Wait until you can stream it…
If you have read a few reviews for Gemini Man, you have probably seen many negative reactions to this Ang Lee/Will Smith collaboration. This film has not impressed film critics. Going by the poor box office results so far, with many predicting a rare Will Smith flop, the public does not seem impressed either. For the sake of giving you something fresh to read, this review will first focus on the positives. There is a lot to like, even if the chain holding these jewels together is weak.
The characters are charming and likeable. Benedict Wong plays a comic relief stock character brilliantly. The scene in the plane when he is singing “Gold Digger” (possibly the Ray Charles song sampled in “Gold Digger”) is just so human and warm. Funny too. The moment when he later calls out Henry Brogan (Will Smith) for actually being fifty one also elicits much laughter. Speaking of Will Smith, to nobody’s surprise, he delivers here. His performance is safe. He does not offer much that is new in terms of his range- although, the scene involving him talking to his younger self about insomnia is a moving surprise. Otherwise, the performance is exactly what you would expect: a charismatic and one dimensional hero, but an engaging and absorbing one too. What works for Will Smith throughout his career works here too. Like the rest of the cast of characters, he is likeable enough.
Ang Lee’s direction, and the work of the cinematographer, is a major highlight of the film. Many of the shots are inventive and a joy. A tracking shot of a drone rising directly into the air is so satisfying to watch, it feels like watching a tape measure zip back into its holder. Early in the film, there is a shot with an outstanding sense of depth, as the camera is placed over the shoulder of someone sniping Henry Brogan (Will Smith), only for Henry to walk on screen, a small figure in the distance, and shoot the sniper. The takes are long and controlled too. None of the choppy, disorientating and confused editing, plaguing many Hollywood action films at the minute, is to be found here. Further, his use of the de-ageing digital technology is some of the most impressive put to screen so far. Fresh Prince of Bel Air Will Smith could have travelled forward in time to star in this movie- it is that good. The direction and cinematography make this film much more enjoyable than critics would have you think.
The action sequences are a lot of fun as result. The hand to hand fighting boasts some impressive choreography too: seeing the two Henrys rolling around the floor beating the crap out of each other is as fun as it sounds .The motorcycle chase sequence involving the younger, cloned Henry Brogan chasing his older, original self, is entertaining and enjoyable highlight of the action. The chase ends with the cloned Henry using his motorcycle as a martial arts staff and smacking the older Henry all over the place. Admittedly, it is dumb- Henry should be dead after such an attack. It is a memorable and outlandishly cool shot though, and it is refreshingly original. Maybe it would work better if Spider-Man were fighting off a motorcycle in this way. Regardless, the action is worth the price of entry.
The fact this cool scene does not make sense is the biggest problem plaguing this film. The sci-fi is poorly set up. The first scene, involving Henry Brogan, is highly reminiscent of Skyfall, as a trained assassin uses a sniper to kill someone on a moving train. The opening scene sets the tone so that Gemini Man feels like a spy thriller, not a sci-fi. When the cloning technology is revealed through its end product, it is jarring as a result. The opening should have done more to establish the sci-fi side of the setting. When the two Henrys are fighting each other with a motorcycle, this could have been rendered more believable with a reference to Henry taking some kind of super soldier serum. This is not the case, and the scene is illogical as a result. The science fiction elements of this film should have been properly established.
Instead, the first half an hour is wasted on dated and cliched “bureaucrats shouting at each other in an office” set up. You hear talk of “assets”, and even more talk of “Russian terrorists”. You see the hero getting ambushed by a SWAT term in their country retreat. The hero is forced out of retirement. Later in the film, the villain (Clive Owens) says “go ahead. Do it”, meaning the cliches are not limited to the first half hour. The original idea for this film was devised in the late 90s, and it seems the building blocks of the story are also from twenty years ago.
Gemini Man is not an amazing classic. It gets a lot wrong: the story feels dated and the sci-fi is poorly set up. But it also gets a lot right: the characters are funny and likeable, the de-ageing technology is a marvel here, and the action is a lot of fun. It may not be worth the price of a an expensive cinema ticket, but if it ends up on Netflix, it will keep you entertained. If you go in expecting a popcorn thriller, that is what you will get, and you will not be disappointed.