Director Ang Lee has helmed plenty of highbrow drama, including Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). He has also tackled action with plenty of practical and computer-generated effects. See: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hulk (2003) and Life of Pi (2012). Now he’s breaking digital ground again with Gemini Man, in which retirement-ready assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) meets his most able foe yet: himself. Evil corporate mercenary Clay Verris (Clive Owen) has cloned Brogan and raised the result as his own son and has now sent Junior on his toughest mission yet.
Gemini Man has been in development for more than 20 years, but the studios held onto the concept until the technology was advanced enough to convince the viewer that they’re watching a real person, not just a digital representation. Unlike other recent “youthification” efforts like Kurt Russell’s Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in Captain Marvel, Lee and his crew didn’t just film Smith and then erase laugh lines and add hair. Instead, they created the character of Junior entirely digitally, referencing old footage of Smith (mostly from movies in the 1990s) to create the computer-generated clone and using precise motion capture to replace Smith’s performance with the artificial actor.
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Though the technological achievement is impressive, it’s not nearly enough to make Gemini Man look anything like a good movie. First: the writing. While the film sat for 20 years waiting for the processing power needed to make us believe in the clone, the script (screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke; story by Benioff and Lemke) should have received some attention during that same time instead of sitting in a drawer gathering dust. Gemini Man is predictable, derivative and, except for a couple of decent action scenes, quite boring. Simply put, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the movie. Second: the clone. While built from the same DNA, these men are 25 years apart, and it would have helped with our suspension of disbelief had the characters not looked quite so identical. Perhaps Will Smith has aged too well at 51 years, or the filmmakers should have made the character of Henry Brogan 10 or 15 years older to help emphasize their differences. Regardless, though the tech is impressive, it takes more to make a good movie.