GEMINI MAN, stars Will Smith and Will Smith—sort of as another version of Deadshot, the character he plays in Suicide Squad. No, not really, I’m being a bit sarcastic. Directed by Ang Lee, whose genre-related movies tend to be up and down in both quality and critical reviews; i.e., Hulk; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Life of Pi; and Gemini Man. (I’m cheating by including Life of Pi, but even if it’s not actually genre, it has some fantasy in it.) I haven’t seen any others of his movies than the ones I’ve mentioned, but I was singularly unimpressed by his take on the Hulk. Although the cast of that movie, including Edward Norton, was terrific, the script and the special effects just didn’t work for me. My favourite Hulk is still Mark Ruffalo. But Life of Pi was a fabulous movie; I have the 3D Blu-Ray and like to watch it occasionally just for the FX; and who doesn’t like the fantasy of Crouching Tiger…?.
I understand this movie (Gemini Man) was available in some theatres at a very high (120 FPS—Frames Per Second) viewing rate and 3D; I saw it in just the regular 24 FPS. And maybe the CGI flaws that were very visible—I’ve read a couple of reviews that mentioned them—in 120 FPS/3D aren’t as obvious in “regularvision.” So in this review, I won’t be concentrating on CGI flaws much.
Besides Will Smith, the cast features Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Benedict Wong among others. The film features some standout action sequences—hard to tell these days what’s real and what isn’t—and a few not-very-well-examined moral questions. And the script ignores practically all logistical explanations for one of the central premises of the movie.
***PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD—SKIP REST OF REVIEW IF YOU DON”T LIKE ‘EM***
This premise is cloning, which plays a big part in the movie; in fact, Will Smith’s character, Henry Brogan, was cloned 25 years ago by Clay Varris (Clive Owen), which is revealed fairly early in the movie.
Here’s the premise: Henry (Smith) is a sniper for a government agency called DIA, headed by Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond). He’s the world’s best at what he does, which is take out terrorists and other bad guys at long range (mostly), when he’s given their rap sheet and information on where to find them. After a successful long-range kill on a major terrorist, Valery Dormov (Igor Szasz), on a moving bullet train, Henry feels he’s lost his edge; this, coupled with long-term dissatisfaction with the morality of what he does—killing for a government in an undeclared war—and years of bad sleep disturbed by nightmares, Henry retires. When Henry goes to his boat—ostensibly for fishing, but actually to clandestinely meet his friend Jack Willis (Douglas Hodge)—he meets the new dock manager, Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
He then finds out from Jack that his target was not, in fact, a terrorist, but worked for a US government agency. Jack gives him a contact in Budapest, Yuri Kovacs (Ilya Volok) for verification. There’s a drone or something way overhead—Henry notices it catching the sunlight twice, but doesn’t even remark on it—and the two are being watched and listened to by Lassiter and super-secret agency chief Varris, head of Gemini, who decide Henry knows too much and has to go. Varris wants to send his top guy to eliminate Henry, but Lassiter says she can clean up her own mess, though she’s sad about having to “let him go.” “Guys like that are born to be collateral damage,” Varris says.
After Henry goes home, teams are sent to eliminate Jack, Henry, and Henry’s spotter; but thanks to Henry’s learned-on-the-job paranoia, he is ready for them and kills the team, then takes off toward the boat basin, where he confronts Danny. He tells her that he knows she’s also DIA, assigned to keep an eye on him, but she’s in danger because she’s a loose end. Another team attacks, and the two escape in a boat. They’re picked up later by Jack’s old teammate Baron (Benedict Wong), who’s an ace pilot.
The rest of the movie is running and fighting and killing, basically. Henry learns that an assassin, Junior, whom he fights, is actually a clone of him, created from his blood by a team under Varris (Owen, remember?) led by the guy, Dormov, twenty-five years ago. Varris has raised Junior to have the same skill set as Henry himself, telling Junior he was an orphan.
Furthermore, Varris intends—once Henry is eliminated—to create an army of clones without feelings or conscience, from the DNA of the most successful killer soldier, Henry.
Here are some of the problems with this movie. Yes, Dolly the sheep has successfully been cloned, but nobody (as far as I’m aware) has the technology to do the same with a human being. And a sheep is far from a human being. Furthermore, I think there are international laws against it… and if anyone were going to do that, I’ll bet the Chinese government would be behind it. But I doubt they would, because the Chinese scientist who gene-edited those children—against international convention—died suddenly and mysteriously. I think even the Chinese gov’t has limits on what they’d do. And how would you keep all that secret, especially in a company that’s probably got to have government oversight of some kind?
Secondly, the plot is—even without the cloning—thin to the point if vanishing; the dialogue is unconvincing, and the plot jumps around for no reason. The actors are pros—Owen, Wong, Smith, and Winstead do the best they can with what they’ve got, but not a lot of it makes sense.
Thirdly, the motivations of the characters don’t make a lot of sense either; Henry convinces Junior to join him in fighting the guy who raised Junior as his son with very little problem. “You told me I was an orphan,” wails Junior when facing Varris. (“Suck it up, snowflake,” I would have replied.) Junior all of a sudden reveals he never liked going on the annual birthday turkey shoot with Varris. And nobody really ever talks about the morality of clandestinely shooting people for the US government—I guess because it’s an actual “thing” it must be okay. There are ideological issues for me all the way through this thing, but not, apparently, for the characters.
But despite all the many problems—problems that apparently made this movie get about 1 1/2 stars on Rotten Tomatoes—I kind of liked it. Why? Well, in the first place, I like Will Smith. He’s not the world’s best actor, but he’s certainly not the worst. He’s a big, likeable galoot. I didn’t see this movie in 120 FPS (Frames Per Second), which is unbelievably high compared to the normal frame rate of 24 FPS; apparently the high frame rate kept the CGI from being unnoticeable. There weren’t too many times that it looked unreal to me; for the most part, the pasting of a younger Smith on the stand-in actor’s face (Victor Hugo, believe it or not) was convincing.
Some of the action scenes, probably done with CGI, were very good—there was a motorcycle chase through Cartagena, Colombia, and a fight using a motorbike as a physical weapon that were terrific, IMO (In My Opinon, as they say). As Joe-Bob Briggs might say, “Motorbike-Fu!”
Is this one of Ang Lee’s better films? Nah, not at all. I’d put it above his Hulk, but below Life of Pi or Crouching Tiger…. It’s not something I’d watch again, but I certainly didn’t regret seeing it, if only for the extensive use of CGI in “face replacement.” When it worked properly, the “de-aging” of Smith was amazing (certainly better than the removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache in Justice League!). It presages what’s probably going to happen in years to come, when virtual actors—probably famous ones like Humphrey Bogart or Marilyn Monroe at first—star in new movies. And possibly replace all “real” actors in movies to come. It’s the future, I think.
So, yes, I liked it. You already know that my tastes are pretty plebeian anyway.
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