I’ve only seen Ang Lee’s post-2000 films, and I’ve still managed to miss some – like the much-maligned Taking Woodstock (2009), for example. However, I did listen to the guys at Blank Check Podcast go over his entire filmography, and it seems apparent with his last two films – including Gemini Man (2019) – that he has shifted his focus from character and story to film technology. My review of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) can be read here, but I wasn’t impressed with the film or the technology though…to my understanding, only 10 theaters in the world were able to play the film at its correct framerate. Gemini Man may suffer from the same issue, as my screening wasn’t able to play it as intended – but I did enjoy it more overall than Lee’s last film.
Gemini Man is far from perfect, but there was enough there to find it enjoyable
Henry (Will Smith) is an assassin who feels his time is up. After barely managing to snipe his target on a moving train, he realizes his age is starting to weigh on his skills as are all the lives he has taken, but retiring is never easy for a DIA agent. It doesn’t take long before he realizes that he isn’t going to get to live out a quiet existence, and Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is pulled into this chaos.
Smith is endlessly charismatic, and there have been few performances of his that I don’t connect with. Thus, his presence in a film immediately elevates my enjoyment of the material, even when the dialogue is cheesy or too on-the-nose. I grew up on Smith with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and – what I’ll argue is Michael Bay’s best movie – Bad Boys (1995). That’s not to say I’ve not disliked some of his movies, but I tend to still find enjoyment in at least his performance.
The same could be said for Winstead, who kicked her way into my awareness with my favorite film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010). I’ve retroactively gone back to some of her other films and kept up with her post-Pilgrim ones, for the most part. She tends to be an actress that I click with, and I thought she was especially likable in this film. Although her character ultimately has just the thinnest level of agency, it is still better than completely lacking any at all. A few lines indicate her ambitions to move up in her career, so at the very least she has work goals. The chemistry between Danny and Henry is undeniable, and I think the two actors worked very well together, despite some of the issues the script seems to throw at them.
This could be a spoiler if you’ve seen zero marketing about the film, but really it’s the central conceit of the movie…Will Smith is playing two characters. Henry is the grizzled old assassin, but a younger clone of him has been sent to finish the job of taking him out. The catch is that Junior didn’t know he was a clone, which leads to such classic lines as heard in the trailer, “You made a person…out of another person.” For many of the scenes, the visuals and the de-aging looked fine at my screening, despite the 120 FPS (traditionally films are shot at 24 FPS) not being available – but there were other moments where it just looked awful. We’ve seen the de-aging a lot over at the MCU, and once The Irishman (2019) drops on Netflix we will see even more – but in this film, the de-aged Will Smith (NOTE I learned after writing my review that the “young” Will Smith was not a de-aged version of the actor, but a completely computer-generated character like Golem in Lord of the Rings credit to the Slashfilm Cast) often looked weird. Oddly, it was most noticeable in scenes where the two were just talking, which you’d think would be easier to do…but maybe it was the lack of other distractions that made the de-aged Smith look more like the robot from I, Robot (2004) than the Fresh Prince.
Despite some of my objections to the film, I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed more of it than I didn’t, even though I’m getting a little tired of Hollywood casting Clive Owen in banal villain roles. Have you seen Children of Men (2006)? The dude has more range than his last few big movies I’ve seen him in. Still, Gemini Man earns a Decent Watch rating.