Cinematic Releases: Gemini Man (2019) - Reviewed

Will Smith is a movie star who has struggled mightily this decade to find a project that showcases all the things that made him popular in the first place. While his latest, the sci-fi/action thriller Gemini Man, is no genre classic, it is an entertaining, visually exciting, popcorn flick that gives him the chance to display his charm as well as his ability to look cool shooting at villains. The story is quite weak, but that does not hold it back too much because all that matters is the initial concept. Yeah, there are some explanations about what is going on, though the movie is far more focused on the action and the connection between the two main characters. That stuff is fun enough that the goofiness of the plot can be ignored in favor of watching Will Smith crack wise and beat up bad guys. That is exactly what it sets out to do and it is pretty decent at it.

Henry is a government assassin who has decided to retire. His last job turns out to not have been what he thought it was and now he is a loose end. He goes on the run, hunted by a man as ridiculously skilled as Henry is.

If you have seen the trailers or poster for Gemini Man then you already know that, in addition to playing Henry, Smith also plays the man sent to kill him. Through the miracle of modern technology, he has been de-aged to look like Fresh Prince era Will Smith. I thought it might be a distraction, however they actually pull it off. At no point were the effects particularly jarring, so I was able to suspend my disbelief and accept them as separate characters. It is a fun gimmick that helps divert attention from the cliché “hired killer is targeted by his former employers” plotline.

I'm not sure I need a massage right now. 

What really helps is the presence of Will Smith. These are two roles he can do effortlessly: the world-weary veteran and the cocky young upstart. This is not a situation where he needs to work especially hard to tell us who these people are. Their personalities and backstories are quickly established in straight-forward dialogue. He goes a slight step further by distinguishing them with their movements. They are both absurdly incredible at what they do. The difference is Henry is slower and more cerebral whereas his pursuer relies on his strength and speed. They are nearly identical in every way, yet Smith throws enough subtleties in there to show how age makes them different. He seems to be having a great time sharing the screen with himself and playing around with his persona. While neither is a wonderful performance, he keeps things light, doing precisely what was needed to prevent Gemini Man from taking itself too seriously.

Its other strong point is its action. A big issue I have with many modern action movies is the cutting during fight scenes is so constant that it becomes difficult to see what is going on. That is not what happens here. Whether it is a motorcycle chase, a shootout or hand to hand combat, it is always easy to follow. Director Ang Lee mostly works in drama, but this is still the same guy who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 20 years ago. He knows what he is doing when it comes to this kind of material. Since the plot leans so heavily on the action, the outcome of those scenes are important. If the audience could not understand who was doing what and why, it would have been an absolute killer. Thankfully, the editing (by frequent Lee collaborator Tim Squyres) allows the choreography to tell the story. You can see the movements of the characters, making it easier to get involved in the goings on.

Gemini Man is a fairly stereotypical action movie. There is nothing must-see about it (unless you are a big Will Smith fan, in which case you probably already bought your ticket), but it is reasonably enjoyable for a “turn your brain off for a couple of hours” trip to the theater. The action is solid, Will Smith has good chemistry with himself and the silly story does not get in the way of the things that work.

-Ben Pivoz