Gemini Man (2019)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Douglas Hodge, Ralph Brown, Linda Emond
There biggest disappointment with Gemini Man is the potential that brims inside it. It’s a film with a thoughtful premise, something that can elevate any action film. With Edge of Tomorrow, we see a film that provides a poignant take on the Groundhog Day scenario. Tom Cruise’s Bill Cage begins an unsympathetic coward. But it’s through dying time and time again that comes to realize the value and virtue of standing for others. With Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller transports us to a post-apocalyptic nightmare that is both strange, terrifying, and alien, up to and including flame-spouting guitarists. But the Wasteland is also too alarmingly familiar, with the phantom of the patriarchy looming large with Immortan Joe. And in Logan, we saw a film that showed the effects time has on the heroes of the past. They grow old, they get injured, and must come to terms with their own mortality. It’s all the more frustrating, then, that Gemini Man has enough ingredients to be memorable (its cast, its director, its set pieces) but winds up being less than the sum of its parts.
Here, we see Will Smith play Henry Brogan, one of the best assassins the shadowy DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) has to offer. But he has grown weary of killing, and wishes to retire after his latest assassination mission. Of course, this being an action movie starring Will Smith, we do not get to spend the next 100 minutes following Brogan quietly enjoying his retirement. The villainous Clay Varris (Clive Owen) wants to scrub all aspects of the mysterious Gemini Project from the face of the planet. But who do you send to kill an un-killable man like Brogan? Varris comes up with the obvious answer: Brogan himself. Specifically, a clone of Brogan at age 23, nicknamed Junior, played by a de-aged Smith.
The film’s centerpiece, Smith’s dual performance, is also its biggest frustration. Smith is a man with charisma to burn, and he is truly giving it his all in both roles. Smith’s performance as Brogan is a strong mixture of wry self-confidence, guilt, and humor. These qualities carry over to Junior, but he carries an added layer of vulnerability and doubt. He’s cockier than Brogan, but it’s to cover his naïveté and insecurity regarding his role in this world of super soldiers. But the personality he imbues both of the characters is not helped in the least by the screenplay, which features poor dialogue, a lack of discerning character traits, and potentially interesting plot threads that are left undeveloped.
For the fascinating storytelling opportunities they present, the stern upbringings of both Brogan and Junior are given frustratingly little screen time, instead giving favor to the dizzying action sequences staged by Ang Lee. Moments that could render further personality and empathy for these characters are dismissed in favor of the flashy action, which is a surprising shortcoming for Lee.
His 2003 film Hulk, while heavily flawed and sluggishly paced, displayed great empathy for Bruce Banner and the incredible monster he wrangles with. While Gemini Man features a much sharper pace than Hulk, it sacrifices possible moments of character development for its action sequences. And while its action sequences are well-staged and shot with expertise, the lack of stakes makes them feel inert. In an action movie, especially a 2 hour one, empty set pieces are a death knell.
The screenplay for Gemini Man sat in development hell for over 20 years, and features three credited screenwriters (David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke). It’s all the more saddening that none of the players involved (current or past) brought forth the captivating action film that lingers within.