LOADING ...

Will Smith fights himself in Ang Lee’s dopey but thrilling Gemini Man

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky Oct 10, 2019. 22 comments

Ang Lee’s sci-fi action movie Gemini Man, which stars Will Smith as a government assassin who discovers that he was cloned by his former superiors, brims with the kind of possibilities of which transcendent pulp stories are made: an exclusive world of cold-blooded pros; a cavalier attitude toward both science and bodily harm; an air of weariness and regret; a hero who is fast and deadly with a gun but wishes he weren’t. Whether these thematic concerns end up being fulfilled is a different question; anyone who tries to take the film (which has been in development since the mid-to-late 1990s, and passed through the hands of many screenwriters) as seriously as it appears to take itself will probably be frustrated by its dopey sentimentality.

Yet one can smirk at the movie’s fuzzy philosophies and primordial clichés and still appreciate the delivery of Lee’s action scenes. Instead of the kinetic baroque of the John Wick movies or the IMAX-scale daredevilry of the later Mission: Impossibles (to name two other recent examples in which smart, sturdy action filmmaking doubles as star text), Gemini Man goes for the clean and energetic, with moments of weightless, near-airborne movement that are probably the closest Lee has come to recapturing the wire-assisted highs of

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . Though one would be mistaken to think that this film aspires to that earlier hit’s sense of romance and wonder.
Movie Review
eeb3yktnvy858eezjube.jpg
Movie Review

Gemini Man

B-
Movie Review

Gemini Man

B-
B-

Gemini Man

Director

Ang Lee

Runtime

117 minutes

Rating

PG-13

Language

English

Cast

Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond

Availability

Theaters everywhere October 11

Smith’s Henry Brogan, who is something like the best assassin in the world, is introduced to us as he lines up a shot that hits through the window of a roaring high-speed train right before it passes through a tunnel. It’s his 72nd confirmed kill on behalf of the Department Of Defense, and his last before he retires to a secluded property in Georgia. The reason isn’t the faltering of middle age (like Smith, Brogan has recently turned 51) so much as a slow-developing conscience. In fact, the retirement is something of a feint, as we discover that an old war buddy has come to Henry with evidence that the government has been feeding him phony dossiers for his targets, and that the foreign terrorists he believes he’s been killing on behalf of the red, white, and blue might actually be American scientists.

Unfortunately for the informant (but not for viewers who prefer their movies to just get on with it without wasting too much time on early exposition), their last conversation is picked up by a drone. By nightfall, Henry is on the run from heavily armed clean-up squads. With the help of his former comrade-in-arms Baron (Benedict Wong), he quickly makes his way to Colombia, bringing along Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the government agent who was supposed to be keeping him under surveillance before all hell broke loose. (She’s with the Defense Intelligence Agency, presumably assigned to a less nefarious division.) And since Henry and his pals have already dispatched a dozen or so highly trained goons, his old boss, the military-industrial kingpin Clay Varris (Clive Owen), offers to send his best operative to finish the job—a young super-killer who looks, well, exactly like Henry.

Lee, a chameleonic director, has in recent years developed a habit of turning movies into tech demos, experimenting with elaborate visual effects simulacra in

Life Of Pi and high-frame-rate, high-resolution digital 3D in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk . Gemini Man employs both. (It was previewed to The A.V. Club in the 24 fps 2D version that will play in most theaters.) Instead of de-aging Smith through digital effects à la Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel or the cast of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Irishman , Lee has opted for an even more elaborate solution: the younger Henry (dubbed “Junior”) is an almost completely digital creation, performed by Smith via motion capture. For all the technical wizardry involved, the result falls somewhere in the steep downward slope of the uncanny valley: Junior, with his sad-puppy eyes, never looks completely human in motion (and sometimes looks just plain goofy), and the effect is done no favors by the fact that he spends a good part of his screen time sharing space with a real, flesh-and-blood Will Smith.

As it turns out, Junior is a clone, created 23 years ago using Henry’s DNA and raised by Varris as his adopted son; the idea was to create a version of Henry that would have all of his genetics and reflexes but none of the trauma of his unhappy childhood. (As to what Varris actually thinks of his “son,” one has to look at this flamboyant villain’s choice of interior decoration—the choice of a wall-sized Vladimir Tretchikoff kitsch print for Junior’s bedroom as compared to the Francis Bacons and Cy Twomblys that hang in Varris’ own digs.)

Gemini Man doesn’t spend much time on the generic science fiction of its premise. One presumes that the characters, most of whom are veterans of the cloak-and-dagger trade, have seen enough to just roll with it without lingering on the existential implications. The decision to treat it as something closer to daddy-issues family drama than mad science feels like an obvious Lee touch, inevitably recalling

his take on the Incredible Hulk . But as much as the younger clone makes an all-too-perfect embodiment for those themes of remorse and starting over that inevitably haunt stories about aging killers (especially those that involve the fabled “one last job”), it’s easier to be drawn to Gemini Man’s unintentionalities: the way all that talk about moving on from the violence of the past sits with the heroes’ willingness to mow down faceless henchmen without a second’s pause; the curious (and repeatedly mentioned) sexlessness of the characters; the fact that Junior could just as easily be a stand-in for the project itself. (After all, they were born around the same time.)

