Ang Lee has rightfully earned his reputation as one of cinema's great auteurs, after making so many highly-acclaimed films in a such a wide variety of genres (Joy Luck Club, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, etc.). However, in taking on Gemini Man—a film concept that has been bouncing around Hollywood since the 1990s—Lee takes on a challenge too great for even his considerable skills, and not even a double-dose of one of the most charismatic stars in the world (Will Smith) can redeem it. Gemini Man may be a technical marvel, but looks are the only remarkable thing about it.
The story follows Henry Brogan (Will Smith), an aging assassin who decides it's time to get out of the game after a very shady hit nearly goes tragically wrong. When Henry uncovers the truth behind the hit and decides on retirement, the powers that pull his strings enact a drastic cleanup protocol. Henry's network of contacts and allies are systematically assassinated until it's down to Henry and Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the support agent who's been secretly watching over him for some time. In order to take out the best assassin in the world, a black-ops agency called GEMINI is brought in to deploy a one-of-a-kind asset: a clone of Henry who is younger, faster, and still very much hungry for the kill.
Gemini Man has been a long time coming, but what ultimately arrives on the screen is a B-movie action flick that has woeful delusions of being something deeper and more profound. The big selling points are clear, and the digital technology used to create the younger version of Will Smith (hilariously referred to as "Junior" in the film) is pretty amazing. Will Smith has been a major star since the time he actually looked like Junior, yet the digital effects still mostly manage to climb out of the uncanny valley of CGI artificiality, making Junior feel like a real character with all the charisma of young Will Smith. The other big selling point is that Gemini Man is an action movie and does have action (even if that inventiveness falls short of the visual effects). Ang Lee is one of the best filmmakers out there, and even when he's not working in his best lane (and action certainly is not), he's still pretty good, and fans of the genre will at least get the minimum of what they expect.
That's about where the praise for Gemini Man stops. In the years since the script emerged, having been written by Game of Thrones creator David Benioff, Billy Ray (Volcano), and Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After), it certainly didn't get much polish in all those years. Gemini Man feels dated and stuck in the '90s, from the ridiculous character names to the woefully formulaic beats to the will-they-won't-they romantic tension between the leads, this movie could be an "Every '90s Action Movie Ever" parody video. When Lee tries to go deep into the more serious themes of the story and concept, the film gets boring and the drama lands with a stone-heavy thud. It's two wasted performances from Smith, which is a real shame.
If the visual gimmick of having Will Smith battle his younger self wasn't enough, Gemini Man was also filmed in 120fps 3D to give the movie another level of a must-see spectacle. However, the high frame rate, 3D, and complex visual effects are a case of too much spectacle, not enough substance. Just getting your eyes attuned to Gemini Man's visuals is often exhausting, and one visual enhancement inevitably tends to trip up the others. Even when Lee goes for some of the biggest and most ambitious action sequences, they end up looking video-game silly when set against the high frame rate, or flat and unimpressive with the 3D diorama staging.
In the end, Gemini Man is a bold experiment that tries to run a relay race before it ever takes a successful step. The lure of Will Smith and the visual spectacle may be worth a matinee price to action fans, but other than that, Gemini Man will soon be lost in the same limbo it was stuck in for decades, before it was pulled out for this failed attempt.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Gemini Man is now out in theaters.