This is a lot like if Mark Wahlberg’s film “Shooter” had a lovechild with “Looper,” and I mean that as a compliment.
“Gemini Man” stars Will Smith as an aging assassin who, after being double-crossed by his agency, must fight a younger clone of himself (portrayed by Smith through motion capture and de-aging). Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong also star as Ang Lee directs.
This film has had a bafflingly difficult time making it to the big screen. Originally written in 1997 and set to have Tony Scott direct, the film went through development hell, which included seven rewrites. Pretty much every action star from the last 30 years was attached at some point of another (including Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise), and finally in 2017 the film landed Lee and Smith. Now normally, when a film takes 22 years to get made the end result is rough. But not my boy “Gemini Man.”
I don’t really know what to say about this film other than it oozes guilty pleasure fun. I am a sucker for the “government turning on the established veteran because of a conspiracy web” genre of spy thrillers, with even the worst-reviewed lot of them like “The November Man” still entertaining me. I went into this thinking it was just “Will Smith vs Will Smith” (since, you know, that’s what this film is marketed and sold as), but it actually sets up an espionage plotline that I found interesting.
Will Smith is still a pretty big movie star, even if he doesn’t open like he used to, and is having a decent 2019 with “Aladdin” becoming his highest-grossing film to-date, and he still has the animated “Spies in Disguise” due out this Christmas. Smith is a two-time Academy Award nominee but I feel never really gets the respect he’s owed as an actor, because even in a film like this with a shotty script he still turns in an at-times emotional performance (or two). As 51-year-old Will, he has subtle glares or head movements as a man haunted by his violent past; as the younger version, he gets some chances to tear up or emotionally process information, and I think this is a solid central performance despite everything going against him.
To have Smith appear as the younger clone of himself, it isn’t strictly de-aging technology like “The Irishman” but instead motion-capture of Smith’s face, which was then put into a computer and CGI’d onto the body of a stunt double. At times it is seamless and you feel like you’re watching the young Fresh Prince in the flesh, but at other points (one in-particular) it is creepy, unnatural and almost laughable. Nothing will ever be as cringy as the work done in “Star Wars: Rogue One” but this one shot comes close. Also worth noting, I saw this film in 3D and it played at 120 frames per second. This is double the speed that films are normally displayed at, so while the images look much more crisp, the scenes sometimes look like they were sped up, and on more than one occasion the sounds seemed to be lagging behind the actions being depicted.
There are some well-shot action sequences and gun fights, which is a compliment to Lee on the continued variations of projects he takes on. The man can seemingly shoot a drama like “Brokeback Mountain” but then turn around and master a blue screen blockbuster like with “Life of Pi,” and even if he has some stinkers along the way (like 2003’s “Hulk” or 2016’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”) you have to commend his attempts to challenge himself.
Now, is this film a game-changer? No, it’s not even the first film of 2019 to use de-aging as a gimmick and it won’t be the last. However, for being a dumb action thriller, there is something that holds your interest, that “Black Mirror” aspect of being hunted by yourself, and I really think you should check this one out. The woman to my left was having a verbal ball the entire time, and the man to my right tried to get a clap going when the credits began to roll. In a world where idiotic, ugly-looking actions films like “Angel Has Fallen” crowd our cinema screens, is it too much to enjoy a good-looking one?
Critic’s Rating: 6/10