Because for all of its tear-stained speechifying about how you aren’t what they made you, the film is best enjoyed for its killer qualities: Lee’s gracefully elastic direction of the sequence that first introduces Junior, pitting him against Henry in a series of shoot-outs that turns into an awesome motorcycle chase; the spotless hand-to-hand fights; the way the climactic showdown (staged against the less-than-scenic backdrop of a small-town hardware store) turns into fiery, full-bore martial arts action; the fisheye lenses, digitally composited smash zooms, and other eccentric touches with which Lee seasons the set pieces. Like its characters, Gemini Man is groan-inducingly sincere, but runs like a machine when it counts.

22 Comments

Other Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's posts

Memory is a superficial look at the origins of Alien Memory is a superficial look at the origins of Alien

Movie ReviewMovie ReviewMemory: The Origins Of AlienC+Movie ReviewMemory: The Origins Of AlienC+C+Memory: The Origins Of AlienDirectorAlexandre O. Ph...

There’s no shortage of shocks in Swiss Army Man follow-up The Death Of Dick Long There’s no shortage of shocks in Swiss Army Man follow-up The Death Of Dick Long

Movie ReviewMovie ReviewThe Death Of Dick LongB-Movie ReviewThe Death Of Dick LongB-B-The Death Of Dick LongDirectorDaniel ScheinertRuntime100 minute...

Let’s hope Last Blood is the last we see of John Rambo Let’s hope Last Blood is the last we see of John Rambo

Movie ReviewMovie ReviewRambo: Last BloodC-Movie ReviewRambo: Last BloodC-C-Rambo: Last BloodDirectorAdrian GrunbergRuntime89 minutesRatingRLanguageE...

Brad Pitt journeys into inner and outer space in James Gray’s sci-fi stunner Ad Astra Brad Pitt journeys into inner and outer space in James Gray’s sci-fi stunner Ad Astra

When we go to space, how much of our baggage will we bring with us? The question hangs over James Gray’s Ad Astra, a mesmerizing sci-fi drama that tak...

Suggested posts

The director of Rubber returns with a deranged love story between a man and his jacket The director of Rubber returns with a deranged love story between a man and his jacket

Getting older drives men to weird places. Some cope with ink or dye. Others splurge on sports cars. And of course, there’s the timeless ritual of cha...

Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders broods through the familiar Netflix drama All Day And A Night Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders broods through the familiar Netflix drama All Day And A Night

It’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that everybody’s paying tribute to somebody. But Netflix’s latest original movie, All Day And A...

For a 2-hour orgy of S&M and severed limbs, Liberté is pretty tedious For a 2-hour orgy of S&M and severed limbs, Liberté is pretty tedious

In the year 1774, some time before the French Revolution, a group of aristocratic libertines exiled from the court of Louis XVI gather in a secluded ...

Netflix takes another shot at Cyrano de Bergerac with queer love triangle The Half Of It Netflix takes another shot at Cyrano de Bergerac with queer love triangle The Half Of It

“This is not a love story,” introverted high schooler Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) warns us in her opening narration. “Or not one where anyone gets what th...

Beastie Boys Story is no sure shot Beastie Boys Story is no sure shot

What if they made a Beastie Boys movie and it wasn’t any fun? If there were none of the rambunctious spirit that defined the New York trio’s music ev...

True History Of The Kelly Gang writes a powerful fictionalized biography of the outlaw True History Of The Kelly Gang writes a powerful fictionalized biography of the outlaw

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that as long as there have been movies, there have been movies about Ned Kelly. The 19th-century bushranger, b...

Dr. Fauci swings by Will Smith's Snapchat show to address Tooth Fairy's COVID-19 susceptibility Dr. Fauci swings by Will Smith's Snapchat show to address Tooth Fairy's COVID-19 susceptibility

Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the only people in the White House more concerned with addressing the COVID-19 crisis than with covering Donald Trump’s a...

Chris Hemsworth reunites with some Marvel talent for the grisly but generic Extraction Chris Hemsworth reunites with some Marvel talent for the grisly but generic Extraction

Chris Hemsworth’s talent lies mostly in comedy, but his looks and physique have all but ensured a career of glowering he-man roles. Nonetheless, the ...

Ghost Town Anthology creeps up on you with its haunting premise Ghost Town Anthology creeps up on you with its haunting premise

Québecois filmmaker Denis Côté (Vic + Flo Saw A Bear ) takes his time establishing the arresting premise of his latest feature, Ghost Town Anthology,...

Braveheart gets another sort-of sequel with the meager Robert The Bruce Braveheart gets another sort-of sequel with the meager Robert The Bruce

The first time 14th-century Scottish outlaw/king Robert The Bruce is seen in the new film that bears his name, he’s the subject of a bedtime story. ...

Language