Gemini Man review: Will Smith vs Will Smith vs a terrible script
Director Ang Lee’s combination of 3D and a high frame rate could have marked a minor technological milestone, if the film’s aggressively dated script didn’t make it so forgettable
Dir: Ang Lee. Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong. 12A cert, 117 mins
Rejoice! We’ve reached the point where digital de-ageing is no longer actively terrifying. It’s now a mainstay in Marvel films, handily used in flashbacks, and a major selling point of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Netflix epic The Irishman. So it was only a matter of time before someone made an entire film about it. Gemini Man marks the latest chapter in Ang Lee’s love affair with technological development, which began with Life of Pi’s photorealistic CGI tiger and continued with the combination of 120 frames per second (and extra-high frame rate) and 3D used in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Lee reuses the latter technique in Gemini Man and, as ungainly as all this technology feels, there’s logic behind the process. While 3D muddies what we’re seeing onscreen, high frame rates add an uncomfortable amount of detail – the theory is that the two together can balance each other out. Although it’s a long way from being perfected, Gemini Man at least marks some sense of progression in this grand cinematic experiment. It’s a small milestone. Or, at least, it would be if the film’s aggressively dated script didn’t make it so forgettable.
We shouldn’t be surprised, since the project was first conceived in 1997, when names such as Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were being tossed around as potential leads. In the 2019 version, it’s Will Smith who stars as Henry Brogan, a 51-year-old (though he likes to say 50) government assassin settling down for retirement. Unfortunately, that peace is shattered when he becomes the target of his own government, who want him wiped off the board for knowing one too many things about their own corruption. The man they decide to send after Brogan is... him, only younger. Yes, it’s Smith vs Smith, as the taglines for this film excitedly proclaim, as Brogan comes face-to-face with his 23-year-old clone.
The star is a perfect match for this kind of hokum, to be fair. Both an electric entertainer and a master of sincerity, he has a charm that lets him get away with delivering lines like, “It’s not gun time, it’s coffee time.” He keeps the emotional beats recognisable, but also broad enough that they translate surprisingly well to his digitally younger self. Mini-Will looks pretty convincing if he’s not standing out in broad daylight for too long.
Lee, too, is dedicated to not losing the audience to boredom. He makes bold choices with the camera work (there are some fun crash zooms) and there’s some smart fight choreography, thanks to stunt coordinator JJ Perry, who previously worked on John Wick: Chapter 2. The highlight is a thrilling chase sequence set in Colombia, involving a motorcycle used as a physical weapon. Yet there’s just no escaping how abysmal the majority of the dialogue is here, let alone the sequence where Smith’s partner-in-crime (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has to subject herself to a strip search for over-explained plot reasons – truly, a relic of the Nineties. Lee may not be short on tricks up his sleeve, but Gemini Man is far from an ideal home for them.
Gemini Man is released in UK cinemas on 11 October