Friday, 18 October 2019

Gemini Man (2019) - Movie Review

Will Smith plays a black-ops mercenary, one of the best shots in the history of his agency. However, when he tries to retire to a non-violent life, his old employers decide that he needs to be taken out of the picture. In the process of trying to circumvent any potential feelings of regret that could lead into a want for vengeance, their actions only end up reinforcing that notion, bringing Will back into the fold on a mission to clean up house.

Even without the works of Warren Ellis permanently ingraining this story into the pop culture patchwork, as far as action-thrillers go, this is remarkably pedestrian. It’s the kind of story that needs something unique to bulk it up, lest it simply give the audience an urge to sit at home and watch Red. And here, said uniqueness comes in its sci-fi trappings, with the agent assigned to hunt Will down being a younger version of himself, a clone created by his former employers meant to replace him outright.

In between the lines, ideas relating to the personhood of clones, a chance to stop your younger self from making the same mistakes, or even just meta-commentary on Will Smith’s own career (old and busted vs. the new hotness) poke their heads out on occasion, but this really ends up being a story that requires its own gimmick to justify its existence. This production has been languishing in purgatory for the last 20 years, waiting for the technology to catch up to make the visuals fit, and after the success of Captain Marvel earlier this year, this feels like the right time for it to be fulfilled. A pity, then, that it landed in the hands of director Ang Lee.

For all the directors out there who know their way around computer technology to achieve their artistic vision, Ang Lee is not one of them. Whenever he lands a project with heavy CGI work (Hulk, anyone?), he always feels like he’s distracting himself with the technology at his disposal, leaning heavily into them rather than letting them accompany a story with a beating heart behind it. And that unfortunately comes through in the finished product here.

As good as the de-aging effects can get here, adding palpable surreality to Will Smith fighting his younger self, the only consistency it has is how distracting it is. The emphasis placed on it makes the action scenes feel like video game run-off, and ends up making the locales they’re placed in feel like little more than convenient backgrounds. No agency, no purpose, just window dressing.

Then there’s the writing, which also has changed hands multiple times over the years, and it sure feels like someone spoiled this broth in the process. I could spend the whole rest of this review laying into the unashamed cliché of the plot, its workings and its characters, but that only dances out the even bigger problem: It can’t even deliver well-trodden ground properly on top of everything else. 

Aside from being frustratingly convoluted, making the rookie’s mistake of piling high-concept ideas on top of high-concept ideas without fleshing any of them out, it barely manages to make sense from scene to scene. The dialogue is delivered decently through Smith, Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (her casting in an action-thriller continues to be a tease until someone gives her the chance to really cut loose in that framework), but not to the point where it makes any of it palatable. Instead, it just makes one wish that they were given better material to work with.

There’s a throwaway moment early on where older Smith and Winstead are on a beach, and Winstead is eating a box of crackers… that Smith says expired three years earlier. That is this film in a nutshell: It’s well past its use-by date and it probably wouldn’t have been that flavourful when it was still fresh. For all its pretence of nature vs. nurture hyperrealism or questioning of military ethics, it only ends up being a reheated action flick that puts way too much reliance on its effects work to salvage it. All the wonkiness of a Will Smith genre flick combined with the deadening self-seriousness of a Will Smith prestige picture.

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