Whenever there is a new Will Smith movie about to be released I tend to ask which Will Smith are we getting? The brooding and tortured Smith, or the Big Willie style Smith? Not that I believe he as two modes, the man has range, but the past decade it’s either been the Seven Pounds sad sack or the heroic Bright spot of not so great movies. In his latest Gemini Man, Smith plays opposite of himself with some that Marvel Cinematic Universe de-aging tech, so with this a new question arises. With two Will Smith’s on screen, one of them is bound to be the one we love to see, right?
Henry Brogan (Smith) is the world’s greatest government assassin. After decades of racking up a substantial kill count Henry decides to retire as he believes his soul cannot take any more. Though there are people in the high offices that feel he may be a loose cannon after a hit ends up making him look like he has his own agenda. Former commanding officer and current government contractor Clay Verris (Clive Owen) decides Brogan needs to be permanently “retired” so he sends his best after Brogan and his on-the-run help Baron (Benedict Wong) and Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In the process of defending himself, Brogan discovers that the man sent to kill him is a clone of his younger self. Determined to get to the bottom of this disturbing experiment, the elder Brogan attempts to help his younger version see that he has been lied to and is being used by Verris.
The most unfortunate part of the latest film by director Ang Lee (Hulk, The Life of Pi) is the film was shot in 120 frames per second instead of the standard 24 fps and it was not screened this way for my critic circle. So I did not see the film the way Lee had shot and intended for audiences to experience it. So I will have to judge the film based solely on what I saw, as a standard action film with a sci-fi premise.
What is clearly apparent from the first act of Gemini Man is that the script that has been bumping around Hollywood since the late 1990’s by a slew of writers since, such as originator Darren Lemke, as well as David Benioff, Billy Ray, Brian Helgeland among others feels like not much was changed for the final product. The dialogue and story beats come straight from the era that brought us Speed, Face/Off, and Enemy of the State. What it doesn’t share with those films is the writing, even a brilliant visual filmmaker like Ang Lee, his films tend to always falter in the script department. Gemini suffers from the same weakness as the only things that make it feel modern is smart phones and the fact that Smith’s character and Winstead’s character don’t get it on.
As far as Smith, he, as the old and young version of himself is pretty solid. He’s for sure the tortured soul in both performances which makes sense since they are essentially the same character. He gets to be tough, charismatic, serious and most of all enjoyable to watch as each version. And the effects have come along way since even the way the young Kurt Russell looked in The Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2. Here it looks incredible as it is used in full on action fight scenes, even though there are moments when his mouth looks a little Justice League Henry Cavill weird, everything from the nose up was next to flawless. That leads to what ended up being the best part of the film, the action. While there are only a few action set pieces most are very kinetic and intense. The motorcycle chase is one of the best I have ever seen, but by the time we get to the end it is all a little too CG heavy.
Again if you loved action films of the late 90’s you will get a nostalgic charge from Gemini Man though I don’t think that was the full intention of the film, seeing as we are now 20 years removed from that time period. We’ve had Jason Bourne and James Bond reinvent what we expect from our action flicks, and yes there is still silliness like the Fast & Furious franchise keeping things balanced. What I was hoping for was something as fresh and impressive, much like the technology used to create this film, I wanted it to bleed into the all too familiar way it was told to us.