Gemini Man theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Gemini Man

Overview:

Gemini Man is certainly not something new. Apart from the production hell which had dragged the film through a lengthy span of almost 20 years, there’s just something in the film that whispers, “Psst..it has been done before”. The title and the theatrical poster bears too much resemblance with Demolition Man (1993), and early reactions to the trailer suggested that it might go through the same route taken by Looper (2012), where time-travel permits you to bump into your younger self.

Now, all that has been taken care of since the reveal that the younger Will Smith in Gemini Man is actually the clone for the character that he’s playing in movie. And yet, my mind still stubbornly pulled out any remaining similarities with Arnie’s The 6th Day (2000), and made preparations for any brain-damaging twist like “the original is actually the clone, and the clone is actually the original” thing.

Whether Ang Lee doubled-up Smith’s compensation or cut-down the costs of hiring two leading actors into half is still a mystery, but to clear off the air, Will Smith played as retiring special agent Henry Brogan, and his younger self whom can be seen terrorizing the scenes in Gemini Man. In a film-making era where studios shrank the masculine Chris Evans into a skinny little Steve Rogers before the bottle comes in, and slathered Paul Walker’s face into Cody Walker’s body in Furious 7 (2015), I thought that nothing is truly impossible anymore.

Gemini Man Will Smith train sniping scene
It’s funny how laying down with stomach on the ground can be a double moment of joy. Source: Paramount Pictures

Naturally, it turns out that Will Smith portrayed his younger self via motion-capture and de-aging, the same film-making trickery that has presented to you the scarily-realistic young Hank Pym in Ant-man and The Wasp (2018) and Avengers: Endgame.

There’s just one tiny issue. Unlike Furious 7 where I just didn’t know which scene was Paul and which scene was Cody, I was blessed with the knowledge that the young Smith in Gemini Man is definitely some CGI work. And unlike Hank Pym in the above mentioned films, the young Smith, being a leading character, actually hogs on to the screen way longer than young Professor Pym did.

You know where all of this is leading to, right? Truly, I was constantly checking out the face of the young Smith in the movie, and ogling at it, as if he was some hot chick. It’s definitely an awkward sensation, but no less hypnotizing. It may sound a little dumb to you, but I nearly lost trace of the plot a couple of times because I was so busy observing his “face”.

Gemini Man Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Dani Zakarweski
Source: Paramount Pictures

And I blame the visual effects team of Gemini Man for that. At some scenes, Junior, the younger version of Henry Brogan in the movie, looks hyper-realistic, even through with varying degree of light and shadows which fall onto his “face”. But strangely, during other scenes where the lighting was way less complicated, his face looks rather fake. Or deep-faked.

The movement of his facial muscles certainly look unnatural at times. Or was it Smith’s exceptional performance that cramped-in too many emotions into a single scene, that even the mighty CGI algorithm got Toast?(pun intended). Either way, this had kept my eyes glued to his face for eternity. And either way, I am happy to report that CGI is not Gemini Man’s forte, and the flick has other better tricks lying around somewhere else.

Jumping into the same ship as the CGI’s, the intro of the film didn’t feel like a terrific start, either. While I appreciate the way Ang Lee kicked off the film with a certain degree of refreshing cinematography (180 degrees to be exact, if you look at the scene where a speeding train is passing by), it did not feel a whole lot cinematic to me. The color palette is somewhat ordinary and muted, with camera work that does not suggest any artistic intervention.

Gemini Man Henry Brogan and his clone
Be careful. The Face App’ed version of you is just around the corner.
Source: Paramount Pictures

The film fired up by establishing Smith’s character, and I mean the older character, Henry Brogan, as possibly the states’ deadliest special agent. Call him a licensed hitman if you will, but instead of showing it to the audience how his job is pushing him into the limits of his sanity, he ‘narrates’ it to a supporting character. What would you feel if John Rambo constantly explains about his post-war torment to another character, without the scene actually going into the middle of the night to show his nightmares?

As underdeveloped and uninspiring as the introductory scenes may be, things start to sizzle when Dani Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes into the picture. Though I initially did not know who the heck she was (she might be an extra), there’s something about her that’s super charming, and her initial scripts with Henry Brogan sparks off something more than what can be seen on screen. It’s not outright explainable, but I knew that I really wanted her character to be important so that she can stay. I was yearning for that. 

Speaking of scripts, I think the dialogue scripts are one of the best yet this year. Yes, you can catch a few stray lines here and there with questionable existence. There was a moment when (the older) Smith suddenly shouts in the middle of a phone call, and I was like, “What?”. Or maybe you need to pardon Dani for bringing out the ‘clone theory’ in such an unmotivated way. 

