Gemini Man

Year: 2019
Production Co: Skydance
Studio: Paramount
Director: Ang Lee
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer/David Ellison
Writer: David Benioff/Billy Ray/Darren Lemke
Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong

Lately I seem to have been finally catching up on a lot of car crash movies – ones I missed in cinemas because the critical response (and often the box office) was so dire they made their own headlines for all the wrong reasons, but always knew I had to watch just to see if they were as bad as the collective consciousness thought. Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot was another one.

(Quick aside; the very fact that I've watched them undoubtedly proves the axiom that there's no such thing as bad publicity – the studio, producer or financier couldn't care less whether I liked Gemini Man or not, just that I watched it).

Much was written about the VFX behind cloning Will Smith digitally to create a younger, completely CGI version of him, and after all the critical vitriol was about how ultimately stupid and paper-thin the plot was rather than any mention of the VFX not living up to reality, I was kind of expecting the CGI to be awe-inspiring.

And in some scenes, it was certainly good. But in certain lighting conditions and with the amount of movement involved, I was surprised that anyone, least of all director Ang Lee, signed off on it. It was undoubtedly the best Scanline VFX could come up with, but where James Cameron talked often about for the technology to become good enough to make Avatar it's not there yet in this case, several scenes dropping you deep into the uncanny valley.

A classic example is an early chase where DIA agent and crack sniper Henry (Smith) is pursued by his younger self through the streets of Bogota on motorcycles. It's a set piece of spectacular action, but when both men come off the bikes and start scrapping hand to hand, the physics of the human movement is badly off, making it look more like a Looney Tunes cartoon.

And in scenes of relative stillness where there are just character talking, you can see too many of the joins. The digital 19 year old Princess Leia was mildly weird at the end of Rogue One, but in a major character, the same flaws make it very hard to concentrate on the story.

After he signals his intention to retire from life as an international government assassin, Henry's corrupt US spy agency employers decide to retire him more permanently because he knows too much about a job gone wrong.

Slimy Agency head Clay (Clive Owen, having settled into doing this same kind of role for good) dispatches the only man who could possibly bring Henry down because of his vast skillset – a younger version of himself, cloned from Henry himself years before and raised as Clay's own son to be a ruthless killer to take Henry's place when age inevitably slows him down.

Early on Henry makes Danni (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), posting as the rental boat office manager but in reality a fellow spook sent to monitor him. But after he helps her escape the hit put out on them both, they flee to Colombia to hook up with a former colleague he trusts, his younger cloned self in tow.

As the younger version of Henry (called Junior) pursues he and Danni across the world, it emerges that he's been cloned and raised specifically to be a single minded killing machine, Henry trying to convince the younger man he doesn't have to life such a life while trying not to fall victim to him.

And therein lies the cheesy plot all the critics complained about. I don't know what I expected the younger clone to be, whether he was half cybernetic or had emotional response excised from his neural map or something, but the fact that he's essentially a scared young boy who doesn't know anything about the real world and who Henry and Danni want to help back to normality (both because he has personhood and so he doesn't kill the both of them) ends up kind of silly.

The final scene of the two of them sending him off on his new life full of anticipation and excitement, with the corny father/son ribbing (yes that's a spoiler but come on – do you really think the good guys won't win?) is the narrative equivalent of them all skipping off into the sunset together holding hands, and it's dreadfully infantile.

That said, there are some great action scenes and a globetrotting style that will remind you slightly of a Bond film. If it was better written and didn't have the failed VFX of the attention grabbing premise it would have been a perfectly serviceable spy thriller.

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