Movie Guru: If you want to enjoy ‘Gemini Man,’ read this review so you don’t have false expectations
Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language
Screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke
Story by Darren Lemke and David Benioff
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Will Smith, Clive Owen, Douglas Hodge, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, Linda Emond and more
Grade: Three stars out of four
If you want to be satisfied by “Gemini Man,” you have to know what you’re getting. The trailers make the movie look like some sort of deep pseudo-military sci-fi movie with cloning as a vehicle for deep human tragedy. The director is Ang Lee, best known for serious movies like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi,” and “Lust, Caution.” Even his biggest action movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is full of serious people being serious. It’s not a stretch to think “Gemini Man” might be more of the same.
As it turns out, though, that assumption is completely wrong. “Gemini Man” is an early-2000s action movie — I mean, Will Smith is in it. It has just enough sci-fi to justify the big fight scene. It’s well-made and surprisingly entertaining, with a modern polish that includes actual emotional exploration and the wonderful Mary Elizabeth Winstead beating the crap out of bad guys. If you’re looking for something different going in, you’re bound to be disappointed.
In the movie, former government assassin Henry Brogan (Smith) accidentally got too close to a government conspiracy, and now his former bosses want him dead. With the help of Winstead and a cast of old friends we all know will die before the end credits, he discovers that the assassin chasing him is in fact his younger clone. (If the movie’s own posters spoil a plot point, it doesn’t count as a spoiler.) Can they all survive long enough to take down the conspiracy?
To the movie’s credit, action movie clichés involve the death of the hero often enough that we can’t really be sure. Lee does an excellent job with the various genre tropes, handling them in a solidly entertaining fashion even if he doesn’t do anything revolutionary with them. Still, this style of action movie has been out of fashion long enough that it might actually feel new to some audience members.
For action movie fans, however, “Gemini Man” is like a tasty bowl of homemade chicken soup. The creative team even manages to improve on the original recipe, allowing both versions of Smith (particularly the younger one) more emotional nuance than he would have originally had. Also, Winstead was allowed to be the violent joy she was meant to be, mowing down bad guys with large guns, saving Smith’s life and delivering a wonderfully vicious beat-down to random bad guy No. 5. Back in the early 2000s, we would have been denied all of that.
Smith does a good job in the dual lead role, even with writing that hasn’t managed to completely shake its action movie cheese. He’s particularly good in the younger role, selling a big emotional scene well despite the weirdness of the de-aging CGI. Benedict Wong isn’t given nearly enough to do, but he manages to land pretty much all of the movie’s laughs with the time he has. Together, they deliver a solid dose of action entertainment. But if you’re looking for thoughtful sci-fi, you’re going to want to look elsewhere.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.