Just to dispel any confusion up front, lead character Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is not a superhero in this film, drunk or otherwise. Though you wouldn’t know it given that director Ang Lee has offered up what can only be considered an homage to bad 80’s action films with a laughably indestructible protagonist. Brogan’s so tough, so single minded and so astonishingly good a sniper that a mysterious group affiliated with the Defense Intelligence Agency has secretly cloned him to make a super soldier. The younger version of Broan is about 23 while the “real” Brogan is 51, as we are reminded again and again in the movie. Fascinating premise, but this is a film that should have just been direct to Netflix and saved what will likely be an embarrassing performance at the movie theater.
Gemini Man opens with Brogan setting up to assassinate a scientist zipping by on a bullet train. Brogan is approximately 2km from the train tracks and the train’s going about 230km/hr. That shot is so incredibly hard to calculate that it’s really impossible, except for super-assassin Brogan. Afterwards, he’s wracked by his conscience because he didn’t hit exactly where he was aiming and could have killed a little girl also in the same train car. The scene is very reminiscent of the opening scene from Skyfall, though Brogan is considerably less believable as the shooter.
As we have all learned from countless action movies, people don’t quit these spy agencies, they can’t just “retire”, and while Brogan’s request to be out is accepted it’s also immediately suspicious to those in power. He rents a boat for a secret rendezvous with an old friend from a charming young woman Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and somehow immediately knows she’s from the agency and is surveilling him, tho she denies it. His rendezvous reveals that the assassination was a setup: The scientist wasn’t a terrorist, but was affiliated with the Gemini program run by former DIA operative Clay Varris (a wooden Clive Owen).
Given that, he logically wonders how many of his 73 kills (nice that he keeps track!) were actually bogus, but he doesn’t have long to wonder because a hit squad shows up at his beautiful Georgian home to retire him permanently. He gets away, demonstrating how a cool guy with a pistol and no body armor can overcome a group of well-trained professionals with rifles and full armor. That’s the first of many action sequences that just get increasingly unbelievable as Gemini Man progresses.
Brogan rescues Danny in the nick of time and the two of them escape yet more assassins with a stolen boat. They meet up with the happy-go-lucky Baron (Benedict Wong), an old wartime buddy who happens to be the best pilot in the world too. They’re hiding out in Cartagena, Columbia when yet another assassin shows up to kill Brogan. Except this assassin looks weirdly familiar; it’s Brogan’s younger clone Junior!
This is where the fight scenes get completely unbelievable, with Brogan senior being hit by cars, punched so hard he flies over the hood of a car, and then being smacked to the ground by a spinning motorcycle. Just to shake his head and get up again, ready for more. Bring it! But no, he’s not supposed to be Superman or Batman, he’s just an assassin and the suspension of disbelief necessary for these films just collapses entirely at this point.
The majority of the film then involves Brogan senior figuring out how he’s related to the handsome killer “Junior”, then trying to convince Brogan junior that they’re clones and that both are being run by Varris and the Gemini program. Fortunately, the astonishingly capable young agent Danny and affable Baron are both available to try and help with the convincing, as they bounce around the world, fighting each other and the occasional bad guy all along.
Ang Lee is a great action director and if you take a film like Gemini Man as being in the same fantastical oeuvre as his brilliant Life of Pi or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then it’s good fun, a rolicking actioner with an interesting premise and some fun twists. There’s also a fascinating technical side to the film too, with a computer-aided de-aging of Will Smith to create the 23 year old younger version of himself. It’s not perfect, but for most of the scenes where Junior is on screen, it’s remarkably good. The tech has come a long way since the creepy and wooden Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia CGI cameo in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Comic book movies are all the rage, but sometimes there are stories that would work better in that print medium than on screen, and Gemini Man ultimately is a comic book brought to life. And not really in a good way. Smith has a track record of picking bad projects, unfortunately, including Suicide Squad, Bright, After Earth and Hancock. Fortunately he also has the wins along the way; I liked him in I, Robot, Concussion, and he was fantastic in the live-action Aladdin. But, alas, Gemini Man ultimately falls into the former category, not the latter, and for that reason I can’t recommend you go see it at the theater. On Netflix or HBO? Sure, it’s not the worst thing you can find to stream, but it’s not worth your popcorn and theater admission money.
Dad at the Movies note: Ang Lee puts a lot of effort in this film to keep the PG-13 rating, sometimes in very strange ways. When Junior checks Danny for a wire, watch the camera work, it’s weirdly modest. There’s also fairly little blood for so many brutal fights so the film comes across as a fantasy comic book film and therefore might be quite entertaining for your teen movie goers. Younger than that? Probably too confusing and too violent for the tween set.