Time to date myself. I always liked when sitcoms and the rare movie would pull the ultimate in cutting edge technology of having an actor/actress play two characters. The magic faded upon the realization they could never cross the same plain and the invisible line became the great hindrance to the gimmick. Technology has advanced past the Parent Trap era and now we’re seeing younger versions of actors so often it’s no longer a novelty.
With Gemini Man, director Ang Lee takes Will Smith on a journey to the past and present as an elite sniper confronts his cloned younger self. Mind you, none of that is a big spoiler since the trailers have happily announced all the big reveals and plot points. What is the spoiler is the surprisingly glitchy and shoddy CGI that fails to do the film’s major premise justice.
To be blunt, the CGI is goshawful. It makes the much maligned disappearing Henry Cavill mustache in Justice League look like an Academy Award achievement in visual accomplishment. It’s amazing that — let’s assume — multiple people watched this de-aged Smith and thought “yep, that’s definitely good enough. Let’s roll this out guys!” The problem, like too much of Gemini Man, is that it’s not nearly good enough.
In fairness, it takes a while for things to derail so spectacularly. The movie starts off promising with a daring assassination as Smith’s Henry Brogan takes out a target on a train. Lee’s use of a fish-eye technique notwithstanding.
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Realizing he’s seen too many birthdays and haunted by visions of his victims, Henry is ready to call it a career. That’s when one of his pals shows up and tips Henry off that this latest target was not the threat he believed. Naturally shady government officials led by Clive Owen’s Clay Verris are dialed in for just such a breach of their secrets and sends a hit squad to clean up the mess.
Henry barely escapes and saves fellow agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane) along the way. With the first hit a mess, Verris sends his top agent after him and he looks suspiciously like a younger Henry. The first action sequence featuring Henry vs. Henry v2 is the film’s highlight with a shootout/chase sequence that’s like watching Smith circa Bad Boys battling a Bright-era Smith.
Threads start rapidly unraveling when younger Henry has his debriefing with Clay. At first glance, the younger Smith CGI is solid, but once he starts talking there’s a roughness around the mouth area as if the effects can’t maintain their credibility during the speaking aspects. At times it almost looks like another mouth was pasted over this composite younger Smith. And it’s one of those things once you notice it’s hard to not see again and again.
Maybe if that were the film’s only issue, it could hold up decently, but the script by David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) and Darren Lemke (Shazam!) takes what should be a premise ripe for analysis and waters it down to its simplest essence. There were too many missed opportunities like the youth and physical benefits of the younger Henry having an advantage over his older counterpart who has to rely on his savvy and many more years of experience. Instead, they just brawl in a catacombs in a lengthy weak CGI exchange.
Some of this might be attributed to the film being shot in4K 3D at a high frame rate of 120 frames per second. Could watching Gemini Man in 3D fix some of the visual issues? If so it might be one of 3D’s biggest film enhancements in a long time.
There’s also the matter of cloning and the legalities of such a measure. It’s a weird idea and odder still that the government was on board with it with no iota of deniability. And the whole issue is treated like no big deal like humans could have been cloned without any side effects. There’s so much the film could have done with this concept and the bare bones action route is the most disappointing.
Smith doesn’t have any trouble with the dual role. He’s a strong enough actor now that he can convey the differences of his current and younger selves. I wish Owen would choose more complex roles other than shadowy government guy or at least be offered more diverse characters to play. Windstead is fine and it was a relief the script doesn’t try and force a romantic subplot to “validate” Danny’s role. Benedict Wong (Avengers: Infinity War) provides some pockets of comic relief as Henry’s longtime friend Baron.
Lee always has a tremendous eye for stunning set locations. While there’s a noticeable lack of people running around on some of the backdrops, Lee makes the backdrops eye-catching.
There’s no two ways to look at it, Gemini Man should be a better film. It’s got the ingredients with a good cast, talented director and a unique enough premise to have been something special. Instead, it’s littered with wasted promise much like an older person reflecting on their misspent youth.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures