If ten years ago you had told me there was a film coming out in which Will Smith fights off a younger version of himself, I would have undoubtedly been incredibly excited about it. Will Smith pictures have been littered across my childhood and teenage life, from Shark Tale to I, Robot (which I will still argue is a classic). It was disheartening to discover with the advertisements of his latest film, Gemini Man, in which he does fight his younger self, that he no longer has the draw for me he once had. Now this is a review for the film in question, so the other films which could be blamed for this depreciation is possibly for another article. However, this film will most definitely be added to that depreciative list.
Other than the supposed selling point of Smith, the big conversation around this film is of the “innovative” technology. We have seen de-aging in many a Marvel movie, and is becoming more of the norm, with even Scorsese utilizing it in his upcoming Netflix film. The difference for this, however, is that while Smith is doing the performance for his younger self, it is entirely CGI – sort of like motion capture for a videogame.
So, are the effects any good? Yes and no. There are moments that are truly astounding, particularly in darker scenes. Most of the time however, it isn’t quite there, with his face being a little shinier than everyone else’s. There is one standout moment in broad daylight, that is so bad it genuinely looks a cutscene from a Call of Duty campaign – and not even a recent one.
Speaking of videogames, Gemini Man sports an increased frame rate. Where this would be advantageous if you’re playing a game of Fortnite with the boys, for a film in the cinema, it doesn’t quite have the same effect. Each shot would look more at home in a documentary, instead of a big-budget Hollywood action film – and I didn’t even go to a showing with the higher frame rate. Any chance of immersion was spoiled as I felt increasingly aware that I was watching actors, stunts and set-pieces, rather than a story unfolding before me.
If I have spent too long talking about the technical aspects of the film, it is because they are the only interesting elements of it. Underneath the coat of CGI is a dull story, cardboard characters and so-so action. The majority of its run-time is spent unenthusiastically finding excuses to cart the cast from one location to the next, with the only real purpose being to mix of the settings of the action sequences. Of those sequences there is one fight that is fast and hard-hitting, while most are plagued with stunts from weightless and rubber-like CGI characters.
Smith tries to inject some of his characteristic charm, but often feels unbelievable as this hardened killer, haunted by his 70-plus kill list. However, his performance as the cloned Junior does have more nuance – which is rather ironic if you think about it. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong have proven themselves to be likeable in their other works, but the script simply doesn’t allow for any of that to come through here.
Whilst I have not seen enough of director Ang Lee’s film to form any opinion on him, it is disappointing to have yet another film that pushes me further away from a movie star I held so dear earlier in my life. I can appreciate the work that has went into what is effectively a tech demo, but every other element of the film feels like an afterthought, and the result is crisp images but ultimately a boring experience.