Movie review: Gemini Man
Will Smith stars twice over as a government assassin seeking to destroy his mission-focused younger clone in Ang Lee’s strangely vacant thriller haunted by ghosts in the machine.
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen,
Directed by: Ang Lee
Running time: 1 hr 57 mins
Opens wide October 11, 2019
By Katherine Monk
Something is missing in Gemini Man. Despite the presence of not one, but two, Will Smiths, and the direction of three-time Academy Award-winner, Ang Lee, Gemini Man adds up to an emotional zero.
It’s a curious disappointment, and it settles in toward the final act of this international thriller, when we realize we aren’t going to get the memorable Luke Skywalker moment in the cave. The big reveal has come and gone with little more than a raised eyebrow, which means the grand climax of personal recognition in the Other is never fully achieved. Things feel one-sided and emotionally forced. So every time Lee tries to conjure love, all we sense is a vacancy.
It’s a curious disappointment, and it settles in toward the final act of this international thriller, when we realize we aren’t going to get the memorable Luke Skywalker moment in the cave.
You could argue that’s part of the film’s narrative design. The movie deals with abandonment, father figures and bonding deficiencies as it unfurls a twisted twin helix of storylines. Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is an aging special agent/commando/sniper/mercenary who, despite his 50 years of age, is still considered the best in the killing business. He’s so good, he can hit his target in a bullet train from two kilometres away. And we see him do just that in the opening scene, but for all the accolades from his superiors, Henry knows it’s time for him to hang up the body armour. He didn’t “feel the shot.”
So he packs up his gun and stashes it in the floor, John Wick-style, to sit back and relax for a good five seconds before trouble pulls up to his waterfront doorstep in Georgia. Someone is out to kill him, and he has good reason to believe it’s government black ops, headed by his former boss at Gemini Industries, Clay Verris (Clive Owen).
By the time he puts it all together, he’s convinced a young DIA agent (Mary-Elizabeth Winstead) to join him in the cause. Verris won’t give up easily, and he needs the backup. Plus, we need something to keep up interested in watching, because even recapping the plot feels laborious.
Winstead does what she had to do: She kickstarts the stalled dramatic engine by introducing a character who finally feels real. Okay, maybe taking out two guys in a fist fight seemed like a stretch for the slender thespian. Nonetheless, Winstead captures an earthy quality that otherwise falls through the well-defined cracks in this high-definition, technological extravaganza. She is decidedly not computer-generated, but everything else hovers in cinematic limbo, somewhere between being and not being; between flesh and bone, and pixelated phantom.
Winstead captures an earthy quality that otherwise falls through the well-defined cracks in this high-definition, technological extravaganza…She is decidedly not computer-generated, but everything else hovers in cinematic limbo, somewhere between being and not being; between flesh and bone, and pixelated phantom.
The central problem is central character, who also happens to be the central dilemma: The assassin Verris sends out to kill Henry once and for all is named Junior, and Junior is the result of technology — both on the page, and on-screen. Junior is Henry’s younger clone, created by Verris without Henry’s knowledge.
Junior is also played by Will Smith, who donned a motion-capture suit and helmet to portray his younger self. He also while studied his old Fresh Prince episodes to get the youthful, careless strut back into his more cautious, middle-aged frame. Yet, for all the technological advances that made this “full CGI character” possible, and for all the performance Smith lays on the table, Junior never fully registers as present. Nor, for that matter, does the movie.
The script doesn’t offer any surprises or deliver any memorable lines. The only one it repeats a few times over is: “The only time I’m happy is when I’m on the ground about to take a shot.” That’s supposed to define the shared feeling of our central characters, and perhaps, Ang Lee — being the astute emotional observer that Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain proved he can be — decided to echo Gemini Man’s hollow heart with hard-edged, 4K images shot at 120 frames per second, just to amplify the sterility.
It could have worked, if only Gemini Man had been able to conjure a sense of mystery to keep us engaged in the fancy pyrotechnics. There isn’t a single surprise in the story mix, and for all the foreign ports of call, there’s no tingle of the exotic. The movie chugs along in predictable fashion, showcasing Smith’s range of talents, and giving us a grown-up Parent Trap to get lost in as we look for seams in the spectacle.
It could have worked, if only Gemini Man had been able to conjure a sense of mystery to keep us engaged in the fancy pyrotechnics. There isn’t a single surprise in the story mix, and for all the foreign ports of call, there’s no tingle of the exotic.
Yet, it’s little more. A weak assembly of Terminator parts and I, Robot code strings, Gemini Man runs its program without major glitches, but you can always feel the ghost in the machine.
Main image (above): Will Smith stars as Junior, a computer-generated character created with Smith and motion capture technology. Courtesy of Paramount.
THE EX-PRESS, October 11, 2019