Gemini Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Ang Lee
So the Will Smith Renaissance hasn’t quite gone as well as say the McConaissance, but his uptick in roles in the last few years has been pretty enjoyable for the most part with him being one of the best parts of the trashy fun Suicide Squad, and as bad as Bright was he did have pretty good chemistry with Joel Edgerton. Now he’s working with either his best or his worst co-star of all time… HIMSELF! Does this action spectacular with Will Smith fighting Will Smith turn out to be one of the best movies of the year, or did the good parts of this movie begin and end with its sill premise? Let’s find out!!
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is just like every other aged government assassin who wants to retire and live the rest of his life in leisure, but of course something happens where the government decides that the one thing they should try to do to the unkillable solider is try to kill him. The reason given here is that he stumbles upon some information that could eventually lead to him finding out about a mysterious project known as GEMINI, and the director of the project Clay (Clive Owen) doesn’t want him finding out more. After barely escaping with his life and the life of the government agent tasked to keep an eye on him Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he starts searching for clues and calling in favors from all his contacts to get to the bottom of what it is that Clay is so desperate to hide from him. Well at least part of the answer comes a lot sooner than he expected as he starts getting chased by another assassin called Junior (Will Smith) who bears a striking resemblance to Henry circa 1991. Can Henry survive long enough to find out just what Clay was up to and maybe even spare Junior in the process? What will Junior do now that he’s starting to learn the truth? Will he stay loyal to Clay and GEMINI or are these revelations enough for him to question everything he knows and the people he has trusted his whole life? If they could just clone people in this world, why haven’t they ACTUALLY cloned Will Smith and tried to make a GOOD version of Wild Wild West? At least make a version of the Matrix with him!
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie since neither its star nor its director have done a whole lot to set my world on fire in the recent past, but I’ll be darned if this didn’t end up being one of my favorite movies of the year! Now where it’ll shake out once I do my end of year list is still up in the air, but I had a really positive reaction to this right out of the gate and it only got better from there; holding my attention and keeping me engaged with an interesting story, believable if somewhat exaggerated characters, action scenes that are impressive as all heck, and a bold commitment to a strong emotional arc in a genre that often priorities bad ass bravado over vulnerability and heart. Paramount has recently announced a remake for Face/Off which is an… INTERESTING decision if nothing else, but after seeing this movie I don’t know why they would even bother as it does such a good job of reminding me of what I absolutely adore about that movie in the first place while also still feeling like its own distinct entity. Unless this was just a hundred million dollar test run for Ang Lee to eventually make that Face/Off movie, Paramount might as well scrap the idea as I doubt it would be any better than what we have here!
The big elephant in the room regarding this movie and the central gimmick that got it any attention in the first place is Will Smith playing both Smith Prime and The Fresh Prince, and for the most part it does work. Sure the Fresh Prince can look a BIT waxy in the slower scenes where we’re really focusing on the guy, but it was never enough to take me out of the movie. When the action kicks in though, it’s utterly seamless and I’m still marveling at the special effects wizardly that went into it all. I ASSUME that Smith Prime is fighting a stunt double, but however it was accomplished the action scenes look phenomenal. Sure a few of the fights are shaky, too close, or in far too much darkness, but most of the action is bright, beautiful, and some truly top notch action that is some of the best I’ve seen all year. The chase scene in Columbia is brilliantly executed and manages to pace itself judiciously so that it never gets dull despite going on for as long as it does; changing and escalating as it goes along to the point that a somewhat serious shootout somehow naturally evolves into a motorbike kung-fu match. The rest of the movie’s set pieces work in a similar way where there’s always something new around the corner at just the moment the current pace is starting to wear thin, and while nothing quite tops Motor Kombat in the Columbia scene, it’s always really fun to see what tricks the filmmakers have up their sleeves to make each fight that much more memorable.
