An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself. (from IMDb)
The action movie genre is often times its own separate niche "animal," so to speak. In the 80's and 90's, it ruled the box office -- long before the heroes wore capes or iron suits -- and they often didn't take themselves much too seriously. Today, viewers and especially critics seem to demand a lot more from their entertainment, and it leaves little room for movies that are more aimed to entertain than anything else. Enter Ang Lee's Gemini Man, which stars former box office golden boy Will Smith in the titular role as a ready-to-retire sharpshooter who gets caught in the crosshairs himself.
Everyone in front of the camera seem to take the story and situations pretty seriously, but the story and action often beg the audience to suspend their disbelief. Smith turns in a solid and committed performance as Henry, a 50-year-old man who has begun feeling his years and questioning his talents. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) joins Smith on the run as a burned agent named Danny, and the two have enough chemistry to make their partnership carry the film. Some of the plot elements--and even character models--may seem a little too familiar for their own good (like Clive Owen's take on the film's main antagonist, Clay Verris), but the fact we don't really get many movies like this anymore--and the fact that it's still crafted pretty well--makes it seem a little more forgivable. Gemini Man feels like an homage to a genre of days past, and on that front, it mostly works.
Director Ang Lee, whose credits include the hot mess that was 2003's Hulk (prior to the launch of the MCU 5 years later), and the acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, returns to the action drama, and delivers an entertaining film with strong players, but he leans far too much on special effects to fuel a lot of the action. Back when The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers debuted some 17 years ago, audiences and critics marveled at the emotion and detail that was able to come through Andy Serkis' motion capture performance of the digital creature, Gollum. Over a decade and a half later, there is still a tangible struggle to get a realistic performance out of digital characters, and Will Smith's younger, digitally-created self, is seldom convincing (especially when you consider how Marvel successfully and convincingly de-aged Samuel L. Jackson for Captain Marvel just a few months ago!) In the action scene he's introduced in, he seems completely digital (couldn't a real stand-in be employed for this?!), and then the first time his face is fully revealed, it feels like an unconvincing mixture of a live human character in a scene with a digital creation. But what's odd about that is that only a couple scenes later we see far more realistic effects used for the character, with a following scene being actually impressive as he is forced to deliver an emotional performance. But by the film's end, the effects used for the clone are borderline embarrassing (maybe they were scenes from a reshoot session, so they ran out of time and/or money for the effects?). This movie puts its entire existence on the line with its concept, and the fact that it is so inconsistent just really hurts the end product even more. A great film can often overcome these kinds of shortcomings, but Gemini Man isn't that kind of movie. Part of that is also due to some ridiculous action moments. Smith is in his early 50's now, and his character is said to be 51, so when he survives things like tumbling off a motorcycle at a high speed and then getting hit in the head with the wheel of a motorcycle, you have to wonder how they could expect viewers to accept such extreme action as believable. Then, moments later, Smith performs the world's most impressive push-up as he leaps into the air to avoid getting sliced by the motorcycle yet again. (To be fair, he wears some pretty serious road rash for the rest of the film, but it barely slows him down or seems to affect him all that much.) One other nitpick I have to mention, too--and I'm not sure if it was just especially noticeable on an IMAX screen--but there seemed more than just a couple scenes where characters were inexpicably set against a green screen. They're mostly talking scenes, but things like a city street or a horizon behind them are visibly green screen shots, albeit to a more keen eye. Again, a movie this reliant on technology and special effects seems like it should be able to deliver more impressive effects.
Big box office blockbusters like Men In Black or Independence Day aside, Will Smith has had a very noteworthy film career, and Gemini Man feels more like a cousin to the more character-driven sci-fi vehicles he made in the 2000's, like I, Robot and I Am Legend. Smith is a solid and charismatic actor--and maybe that signature cocky attitude of his was what his character of Henry could have benefited from in Gemini Man, but his character here makes sense as a more serious portrayal since he's clearly experiencing an existential crisis of sorts as he tries to retire from his hitman ways but can't seem to escape his demons. Furthermore, he's being hunted by his younger self and tries to confront his shortcomings in the process. You can't say that Smith and Lee don't try to make Gemini Man more than a mindless action film, but it does fallback too much on what the genre in its heyday used to be. (There's even a scene toward the end that is altogether out of left field and predictable that makes the bewildered look on the characters' faces all that more appropriate).
The content for Gemini Man is a firm PG-13, with quite a bit of violence and a fair amount of language. There are stretches of the film without either, but the language did pick up as the film's story gained momentum. There is one casually spoken "F" word (when someone asks what "AMF" stands for, and Danny answers), and then Danny, with her mouth taped up, clearly muffles out a "*bleep* you." Otherwise, there's about 11 uses of the "S" word and "h*ll," as well as an assortment of other colorful words, including blasphemy. The violence is heavy at times, with blood mostly being shown on wounds and as part of the aftermath of the action. We see a couple characters with big bloody road rash abrasions on their face and body, and at one point, a close-up of a deep cut on Henry's arm that Danny is sewing up. There's also a brief moment where Danny threatens to interrogate a guy without his teeth (meaning she'd extract them), and then the next shot shows her dumping a handful of teeth into Henry's hand (we don't see anything else though). Several characters sustain facial injuries, too, which leave them with some bloody cuts on their face throughout the movie.
With all the bad buzz surrounding Gemini Man, I was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did (and Lorne Balfe's Mission: Impossible - Fallout-style film score definitely didn't hurt the feel of this movie either). It's hardly a great movie, but it's well-acted and enjoyable enough to be worth watching for anyone who can enjoy a big action popcorn film as much as an Oscar-winning drama. It doesn't live up to Smith's prior film legacy (hey, it was better than Wild Wild West and Collateral Beauty at least), which is a shame, but I think it shows that Smith can still deliver in this genre, even if the script may be lacking. If you can appreciate a flawed action movie and not take it too seriously, than Gemini Man is the kind of rainy afternoon matinee (or lazy evening rental) that should get the job done.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/19/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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