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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Gemini Man movie review: the last hurrah of the movie star

Gemini Man red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

No movie has ever been higher-concept than this: Today-aged Will Smith versus CGI-young Will Smith! It’s the future of film in an anemic, tedious, ironically dated spy-action shell. Bafflingly awful.
I’m “biast” (pro): mostly like Will Smith and Ang Lee; big sci-fi fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

It’s Will Smith versus Will Smith! Today-aged, 50something badass military sniper Will Smith goes up against the 20something clone that he never knew he had, who is more wiseass than badass (but also badass too, as required by cinematic law). It’s like a sci-fi version of that hoary quip about men not having any offspring “that they know of” (and, alas, just as unwitty and as depressingly obvious even as it thinks it’s channeling Cary fucking Grant). It’s like someone in Hollywood was pining for a 1990s-era marquee-worthy name — and, I mean, hell yes, all hail Will Smith, Icon, still — and figured, “Hey, why not jumpstart the next horrific trend in Teh Movies and get on with creating Virtual Actors so we never have to hire an actual human being, with their need for lunch breaks and their expectations of a paycheck ever again!”

So they… the big They, our entertainment-industrial complex overlords… They digitized and de-aged 50something Will Smith (Aladdin, Bright), and apparently they told the actual 50something Will Smith that he would be costarring with the very CGI version of himself that is going to replace him someday soon, or else, presumably, they would just get, I dunno, Kiefer Sutherland or Keanu Reeves or Tom Cruise to do it, and Smith’d be sorry then, so take it or leave it, guy. (Smith will get royalties on his digitized self, probably, but soon they won’t even need an original human to copy. Our movie stars will be constructed entirely of invented pixels, and then we’ll be sorry.)

Gemini Man Will Smith

“So what do you mean, precisely, when you say this will be get me dubbed ‘The Last Action Hero’?”

To be clear, this is not Alita: Battle Angel, with its real-fake big-eyed faux-anime heroine. We are meant to take de-aged young Will Smith as wholly organic, as an authentic and fully biological homo sapiens… and for the most part, that works here. There’s very little uncanny-valley stuff happening in Gemini Man. Which is ghastly in its own way. Might as well go ahead and get our own jumpstart on writing the future history of cinema and call Will Smith The Last Movie Star. (See the fascinatingly horrific 2013 film The Congress for an ambitious extrapolation of where this sort of entertainment technology may take us. Nothing about Gemini Man represents a new idea.)

Anyway, no movie has ever been more high-concept than this. No movie has ever been sold to us, and then delivered to us, more solely on its high concept alone. There is quite literally nothing to Gemini Man that isn’t “Will Smith–versus–Will Smith OMG cool!” (It’s not that cool, actually.) And yet somehow the script — so anemic it should be dead, series creator David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Billy Ray (Overlord, Secret in Their Eyes), and Darren Lemke (Shazam!, Goosebumps) — takes fully more than half of its runtime to get to the “revelation” that what is going on is precisely what we knew was going on even before the film began.

Gemini Man Will Smith Mary Elizabeth Winstead Benedict Wong

“D’you guys wonder if we literally came all the way to Budapest for this shot alone?”

You can blame the marketing for this, I guess, but even if we didn’t know what was coming, there is precious little in the first hour of Gemini Man to hold our interest. This is a script that has been banging around Hollywood for the last 20 years — since Dolly the cloned sheep inspired it; she’s even name-checked here — and it feels like it. Though it would have been tedious even in the 90s. (FYI, this movie is no relation to the short-lived 1976 NBC TV series of the same name starring Ben Murphy as a secret agent with the power to turn himself invisible. If it could turn itself invisible, though, that would be an improvement.)

We wait, for a solid hour-plus, as old Will Smith’s Henry Brogan, agent for *ahem* the “DIA,” wonders just who could it be, this mysterious young whippersnapper who is trying to kill him? This young whippersnapper who knows all his moves? (It’s another you, dude. *yawn*) We wait to find out why whippersnapper Will Smith has been sicced on older Will Smith by black-ops honcho Clive Owen (Anon, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), in one of the embarrassingly worst performances of his career. That we never learn. We can guess, of course; probably it’s something to do with taking out the “original” before he can complain about being copied or something. But who knows? The audience shouldn’t feel like it has a claim on a percentage of the writers’ fees for having to fill in the blanks the script glosses over.

Gemini Man Will Smith Mary Elizabeth Winstead

“Hey, Will, do you think my character is called ‘Danny’ because I was a guy in the original script 20 years ago?”

But hey! Maybe there will be some exciting exploration of the nature-versus-nurture debate, the idea that DNA is not destiny and it’s how we are raised that matters more to what sort of person we become. There’s a potentially intriguing sidebar here about how older Henry has a fear of drowning, acquired through a traumatic childhood experience around learning to swim, that his young clone does not have (or so we presume; no one here is a truly developed as a character), because the clone didn’t have the same experience as a child. This seems ripe for exploitation, somehow, in a big action sequence — one swims, the other doesn’t? — and it never happens. It remains an unfired gun left floundering on the mantlepiece.

Making matters worse, this bafflingly awful, completely wasted storytelling opportunity comes via usually visionary director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Taking Woodstock), who does little but tread spy-action water. The supporting cast is wasted — see: the excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead (All About Nina, 10 Cloverfield Lane), as Henry’s unwitting sidekick — and there’s nary a single plausible relationship developed; the most believable one is between Benedict Wong’s (Avengers: Endgame, The Martian) even-more-wasted, even-more-sidekicky pilot and the lovely Gulfstream jet the film deploys for a redundant detour to Budapest.

All that’s left is Lee’s goofing around with a high-frame-rate format that delivers (in some cinematic presentations) an empty story in a visually razor-sharp IMAX that is pointlessly ultra-realistic. It’s like looking through a window beyond which there is nothing worth seeing.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.



red light 0 stars

Gemini Man (2019) | directed by Ang Lee
US/Can release: Oct 11 2019
UK/Ire release: Oct 10 2019

MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, infrequent strong language)

viewed in 3D IMAX
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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