‘I’ ON CULTURE
Unfortunately, Gemini Man is now added to the list of movies that might have been very good but turned out a dud. The new “thriller” just does not thrill. Part of the problem is that this is a dated script. From all reports, it has been hanging around Hollywood for more than 20 years. The lead writer, David Benioff, clearly worked on it nearly a decade before he even read Game of Thrones. Eventually, a Hollywood desperate for any slightly different plot turned to this film. What is surprising is that the man behind it, director Ang Lee, has often created really good films (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain). But this one just does not fly.
Longtime world-weary assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) has killed more than 70 people in his long career and is about ready to retire to the coast of Georgia to spend his life fishing. Suddenly, people in his life start getting killed. Learning from Yuri (Ilia Volok), an old associate, that there is a killer out to get him, he takes Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), supposedly a local taking care of the dock where his boat is located but actually a special agent assigned to him, on a search for the killer. He lines up his old sidekick, pilot Baron (Benedict Wong), and they go off in search of the assassin. But things go wrong.
From the trailers, everyone knows that a “young” Will Smith is the killer. Created by evil contractor Clay Varris (Clive Owen) years earlier, Junior is Henry’s clone, just younger and all mercy (and humor) has been drained out of him. He anticipates all of Henry’s moves because supposedly he is Henry. There are a couple of good action scenes, the best being a long but fun motorcycle chase through the streets of Cartagena. I also liked the hand-to-hand combat scene between older and younger versions. And, of course, we have an expected ending.
There are many problems with the film. The most obvious is that the technology is not quite up to the task. Lee used superfast film and shot it in 3D and tossed in a few other tricks. Unfortunately, almost no theater in the world can handle all of the combined new tech, so we get to see a somewhat toned-down version. At times it works brilliantly; at others it just seems strange. Also, Lee handled the “de-aging” of Smith differently than has been done normally. He used a combination of a body double, computer-generated images and old bits from Smith’s movies of 20 some years ago. At times, this worked. Other times, it just flopped. Also, the lip movements did not match the words perfectly.
Besides the tech problem, the whole idea of the clone being exactly the same and able to anticipate is ridiculous. I have a bit of an advantage here: my older daughter is a developmental psychologist who works with monozygotic twins, identical genetically but carried in separate embryonic sacks, which is exactly what clones are. Even those born at the same time are not exactly identical. Born 25 years apart and raised under very different circumstances, they would be even further apart. More to the point, Junior had some changes made to him, further changing him. On top of that, Henry had all the experience; he had learned from both his successes and failures. Junior did not have that. Henry might have been able to predict a lot of Junior’s moves, not the other way around. However, this was just the biggest of all the plot holes.
Smith did not get a chance to use his considerable charm in this film. As Henry, he was world-weary, worn out but forced to fight. Junior was not even actually him and a bit of a mess. Winstead was very good in her part, and it was fun watching her kick around the bad guys. Wong was his usual excellent self. Owens was a bit too over the top as the villain. I prefer more complex villains; his was more strange than truly villainous. Or perhaps there was no real point to the main point of his actions.
In the long run, however, this is a fairly standard pot boiler, one that is OK if you have nothing better to do. But I would wait until you can see it for free on television, and I have a feeling it will not be long in arriving there.