When I walked out of Gemini Man, I had a vague sense I’d found myself a few decades removed from our reality. Not in the future, as you might expect from a movie showcasing technical breakthroughs, but somewhere in the late 90s. Will Smith was dominating the big screen, delivering one-liners between large action scenes alongside his flirtatious female companion and wise-cracking sidekick. With nary a connected franchise element or superhero in sight, the script instead relied largely on plot tropes and character archetypes to establish a familiarity with the viewer.
It turns out that Gemini Man, in many ways, really is a time capsule. The film was first set up in 1997 by Disney as a pitch by Darren Lemke, with Tony Scott directing. But the script, which features an assassin interacting with a younger, cloned version of himself, was ultimately considered unfilmable. The technology just wasn’t there. In the subsequent decades, the project went through several false starts, with writers like David Benioff and actors like Nicolas Cage, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford all in talks at various points.
Ultimately it was director Ang Lee (Life of Pi; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who finally ushered the project out of development hell and onto screens nearly two decades later. Smith signed on as the film’s two leads – a government assassin named Henry Brogan who’s completed His One Last Job and is ready to retire, and Junior, a 20-something clone of Henry who has been groomed to be like Henry, only better. Junior is tasked with killing Henry for Knowing Too Much (it’s not totally clear why; you’ve just got to go with it), and unsurprisingly, has some questions when he gets a glimpse at his target’s face.
It’s a pretty basic setup, and I went into Gemini Man less expecting to be blown away by the story than I did for the buzz about the film’s technological feats. Gemini Man features the most ambitious CGI portrayal of a human character we’ve seen in movies yet. The part of Junior wasn’t acted out by Smith and then de-aged in post production, like what we saw with the impressive rendering of Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. He’s entirely computer generated, created from references of Smith’s older films and captured footage of his facial movements in 2018.
Unfortunately, for all its interesting backstory and state-of-the-art visuals, the payoff for Gemini Man just isn’t there. This technology may be the future of movies, but it isn’t the present. Junior’s face looks realistic in small moments, but most of the time it looks fake and computer generated – particularly when he’s talking. Throw in some bad dialogue and illogical plot to boot, and it’s a chore to get through. While this may be an impressive early stab at technology that will later be transformative for the industry, at present it just makes you wonder: Why not just do what Captain Marvel did?
Even getting past the lack of payoff for the technology that created Junior, there are more technical hurdles for the average viewer. Lee shot the film in 4K, with a high frame rate of 120 fps, and in 3D. It’s a combination of three technologies that most theaters in the U.S. can’t even show (my own screening had 0 of the 3), and Paramount even had to outfit the TCL Chinese Theatre in LA with special equipment to ensure it was projected as intended at the premiere. Simply put, it’s just not technology that is widespread or available enough yet to be enjoyed by the average viewer.
Outside of those technical advancements that aren’t available to many viewers, the film doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond 90s nostalgia. That might be enough for some, but the charisma of Smith and his co-stars Benedict Wong and Mary Elizabeth Winstead feel completely wasted in a movie like Gemini Man. At a script level, the story doesn’t feel like it’s changed since its inception in the 90s, even though the times have. We’ve seen a version of this movie several times before, and this one offers nothing new. Even the fundamentals of the film are completely baffling. Why does the government want to kill Henry? Why do they have to send his literal clone to chase him? Why don’t they expect that to go wrong?
Honestly, if you’re having fun, maybe who cares, but I wasn’t. Gemini Man is a case of a script that’s too old paired with technology that’s too young. It’s clear everyone poured their work into the technical details of this film and left the plot, script, dialogue, and everything else in the background, leaving viewers with an uneven looking film without much of a soul.