In west Philadelphia, born and raised…
On paper, this film should be right in our wheelhouse. It stars the always likable Will Smith, features an action-heavy premise and is helmed by veteran director Ang Lee, who did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a film that remains among our all-time favourites. Plus, the presence of producer Jerry Bruckheimer indicated funding shouldn’t be an issue. With all that in place, Gemini Man appeared poised to deliver the goods.
On the heels of a successful but not completely clean assassination, Henry Brogan (Smith) decides that at age 51 he’s starting to lose a step and decides to retire from government service. His peaceful retirement is short lived, though, as an old military buddy informs him that his final target wasn’t what Henry was told. When the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) becomes aware of this it decides Brogan is a loose end that must be contained.
The agency sends a team to kill Brogan and Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), another DIA agent assigned to keep tabs on Henry, but the pair escape and decide to seek out a contact mentioned by Brogan’s friend that has information on the last hit. Following the DIA failure, Clay Varris (Clive Owen), who heads the military-for-hire company GEMINI, dispatches an assassin of his own to intercept Brogan and take him out.
Upon arriving, the assassin is spotted by Brogan, who has a clear shot but doesn’t pull the trigger after seeing something familiar in his face. After a narrow escape, Dani takes some of the assassin’s things and has them checked against Henry’s DNA, revealing a perfect match. Now Brogan must face his most dangerous adversary, a younger version of himself, while trying to stay alive and unravel the depth of Varris’ deception.
There’s always a certain energy that Smith brings to the screen, and his personality does a lot to make this film work. His younger self isn’t as compelling as the grizzled version, but he always carries a star presence — while it’s not great as is, Gemini Man would’ve suffered further minus Smith’s charisma. Winstead does well as a companion, giving Smith someone to riff with, even if her lethal skills seem unrealistic. Benedict Wong also provides some levity and comic relief as Smith’s old army buddy that ferries them around the world on a Gulf Stream.
Gemini Man has some big action set pieces, even if they were a little too few and far between for our taste (more on that later), and most of those are slickly choreographed. There are some odd moments here and there in which the largely strong CGI falls short, but if you enjoy fast-paced hand-to-hand and gun combat, what’s offered here is enjoyable.
For as impressive as the technology is, there’s still something off about it. In certain scenes you almost can’t tell. In others it just gnawed at our brain. It’s certainly a notch or two above what we saw in Rogue One or Tron Legacy, but it’s not undetectable. Where the CGI struggles more is with the combat, particularly the motorcycle chase and subsequent battle. The computer version of Smith simply doesn’t move like a human being in fights, and that took us out of the moment. There’s also some sketchy green screen work.
For an action movie, there isn’t enough action. Large sections of the film are actually pretty calm, which wouldn’t be a huge issue if the character development and dialogue were better, but it’s those areas in which you can feel all of the various iterations the film went through over its two-plus decades before finally getting made. At times it feels like the movie doubts we have the mental capacity to follow its core concept: yes, we understand, he’s a clone. Owen is also wasted here as a total cookie-cutter villain.
THE BONUS FEATURES
More than an hour of extras is available here spread across six featurettes, an alternate opening and a couple of deleted scenes — by far the most interesting is the original meeting with Yuri, which includes a different location and actor. There’s some good content in there, especially if you’re interested in seeing how they put together the action sequences and turned current Smith into the Fresh Prince of Bel Air version.
Gemini Man has its moments, and action fans should find it a decent watch, but given the talent involved we were expecting more. Ultimately, uneven CGI and a shaky script cause it to fall short of its considerable potential.