What really sets this movie apart though, and why I liken it so much to Face/Off is its completely shameless indulgence in melodrama and its commitment to its ridiculous concept. Face/Off could have just been a goofy action movie with two of the greatest oddball actors in cinema, but there’s a sincerity to its operatic scope that makes it more than just the over the top action and the eye catching gimmick. It’s the same thing that Ang Lee understood about the material here and has always been a running thread throughout his movies; he priorities raw human emotion and uses that as part of the spectacle. Anyone could have cranked out another Jason-Bourne-a-like with this gimmick if a studio gave them the cash to do it, but Ang Lee’s approach makes the thoughts and feelings of the two Smiths take precedence over cold calculated action and logic; the same way John Woo milked the face switching metaphor for all its worth in Face/Off including that WONDERFUL scene of both men shooting mirrors. Smith Prime sees a lot of things in this clone of him and that cocktail of mixed emotions comes across very well in the script as well as in Smith’s acting, and it’s honestly just as much fun to watch him trying to come to terms with whatever all this ultimately means as it is to see him shoot guns and punch things. The Fresh Prince on the other hand is the trickier of the two roles to play but Smith pulls it off quite as well here. There are a lot of layers of identity wrapped up in this performance; not only within the text of the film itself but the fact that he is mostly a CG creation; an imitation of something we are familiar with but know that it’s not truly that. It’s played a bit broadly at times with the Fresh Prince eating ice cream during his military training or the fact that Clive Owen straight up treats him like a twelve year old (the Fresh Prince’s favorite meal is cornflakes still), but that arrested development is also an integral part of his arc. His sheltered upbringing to keep him from the truth about himself has deprived him of becoming a true adult in his own right and he has to go through this emotionally taxing trial to essentially become a real boy. Like I said, it’s REALLY melodramatic at points, but I found it immensely entertaining to watch these two confusingly bumble through their feelings; a task that is a million times harder for them than throwing punches or shooting people’s heads off. It’s not quite as BIG as Face/Off which always went for blunt symbolism and cathartic violence whenever possible, but the core is still there of two people coming face to face (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) with a conflict that makes them question their respective identities as well as their pasts and their futures… while also blowing lots of stuff up!
There are a few minor quibbles that keep this from being a PERFECT movie and therefore not as good as Face/Off. Mary Elizabeth Winstead feels rather tertiary to the story as she doesn’t have THE BEST reasons to go with Smith Prime in the first place and then stay with him for the rest of the movie. If you remember that Jack Reacher sequel (though I’d be surprised if you did), Cobie Smulders had basically the exact same role as a tag along to the main character’s story who occasionally kicked some butt as well, but Winstead is at least in a much better movie here, so while her role isn’t particularly MEATY it’s at least executed much more competently. The big issue however is the plot which is perfectly fine and is certainly functional at guiding us through the far more important character drama, but it’s just kind of confusing with so many balls in the air, and while it is impressive that it remains cohesive despite this, I couldn’t help but think that cutting a subplot here or a shadowy organization there would have only helped streamlined it’s somewhat bloated runtime.
My taste in movies has always been on the broad side of things which is why I consider Face/Off to be one of the best action movies of all time and also why I put Jupiter Ascending as my second favorite film of 2015; beating out Mad Max Fury Road at number three. Because of that, when I say that this is one of my favorite movies of the year I know that it should be taken with a grain of salt by everyone else out there, so while I do ABSOLUTELY recommend this movie, I know it won’t be for everyone. The premise is cheesy, the melodrama is up to eleven, and while I enjoyed all the action, there are points where they misstep on the cinematography. I know that I had a great time watching this (standard by the way; no high FPS for my local theater!) and I’m sure a lot of you will too even if you don’t end up raving about it as much as I am. Seriously, if they don’t get Ang Lee AND Will Smith for the Face/Off remake, just shut the whole thing down right now! That is… unless the plan is to have them switch faces with whoever is scheduled to direct and star in it! FACE/OFF-CEPTION!!