Gemini Man review: Will Smith does battle with Will Smith

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 Will Smith and Will Smith star in Ang Lee’s globetrotting action thriller Gemini Man – and here’s our review.

“It’s not gun time. It’s coffee time”.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the film Gemini Man is not quite the movie that people may be expecting from the poster. That’s the sheet of promotional paper that posits a battle between two Will Smiths, the one that seems to promise the dream feature length version of the junkyard fight from Superman III.

You don’t really get that. Instead, the actual film? Well, it’s a bit odd.

It opens by establishing that Will Smith is an amazing sniper, one who’s just losing his touch a little. Sure, he can take out someone on a moving train from zonks away, but he’s worried he’s six inches off his usual aim, and thus he decides to retire. Fair enough. But! His bosses don’t want him to retire, and you can roughly work out the opening act pattern from there. So far, so pretty conventional blockbuster.

Off he thus pops to do a bit of woodwork by the water to enjoy his well earned rest, only for his past life to return. It all threatens to mix The Bourne Identity with the long-gone Sunday evening BBC soap Howard’s Way for a minute. But then, crucially, Howard’s Way didn’t feature a digitally de-aged clone of its lead character. And crikey, don’t things take a turn when that’s revealed. A revelation the promotion and premise for the film has extensively done (it’s genuinely no spoiler).

I should say that by this stage we’ve had the first of a couple of really impressive action sequences, that were amplified in the screening I caught by being presented at a high frame rate. Director Ang Lee is a firm advocate of such technology, and at one stage, he even made me yearn for 3D to come back into vogue, such impressive use he made of the assorted visual tools.

Yet this isn’t an action film for long, and if you’re looking for a template of sorts, look at how Lee managed to contain a family drama into his comic book movie, Hulk. I’m a huge fan of that film, and appreciate I’m not in the minority. Yet I ain’t taking a bullet for Gemini Man.

I can see past the fact that the marketing is presenting this as a big Will Smith blockbuster with action and thrills. But what’s harder to swallow is the bulk of the film itself. There’s a conflict between Real Will Smith and Odd Looking Digital De-aged Will Smith, and the reason they’ve both come into the world to face each other is explained. But I could fill a couple of hundred words with questions just about that. This is one of those movies where the actual genesis story may be more interesting than the tale everybody has turned up to tell.

I’m a big fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead too, even as her role here threatens to teeter into heavy cliché. But instead, her character falls into light ones instead. Along with the always-welcome Benedict Wong, they offer able support, often asking the questions we’re asking, or having to explain things. They’re very watchable as always, but sadly this isn’t a film that’s the sum of its parts.

Also, to go a bit nerdy for a minute, for a film based on advanced technology, it’s comfortably offset by contrasting moments, such as a massive bug device that’s not just detectable to the naked eye, yet should have been seen from a Google Maps screenshot. Yet it goes undetected. Likewise, in terms of the cloning itself, it feels as though they’ve built the most powerful PC rig in the world, just to play Ludo on it. At one point, friends, Clive Owen’s character puts his wireless mouse on top of a bunch of A4 paper, and still expects it to work. Yes: really!

The longer the film goes on, sadly, the more it tries to explain things, and the more ridiculous and odd it gets. There is dialogue between Real Will Smith and Odd Looking Digital De-aged Will Smith that’s all perfectly well performed, but it’s just hard to buy. They simply don’t feel like two different, interesting characters, and that dampens the conflict. Also, the visuals here are cutting edge, but, well, it just doesn’t feel right. The effects get in the ballpark of where they need to be, but the feel of the characters? Nowhere near.

Armed with a movie villain written so thinly that they could in theory be defeated with a well-aimed fart, Gemini Man furthermore bears little scrutiny of its story, and its attempts at drama.

But then what offsets that is there are moments when you remember it’s Ang Lee at the helm. This is not a very good film, but it’s not a very good film that deserves to be seen on a very big screen. There are moments in it genuinely worth the admission, with sequences and shots that hugely impress. Lee is the absolute opposite of a hack director, and his visual ambition is striking. There’s one really fluid action moment too that’s as good as any I’ve seen on a cinema screen this year.

Yet the whole? Well, it just doesn’t work. We’re left with a muddle of ideas married up to a tombola of coherence and a whatever words are required to describe the wasting of Will Smiths. Lots of talent, occasional flashes of brilliance and the germ of an idea. But at a point where cinema is really crying out for bold, standalone movies, it’s a double disappointment that this one doesn’t measure up.

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