It took over twenty years for the concept of Gemini Man to finally come to the big screen. What held the film back for so long, among other things, was that the tech just wasn’t quite there for de-aging an older actor. But after many attempts and successful usage of computer graphics to turn aged actors into younger people, the time was right for this picture to be made. The film takes an astounding step forward as the younger Will Smith that appears in this picture is entirely rendered with computer graphics. What’s not astounding is how this technology is used in such a bland thriller.
A Tale of Two Smiths
The older Smith in this picture is playing the expert government assassin Henry. He’s been at this game long enough and is getting tired of it all. So weary has Henry become he has to outright state his doubts and nightmares without letting us ever see them. He’s considering retirement but we all know how one last job is never the last one in a thriller. There’s clearly more he hasn’t been told about his missions and his targets.
It isn’t long before Henry is targeted by his own government for knowing too much about the secret project he’s been unknowingly working to cover up. As the last piece to be knocked off, Henry is soon on the run trying to find answers about what Project Gemini is and why it’s such a secretive organization.
Henry soon finds out what they’re hiding in the form of the assassin sent to kill him. To his surprise, it’s a clone of himself, a younger and more agile assassin. This younger Henry, dubbed Junior by the secret government organization, has been bred to be free emotion and able to push on longer. So if the middle-aged Will Smith wasn’t somber enough, computer graphics have allowed for one to be even more devoid of humanity, to the point where he may as well be a robot.
A Convincing Clone
Of course, all the talk with such a film seems to revolve around the tech. To its credit, yes, the young Will Smith composited into the film with computer graphics only is a stellar showcase. Any scene where he acts opposite the real Will Smith or is seen in close up is 100% believable. Even for moments when the two connect in either hugs or punches. But there’s a catch to these scenes. Take note of how the longest shot features the young Smith staring us directly in the eyes, begging to find imperfection. There are no imperfections in this shot. There is no emotion either, with Junior remaining perfectly still as though any sign of expressing something besides a resting assassin face will break the illusion.
And, sadly, the illusion does break when we get into the action sequences. Whereas Smith versus Smith in close quarters is a believable sight, the grander scenes of them scaling rooftops and dashing through traffic become jarring. Notice how the young Smith can effortlessly flip off roofs, slide off walls and use a motorcycle as Jackie Chan. No matter how good computer graphics can get, there’s no way to make these stunts look as effortless as the facial detail of a de-aged Will Smith. This obvious gloss not only makes the film artificial but tired also lacking in tension of the exciting, especially with the staging of deserted towns with no people, perfect for fight scenes and explosions.
With Will Smith stuck in an emotionless and expository role, the supporting cast offers little help. Clive Owen plays the evil head of the Gemini project who seems too busy with trying to hide his accent to ever show enough passion and fury in his voice. His bland delivery dampens an already tired philosophy of a corrupt project head, striving to clone to save lives when it comes to war. There’s a bigger story to tell about how lives are still devalued and possibly even a racist overtone to how he views Smith clones as disposable but it’ll never be explored. Not with stock and safe action movie dialogue.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Henry’s sidekick and apparent love interest. She brings some pep to the film but not a lot. She’s mostly used as a prop to hold the light during the Smith vs. Smith fight in the catacombs. She’s also used as eye candy when she has to trip to be checked for guns and wires. Don’t worry, her undressing scene is watched by the younger Smith, proceeding after a creepy setup of the 51-year-old Smith saying the 34-year-old Winstead is not his type. But he mentions she’s perfect for 25-year-old Smith. Of course, this isn’t really the 25-year-old Smith we knew from the 1990s. There’s not a whiff of sexual tension in the undressing scene. Just creepiness for a CGI Smith blankly staring at Winstead in her underwear.
I’d mention Benedict Wong as well if he weren’t just a puppet for comically mandated one-liners.
Gemini Man is a gimmick film. The best that can be said of the film is its increased frame rate presentation and the state of the art computer graphics for de-aging. Take away all of that and you have a very tired thriller of unimpressive writing and routine action. The tech has improved when the cinema experience can create more groundbreaking visuals. Now we just need a real film to use it within instead of this placeholder picture.
An empty exercise in brilliant tech on top of a tired thriller.
- CGI Will Smith is convincing
- Overly Expository and Dreary Script
- Dry and Emotionless Performances