Gemini Man Benedict Wong as Baron
Wong and Dr Mirror. Source: Paramount Pictures

Apart from those times when the dialogue scripts get those undeserving hiccups, the lines do excel in overall, by large the ones meant for Smith. They are like a custom tailored suit that fits Will Smith, and Will Smith alone. Because I just couldn’t imagine those very same words uttered by any other substitute actor embodying Henry Brogan, new or seasoned alike. Without Smith saying out those lines in his usual nonchalant yet quick witted way, the Henry Brogan magic would have been lost. Also, there’s no denying that when the screen focuses on the push-pull chemistry between Dani and Henry, the scripts sound the best. The cheekiest. The most charming.

Since I noticed that my words are starting to lean favorably towards Gemini Man, it is only fair for me to pause and steer you away from expecting the film to be a heavy sci-fi hitter. It is not. Though it certainly has some sci-fi qualities built-in, it is not your usual type of sci-fi movie that tends to hold on to its (scientific) mystery until the very last frames in the reel. It’s nowhere near The 6th Day. It’s not a clone of Looper. It’s just a clone movie, period. And Ang Lee wanted to stick to that uncluttered framework.

If you want a sci-fi action film that can present mind-bending ideas worthy of igniting debates for weeks or even months after its release, then, you should look elsewhere. Gemini Man won’t please your scientific mind. To be frank, I did walk into Gemini Man expecting a bit of a twist, not in the plot, but in regard of the scientific ideas presented in the film. By the time the credits roll, I realized that I was asking a little too much, or perhaps asking for the wrong thing. I was putting my hope on something quite redundant. Did I enjoy the film? Yes. Without a doubt.

Gemini Man Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Source: Paramount Pictures

Without having to squeeze their brains trying to think of any scientific proposition that can be ground-shaking, the crew behind Gemini Man could seemingly stretch their hands and focus on the plot in better detail. Gemini Man transitioned from frame to frame, chapter to chapter in utmost linear fashion that it’s hard to find fault with how the story-line carries you along. Due to this aspect, certain viewers might lash out at the film for lack of explosive moments, but I find that to be overly nitpicking.

Measuring at almost two hours long, it does take some consistent storytelling to prevent the audience from grumbling about any overextended scenes. Here is where Gemini Man’s plot linearity emerged as a strength rather than a weakness. The film feels extremely light and flowy, with enough action to spare, which feels rigorously choreographed as well. Action and stunts are fast and intense enough, and there’s even a pursuit scene that let me caught some Terminator 2 vibes. With that said, I am not a fan of those fast-forwarded punches and kicks, unfortunately.

Whenever action sequences took a break at the backstage, plot advancement tagged in, frequently joined along by some clever play of perspectives as the film propelled from the mid point onward. You see, at some juncture, you’ll feel as if Henry is playing father to his younger clone, longing for a family that his job has cruelly denied him again and again. And yet, the dialogue scripts tend to pull you back into the idea that Junior is actually his double. And Henry’s parents are actually Junior’s parents, too. So they are like brothers now. Wait, what? Let’s move on, shall we? 

Gemini Man Clive Owen as Clay Varris
Hey. Nice Tesla.
Source: Paramount Pictures

Now, this is perhaps the question that many have been asking; how does the final resolve fare against its peers? With a mixture of a healthy dose of action, a tiny bit of moral dilemma, and a hair of humor, I was fairly surprised that Gemini Man achieved its ultimate resolve in a pleasant way. It might not be as intense or gruesome as the more demanding crowd of audience would have expected, but looking back at the ending, it still feels as the best possible outcome for the plot. And I am not even suggesting that I am the undemanding type. As a plus, the story follows up the final resolve with a creamy, heartwarming aftermath, and let the credits roll gracefully without sneaking in any short clips that may suggest a possible sequel. Overall, I feel that Gemini Man has been produced earnestly, and even with its simple structure, I reckon that there’s a lot to love.

Addict Verdict:

Gemini Man is a light and buttery-smooth sci-fi action film that is way less complicated than its title or the nature of the story has suggested. And for me, it’s a good thing. Undeniably a double-aged sword, audience who favors an uncluttered story-line sans gimmicks will find joy in Ang Lee’s coherent storytelling and velvety plot transition, with some solid action to boot. Inversely, sci-fi purists will find Gemini Man to be too shallow for their liking, or find the plot proposition to be boring. For me, it’s pretty simple;  I am leaning towards the former, and I find the 117 minutes spent on Gemini Man to be a rather pleasant one–The Film Addict