" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

Sponsored links

Gemini Man is an action movie suffering from an identity crisis.

Don’t Call Me Junior!

Junior (a de-aged Will Smith)
Junior (a de-aged Will Smith)

Director Ang Lee is known for pushing the envelope with technology in movies like Life of Pi and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Here, he toys with the de-aging technology that’s become a virtual staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While that technology in itself is no longer envelope-pushing, in Gemini Man, Lee takes things further by having Will Smith (at 51-ish) and Will Smith (at 23-ish) appear on-screen side-by-side for a good chunk of the movie.

It’s not just that older Will and younger Will share screen time as versions of Henry Brogan. It’s that older Henry is a master sharpshooter who — so the story goes — can only be killed by an equally skilled assassin. And that would be a genetically engineered, younger clone of Henry, suitably named “Junior.”

That’s a cool idea. Unfortunately, the story driving that premise is surprisingly dull.

An intriguing plot device involving Henry 51 assassinating from a distance of 2 kilometers a bio-terrorist riding a crowded bullet train sets the story in motion. But it turns out the guy’s biography was “spiked” — he was actually an innocent scientist. That twist, though, is quickly scuttled and what seems like a promising storyline quickly evaporates into nothing more than dueling government agencies, with one hellbent on squelching Henry 51, a dude who just wants to ride off into the sunset and retire.

The Smiths

The concept suggests a wall-to-wall action flick and a playground for Lee to exercise some creativity. The final film, though, is nothing more than a major disappointment on several levels.

Will Smith is good — really good — as an assassin looking to leave his deadly line of work and find some peace within himself. But that twist of having two Smiths — the older and the younger — suffers from poor execution. There are times when Junior appears quite lifelike, but there are also plenty of scenes where Junior is mighty stiff and looks like a human character from the original Toy Story — every bit as plasticine as the toys.

As for the action, there are only a couple cool action sequences — particularly a motorbike chase through the streets of Cartagena, Colombia. Even then, though, there are distracting curiosities that undermine whatever Lee is attempting here. In the case of that motorbike scene, innocent civilians simply disappear from the scene. They get carjacked, or their cars literally get stomped on by those motorbikes, and in the next frame there’s nobody behind the wheel. Silly little distractions like that break the fantasy.

Perhaps the biggest frustration, though, is how quickly the enticing setup of Henry and Junior attempting to kill each other falls by the wayside. Even though Henry can shoot a man in the neck from a distance of 2 kilometers (on that bullet train, no less), neither he nor his younger self can even graze himself at close range. Nonetheless, they leave a whole heckuva lot of collateral damage in their wake. And there’s one good line about Henry managing to kick his own butt twice in one day — on two continents.

As far as wit goes, that line’s about the extent of it. There’s a ton of dialogue here, but most of it’s bland — almost painful — exposition.

The Next War Is No War

Probably the biggest problem with Gemini Man is the lack of a sense of urgency, the lack of something at stake.

Sure, Henry 51’s life is on the line. But when has a master sharpshooter protagonist ever been on the ropes in all of Hollywood lore? Henry fights against himself (briefly) and then takes on a weak antagonist that lacks heft. While enough time was put into making Henry a likable guy, not enough thought was put into making the action — such as it is — compelling.

There’s a dream army concept here — genetically engineering super soldiers that have no family and carry no emotional baggage, thereby alleviating fears and horrors of so many military families — but it’s not an entirely novel idea in 2019. And there’s no reason why that noble purpose should so quickly be abused by an agent — Clay Verris (Clive Owen, Inside Man) — who previously held Henry in high regard.

This one simply doesn’t play right. Too much of this production backfires, undermining the limited action and leaving behind a movie lacking tension, intrigue, mystery and surprises. Given the almost perpetually teary-eyed state of Henry and Junior, it’s as if Lee was gunning for a different kind of action movie and winds up with something that’s a little too genteel for its own good.