Will Smith has certainly had an interesting career. He clearly has charm and talent, but he always deliberately boxes himself into roles where he’s a generic good guy. His name is still a huge box office draw, yet it’s been many years since he’s been in a movie that was widely considered to be good. Understanding Will Smith is part of understanding what works and what doesn’t about “Gemini Man.”
From director Ang Lee, “Gemini Man” follows the story of Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith, who is an elite retired assassin on the run from a secret organization known as Gemini. As the story progresses, Brogan learns dark secrets about Gemini and ultimately comes face to face with a clone of himself named Junior, also played by Will Smith, who was sent to kill him.
Ang Lee is best known for “Crouching Tiger,” “Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi.” Both Smith and Lee elevate this movie, as the only parts worth seeing are due to their acting and direction respectively. However, the screenplay is impressively bad to the point where you begin to question who got paid to write it.
Smith gives an inconsistent performance as Henry Brogan and Junior, but in the scenes where it counts, he brings his A-game. He manages to bring a level of depth, emotion and intensity to the scenes where Brogan and Junior interact. However, there are a lot of scenes, mostly in the beginning, where Smith comes off as dull and boring. These are mostly the lame scenes setting up the plot and backstories, where Smith mutters exposition. The performance ultimately suffers from the character writing. When there’s an emotional or intense moment, he sells it, but there’s not enough to Henry Brogan to give Smith something to work with as an actor for the other scenes. The other actors hold up just fine as they are neither bad nor exceptional. Clive Owens manages to bring pathos to the film’s antagonist Clay Varris, but he lacks any menace or presence.
By far the biggest accomplishment of “Gemini Man” is its action and cinematography, due mostly in part to director Ang Lee. All the action scenes are fast-paced and engaging. While the fight choreography is ridiculous at times, it still manages to convince you that Brogan and Junior are just skilled enough to pull these over-the-top moves. There are some very impressive tracking shots during chase scenes that draw the viewer to experience what the characters are feeling. Even the dialogue scenes are very well-shot as Lee has a good eye for mood and color. The biggest reason why people would be interested in “Gemini Man” is to see old Will Smith fight young Will Smith, and the film delivers on this promise.
“Gemini Man” has a lot of good elements and interesting ideas, but it’s in the writing where this movie falls apart. For a film like this the plot mechanics should be as straightforward as possible, since this is a general audience blockbuster that’s about secret organizations and cloning. The more you try to explain it, the less sense it makes, so it’s better to focus more on the characters and experiences and not the plot.
Gemini’s motive for trying to assassinate Brogan is both underdeveloped and unnecessarily convoluted. The first thirty minutes of the film are dedicated to establishing this conspiracy plot that serves as the catalyst for Gemini trying to kill Brogan, however this plot is basically forgotten once he learns the truth and has no bearing on the rest of the film. It would have been vastly more engaging to just start the film with Brogan already on the run because he already learned the truth about Gemini.
The dialogue itself is also poorly written as characters talk in dull exposition or in unsubtle monologues about the film’s themes. There are scenes where characters will explain to Brogan how he’s unstoppable in order to relay that information to the audience. However, it doesn’t feel like a genuine conversation, but rather lazy character descriptions.
There’s a lot of inherent drama and ethical considerations with a plot about cloning and the film somewhat touches upon it. There are some interesting themes about father figures, as the key difference between Brogan and Junior is that one had a loving father and the other didn’t, but again it’s not explored enough and the characters aren’t different enough in their personalities to really drive this home. It’s not much of a surprise that the writing is the most lackluster part of this film, since David Benioff, one of the two showrunners who ruined the last season of “Game of Thrones,” wrote the screenplay with Darren Lemke.
The character of Henry Brogan is emblematic of the biggest issues with this movie. The audience is constantly told that Brogan, and by extent Junior, has some dark secret that prevents him from connecting to others, but it’s never explored. Outside of one brief dream sequence that only exists to show why Brogan is afraid of water, the film never explores Brogan’s trauma and just has characters explain over and over again that he merely has it. In short, there’s nothing to the character outside of Smith’s performance.
Will Smith is a good actor, however the characters he plays are almost always fundamentally good guys. The ending of “I Am Legend” was infamously changed to make Smith’s character heroically self-sacrifice instead of the original ending where it was revealed his character was unknowingly the villain all along. Even in 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” Smith plays an outright comic book villain, but he still is a good guy doing everything for his daughter. Smith’s reluctance to step outside of his comfort zone makes his characters not nearly as interesting as they could have been. In this movie any potentially interesting parts of Brogan’s character are sanded away. We end up with a character who was supposed to be damaged and morally compromised, but never does anything to outwardly indicate this.
“Gemini Man” is a frustrating watch as it almost works. It has many good elements, but the whole is unfortunately not as good as the sum of its parts. If Ang Lee was given control over the script and if Will Smith was willing to try a different type of role, we could have had something special.