The film career that Will Smith has had over the past 25 years is at once enviable and questionable. He was as big as they get during his ‘90s run of Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black. Thanks to a pair of Oscar nominations in the 2000s, he has maintained his A-list status despite questionable movie choices and diminishing box office returns.
In a way, it seems as if Smith is trying to revive his superstar past with Gemini Man, in which he plays Henry Brogan, a hit man looking to retire after years of working for a shadowy government agency. But the government objects to him walking away, and Henry is soon on the run with fellow agent Danny Zakarewski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), hopscotching around the world to avoid being assassinated.
Henry soon finds out that that person sent to dispatch him is … him, or a clone of him created by Gemini, a government project run by the arrogant Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Junior, as Clay calls him, has all the skills of Henry with the advantage of being 25 years younger. It takes all of Henry’s wits and wisdom to not only avoid being killed, but also to try to convince Junior that he’s playing for the wrong side.
On the surface, Gemini Man has a lot going for it. It features Smith reuniting with uber producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee, and is co-written by Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff. So the fact that the film is as bland and uninteresting as it is comes as somewhat of a surprise. The filmmakers construct a movie that includes all the hallmarks of a great action movie, but with none of the necessary momentum.
The story is the usual action mishmash of double crosses, supremely easy worldwide travel, and buddy comedy. None of it makes a lick of sense, especially when it comes to the various government agencies involved in the plot. The only cliché the writers decline to explore is a May-December romance between Smith and Winstead.
And then there’s the matter of the digitally de-aged Smith. The technology is all the rage these days, showing up everywhere from Marvel movies to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. It’s still very much a hit-and-miss technique, and it misses to a huge degree here. The concept of the character is fun, but in practice it looks less like the Fresh Prince and more like a creepy doll that’s been animated. It’s next to impossible to get over the uncanny valley feeling when looking at Junior.
The actual real-life version of Smith remains a charming performer, and if he weren’t saddled with playing off of a fake-looking younger version of himself, he might have come off better. As it stands, it feels like he’s just going through the motions, relying on nostalgia rather than making the role his own. Winstead, who’ll co-star in 2020’s Birds of Prey, is the more intriguing action star, while Owen is creaky and unconvincing.
Gemini Man is yet another underwhelming movie led by Smith, made doubly so because he also plays his own clone. Big ideas can sometimes get in the way of good judgment, and despite all the talent involved, hardly anything about this movie works.