Gemini Man (2019)

Will Smith is one of the most likeable actors I know.  He’s confident, but not cocky.  

Assured, but not full of himself.  Funny, but not comical.  Serious, but not intense.  When he flashes his sly grin, you feel like he just filled you in on a crazy secret.  As an action star, he’s a natural, going all the way back to Independence Day in 1996.  Who can forget him punching an alien invader in the face and then taunting by saying, “Welcome to Earth!”  In a way, his career is similar to that of Tom Cruise.  Smith doesn’t approach his roles with Cruise’s jittery energy or maniacal sense of desperation, but like Cruise, he clearly is having fun.

Even when his acting choices are questionable, Smith is always watchable.  This includes a thoroughly ridiculous movie like Seven Pounds, where he atones for his sins by killing himself with a jellyfish.  Or when he makes a concerned choice to drain himself of all of his charisma and deliver an intimate portrait of a scientist, like in Concussion.  I admit that I haven’t seen most of his films from the past five years, steering clear of Suicide Squad, Collateral Beauty, After Earth and Bright due to overwhelming negative reviews.  After seeing Gemini Man, I may give some of those a look.

I’d read the bad reviews of commentary about Gemini Man last year when it came out.  The main criticisms were that the plot is convoluted and the de-aging special effects used are not convincing.  When the opportunity to watch the movie came up I thought, how bad could this movie really be?  In other words, my bar for being entertained by this movie was pretty low.

In all honesty, I found the movie to be very good.  Not as great as Enemy of the State or Men in Black, but in the same category as Hancock and Legend.  The de-aging of Will Smith did not come off well.  Having watched Will Smith in movies since he was in his twenties, the younger, CGI enabled Will Smith on display here looked strange.  It was as if someone took Will Smith’s current face, de-aged it, and pasted it onto the face of someone with a smaller head.  A much better choice would have been to find a younger actor who looks and sounds similar to Will Smith.  But de-aging older actors has been trending for several years now, so there’s no sense in raging against the wind on this topic.

While the unsuccessful de-aged Will Smith was a distraction, it did not affect my enjoyment of Gemini Man at all.  Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, an assassin for hire that works for the Defense Intelligence Agency (or DIA).  (There should be signs up in the DIA hallways exclaiming “We’re not the CIA!”)  Brogan isn’t just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill super assassin, though.  At the outset, he completes a seemingly impossible assignment that involves shooting a purported Russian bio-terrorist on a train moving at 200 miles-per-hour from a distance of at least a football field.  When one character later describes Brogan as the best assassin the world has ever known, we believe it.  This assignment troubles Brogan because if his shot was off by just six inches, he would have killed an innocent bystander.  He tells his handler that he’s retiring to a life of fishing by the lake, we know that decision won’t last long.

While Will Smith could make fishing in a rowboat immensely entertaining, the plot of Gemini Man follows a familiar pattern:

  1. After a troubling job (or a job gone wrong), the secret agent/ex-special forces/covert spy decides to leave their job.
  2. The government agency/clandestine organization who employed said agent decides to kill their former employee to tie up loose ends.
  3. A close friend of the agent is killed.
  4. The former agent kills those sent to kill him in dramatic fashion.
  5. The former agent makes an unlikely ally, who will help him seek down and kill those in the agency.
  6. The agency sends someone who used to be close to the former agent to kill him.
  7. As the former agent gets closer to the head of the agency bent on killing him, another close friend will be killed.
  8. The head of the agency eventually is killed after delivering an extensive monologue explaining how what the agency is doing is for the good of mankind.
  9. The former agent heads off into the sunset.

As you can tell, the plot of Gemini Man is far from convoluted.  It’s not original, but I don’t believe that all movies must be original to be entertaining.  What makes Gemini Man entertaining is the elements it uses to flesh out those plot points.

As I said earlier, Will Smith has proven that he can make pretty much any movie he stars in entertaining.  He’s in classic form here, charismatic and believable as the super assassin.  

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Fargo) plays Danny Zakarewski, his unlikely ally.  As the agent assigned to watch Brogan in his retirement, she manages to be quirky and sultry at the same time.  The movie has Brogan recognize her as a potential love interest, but also mention that he is too old for her.  (She would have been 34 to Smith’s 51, at the time this movie was released.)  As Danny, Winstead has some good scenes in the movie, including one where she serves as bait for Brogan’s clone.

The action sequences in the movie are top notch.  The best one is where Brogan and his clone have an extended chase on the streets of Colombia is done exceptionally well.  It’s some of the best stunt work I’ve seen since the Jason Bourne movies.

Benedict Wong (Dr. Strange) also has several funny lines as Baron, another former member of the DIA.  I was actually sad when he was killed off near the end, but appreciated that he had a significant role in the movie as a pilot who really loves getting to fly a G6.

Clive Owen plays bad guy Clay Verris as more thug than evil mastermind.  I thought he was way too intense for the part.  If you are an evil genius, and a good one at that, there’s no need to play every interaction with a clenched jaw and shooting lasers out of your eyes.  Owen’s acting is the one bad note in a film that is solidly acted all around.

The coda at the end of Gemini Man is also very good, serving as a meta commentary on how the experience can’t teach youth anything.  Brogan’s clone wants the chance to make his own mistakes and learn from them.  

I don’t know if director Ang Lee intended this, but I also read the movie as a commentary on how actors could be completely replaced by their CGI counterparts in the future.  In that future, we would always have a CGI-version of the young Will Smith, and CGI Will Smith would always be in great shape, do amazing physical stunts that defy gravity and never be at risk for getting injured.  While that indeed may be the (distant) future of acting, I hope the real-life Will Smith continues appearing in movies for many years to come.

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