It’s hard to believe that we’re only nineteen years into Will Smith’s self-proclaimed “Willennium.” Who knows what the next 981 years of Smith’s reign will bring us? In Gemini Man, director Ang Lee shows that even when Smith eventually dies, the Willennium can keep going strong. In the year 2894, there’s still the possibility of a Fresh Prince reboot, I Am Still Legend, or Bad Boys 47, with cyborg Martin Lawrence. But Gemini Man is little more than a tech showcase, a way for Lee to have Smith vs. Smith convincingly and show that even aging actors can live forever as the younger versions of themselves. The screenplay for Gemini Man has been passed around Hollywood since the 90s, but the finished product proves that maybe a better script should’ve gone along with this proof-of-concept.
Older Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, an assassin who is ready to quit the life that keeps him up at night and makes him afraid to look in the mirror. When Brogan discovers that his last hit was against a groundbreaking scientist and not a terrorist like he thought, the government comes after him, ready to tie up their loose ends. Brogan runs away from his Georgia home with Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an undercover agent tasked with keeping tabs on him, and Brogan’s old war buddy pilot, Baron (Benedict Wong). As the government agents catch up with Brogan, he discovers they’ve sent an assassin that looks just like a younger version of him, as him and his team try to uncover what is really going on with his doppelganger.
Gemini Man weirdly keeps older and younger Smith apart from each other for most of the film, instead, focusing on Brogan running around the globe and trying to find answers about his past. The script by Darren Lemke, David Benioff, and Billy Ray doesn’t help, as it’s full of clumsy, exposition-filled dialogue and awkward interactions between ridiculous characters. The film is a slog leading up to the two characters inevitably meeting, and continues to drag whenever the Smiths aren’t sharing scenes together. The further both Smiths dig into finding answers about themselves, the more insane and convoluted this idiotic story gets.
Thankfully, Lee does know how to shoot an action sequence, and that’s where Gemini Man truly shines. Not only does this give the rare opportunity to see Smith fighting younger Smith, but the action is fast, realistically sloppy, and exciting. One sequence has the two Smiths chasing each other around Colombia on motorcycles, and it almost feels like it belongs in a Mission: Impossible film instead. Later action sequences are full of moronic choices, but at the very least, Lee’s structuring of these scenes is always exciting.
One would think with a plot like Gemini Man, this would be a story that at least tries to say something about fighting against impending old age, or the way that older actors can easily replaced by the younger actors coming up from behind. But beyond being numbingly dull, Gemini Man oddly doesn’t have anything to say. Lee has crafted a generic action film in every way, with the exception of the de-aging technology. The technology is particularly strong, especially when Lee’s camera is close up on Smith, but that’s almost all Gemini Man has going for it.
Over the last few years, Lee seems more interested in seeing where he can push technology, from the breathtaking 3D of Life of Pi to the uncomfortable camera positioning and high frame rate of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Gemini Man is an intriguing idea in concept, but without a solid story to back that concept up, Gemini Man is likely to remain in the past while pretending like it’s the future.