I have a great amount of respect for Director Ang Lee. His films don’t always work, but they are always visually interesting and memorable. His latest film and most-recent-film-Will-Smith-will scrub-from-his-resume, “Gemini Man” is like many other Lee films in the regard that it has a bizarre premise (Will Smith, who is a secret agent for the Defense Intelligence Agency, has to fight a younger clone of himself; essentially being post-“After Earth” Will Smith fighting “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”-era Will Smith) and it barely works.
There is a supporting cast, sure (Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a block of wood as a fellow DIA agent who basically is in the movie to give Will Smith someone to talk to, while Benedict Wong of “Doctor Strange” fame lightens up the film with some comedic relief), but most people are here for Will Smith and terrible CGI, and there is plenty of that.
This is a film we’ve seen before a million times (as Jeremy Jahns pointed out in his review, you can basically boil it down to “This agent is being hunted down by another agent” who is from the agency he used to work for), and the only thing new it brings to the table is the spectacle of Will Smith fighting himself, which looks really bad throughout most of the movie.
Young Will Smith works best when you can barely see him, mostly because of the uncanny valley effect he displays. When you see him in direct sunlight, he looks fake (think Henry Cavill’s CGI upper lip in “Justice League,” but that’s his whole face), and if you look close, CGI Will Smith’s face looks slightly different in every scene. Perhaps this is because they motion captured Smith’s face rather than digitally de-age him.
His movements are unnatural, his face looks half-rendered and, while this is an action movie and it is reasonable to expect some form of disbelief, he moves like a cartoon character (there is a comical scene in which he picks up old Will Smith’s entire body with one arm, and another where he throws a motorcycle at him). The film looks gorgeous when Lee is filming the characters talking in an exotic location, but he’s a horrendous action director.
Perhaps young Smith’s visual flaws shine through moreso because the real world Will Smith has an extensive backlog of work on screen dating back to when he was 22. We’re used to seeing his face in pop culture, especially in his youth from his work on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, but as shows like “Doctor Who” and any sci-fi movie from before this decade can prove, effects do not make a film; good storytelling, good writing, and good acting can easily override bad effects. But when your film has none of that and is relying on the gimmick of special effects, if those effects fall short, your film has nothing else to offer, hence the bad effects become the only thing that sticks out in your head, and it becomes easy to blame those effects on the failings of the film as a whole.
This is yet another film that made me question if Will Smith has ever worked as a serious actor. He’s starred in critically-acclaimed films like “I Am Legend” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”, but I attribute those films’ success to their quality as films as a whole, not because of a breakout Will Smith performance. Indeed, it’s hard to point to an instance where Smith has carried a film on his own, meanwhile his recent work in films like the “Aladdin” remake and “Suicide Squad” have only tarnished his reputation as an actor.
When I think of Will Smith, it’s not of the man who starred in “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” and “Seven Pounds.” I think of the genie from “Aladdin” and his aweful cameo in YouTube Rewind. His career inches closer to that of Nicholas Cage’s every day (Hey, with “Gemini Man,” he’s already had his “Face/Off” movie).
“Gemini Man” gets a 4/10