GEMINI MAN review by Mark Walters – Will Smith plays a dual role in Ang Lee’s new thriller

GEMINI MAN review by Mark Walters – Will Smith plays a dual role in Ang Lee’s new thriller

The new Ang Lee (THE LIFE OF PI) thriller GEMINI MAN features Will Smith in a dual role, playing himself at the age he is now, and a clone that is much younger, thanks to the use of modern special effects. It’s like THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR era Will Smith going against present day Will Smith, only without all the comedy. We’ve seen this sort of story before in films like LOOPER, but not usually featuring the same actor playing both roles. Then end result is at times highly impressive, and at other times a little too by-the-numbers.

Henry Brogan (Smith) is a highly-trained sniper who carries out top secret government missions against big time threats, usually from a distance and very much off the record. He jokes with his spotter about how he’s always happy to spend another day taking out “bad guys”, a simple line intended to let the audience know he’s not killing decent people. Brogan completes a tricky kill involving a speeding train, and gets a little rattled, but he’s also decided to retire, and hopefully escape the “ghosts” in his nightmares that keep him from ever getting much (if any) sleep. While heading out to his friend’s boat, he meets Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a dock manager he strongly suspects is spying on him. Henry visits his buddy Jack (Douglas Hodge), who is living the good life on a yacht in the ocean, beautiful woman in his bedroom, and Jack is quick to jokingly tell Henry “Could have been yours!” Jack also let’s Henry know that latest kill victim had a strange back story, and may actually have been a set up. And just like that, the attackers come that night to take out everyone involved. Henry just barely escapes, and with his new friend Danny in tow, they head to Cartagena, Colombia where they’re met by Henry’s trusted friend Baron (Benedict Wong). Despite how off the grid they are, a specialist shows up to hunt them down anyway, and here’s where things get weird. This attacker is super fast, super strong, and seems to know all of Henry’s moves before he makes them… and he looks exactly like Henry, only about 30 years younger. We discover this assassin is working for Clay Verris (Clive Owen), a secret government big shot that Henry is not fond of. But how did Verris do this, and why? These questions are the driving force of the story in the film, all while our on-the-run heroes are trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuer.

There are certain sequences in GEMINI MAN that are nothing short of incredible, which seems to be a trademark trick of director Ang Lee, the man who brought us films like CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and LIFE OF PI. The first big chase scene involving motorcycles is very intense and riveting to watch, culminating to a big finish fight that wows us over and over until the cops show up and things calm down… it’s a big moment, and leaves us wondering if the rest of the film will be this amazing. Well, it’s not, but it’s also not terrible. We get a few more fight scenes and intense moments that are sure to satisfy action movie lovers, but might feel a little repetitive to average moviegoers. There’s also some character development that doesn’t seem to evolve to any big finish, like the relationship between Smith and Winstead’s characters, which at first seems like it might be romantic, but never quite goes anywhere. Benedict Wong is amusing and likable as Henry’s good friend, but doesn’t get much to do, and quite literally disappears from the story at one point in a sudden and almost confusing way. Will Smith’s performance as Henry is serviceable enough, but there’s not much depth to the character, and his biggest emotional resonance is that his parents didn’t teach him to swim gently enough… I’m serious. Even Clive Owen’s antagonist feels underwritten to the point of being a bit insulting, considering how capable Owen is as an actor. Ultimately there’s not many key characters, which might be for the best, but it makes the film feel a little less epic than it could have been.

But hey, let’s face it, the big draw of the movie is seeing Will Smith fight a younger Will Smith, and that stuff is actually just interesting enough to make the film worth a look. There are moments where the youthful-looking Will Smith character is so perfectly done, it’s eerie and almost haunting. Certain shots look real, to the point where you almost forget this character is (reportedly) entirely done with CGI. One sequence in a cave where the older Smith is shining a light on the younger version is so convincing I actually couldn’t help but chuckle in awe. But as impressive as certain scenes are, there are other moments where the CGI sticks out like a sore thumb, including one scene toward the end of the film that’s surprisingly not very good, almost like they didn’t quite have time to polish it before the film was released. All that said, the interaction between the two is handled quite well, with only a few moments that just don’t quite click.

As the credits opened for this film, and the Jerry Bruckheimer logo came on screen, along with Lorne Balfe’s Hans Zimmer-esque musical score (which is quite good by the way), I was immediately reminded of some of the later 1990s action films like ENEMY OF THE STATE and CON AIR… and maybe that’s appropriate, as in some ways GEMINI MAN almost feels a film meant for a few decades ago. A slight bit of sci-fi mixed with a spy thriller, with a few cool action scenes peppered in to keep audiences excited. It’s not bad, but it also doesn’t feel like anything terribly new, save for the CGI character technology. There are times when the younger Will Smith on screen resembles his real life son Jaden so much, I almost wondered why they didn’t just cast Jaden in that role. I don’t think GEMINI MAN is destined to become a classic by any means, but if you like action movies and aren’t terribly picky, it’s worth seeing if only for the concept it implements.

GEMINI MAN opens October 11, 2019

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.