Elite assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) has decided the time has come to retire. But before he can get out of the game, a bunch of government agents are sent to take him out. Henry escapes thanks to allies Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Baron (Benedict Wong). Upon investigation, they discover the attempt on Henry’s life is related to an illegal project named GEMINI, run by Clay (Clive Owen), which Henry refused to join years ago. Now Henry’s on the run, and finds that an assassin named Junior (also Will Smith), who is his clone, is hot on his trail.
So obviously the unique selling point for ‘Gemini Man’ is going to be the de-aging effects used to make Junior, aka, recreate 90s Will Smith. It’s a CGI method we’ve seen to varying results across Marvel movies like ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Captain Marvel’, and Star Wars standalone chapter ‘Rogue One’. Following its predecessors, ‘Gemini Man’ occasionally nails the effect. In several cases though, it fails to look genuine, which is much to the film’s detriment as it provokes laughter and discomfort among viewers.
One good thing you can say for ‘Gemini Man’ is that Will Smith absolutely still has ‘it’, and it’s hard to imagine many other actors who could pull off a role like this. When Henry confronts Junior, you absolutely believe in current day Smith’s talking down parentally – with knowing, firm intention – to his stubborn younger self. Elsewhere, there’s a scene between Junior and Clay in which Smith conveys the doubt, determination and deep-rooted anger of his young counterpart to surprisingly emotional effect. It’s possible to give the film more credit than it’s due in saying it reflects on an young, angry, fatherless African American community, but so impressive is Smith as an actor that you can absolutely believe this is his intent.
One wishes the film had opted to focus primarily on Smith’s dual performance because it’s the highlight of the movie. Generally speaking, as an action-thriller, ‘Gemini Man’ is snooze-inducing in its predictability and conventionality. You’ve got the hero who’s just trying to retire, the best friend who gets killed early on, a love interest – but we gave her an action scene to show that she can kick ass too – in Winstead, a comic relief sidekick in Wong, a betrayal by those Henry works for, and a plot that requires one to globetrot a la the Bourne movies. Story-wise, it recalls ‘Lopper’ or ‘Metal Gear’ though reference-wise, it mostly turns to the ‘Terminator’ movies, with a motorcycle chase scene and bad guy melting in fire akin to the T1000 in the mix. As for the high frame rate, another technological feat director Ang Lee (‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Life of Pi’) decided to take on too, it too has a detriment impact as while it broadly works for practical sequences such as those involving combat, it also draws unwanted attention to the dodgier CGI incorporated into the action scenes and de-aging effects.