doing what is needed for the good of the country. *eye roll*
From a purely technical point of view Gemini Man is a great movie. Most of the CGI (except the woeful last scene) is very impressive with the de-aging of Will Smith’s face and digital construction of Junior. This isn’t Ang Lee in top form, storytelling-wise, though the director does push the technological boundaries of CGI with the higher frame rate and how he skillfully films action sequences that complement the new technology rather than draw negative attention to its imperfections, as what happened with Jackson’s Hobbit experiment.
Even better, those meticulously constructed action sequences don’t rely on quick-editing and instead are made up of very long shots (similar to John Wick) which made it easier on the eyes when experiencing it in 3D and helped illustrate the effort that went into the action choreography.
The plot can get a little silly in parts, especially whenever the action stops and you’re able to process it logically. I won’t give out spoilers here but Gemini Man does raise some interesting questions about the possibilities of human cloning much in the same way Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Sixth Day did back in 2000. How ethical is it to clone a human? How would you feel if you discovered you’d been cloned without consent – or, in fact, you’re the clone of someone else? Can we justify using this science for war if it will save lives? While this movie doesn’t really look into these questions with any real depth, it nonetheless raises them and makes for good discussion afterwards.
While not exactly the experience I was hoping for, Gemini Man is still an enjoyable popcorn flick that’s worth watching on the big screen – preferably one suited to display its newer technology the way it was intended. The action is well done and is geared towards the 3D experience that made it immersive without being confusing and the story, while silly and nonsensical in parts, covers the interesting topic of human cloning without insulting our intelligence. Ang Lee continues to push the visual envelope in exciting new ways, and it’s easy to see how well-implemented HFR technology could possibly change the way we watch movies. Let’s just hope these future epics have stories and plots to match the cutting-edge tech.