Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is an aging assassin. He’s still cutting-edge lethal, but as is apparently the case with assassins in their twilight years, he’s growing a conscience.
He snipes a bad guy on a high-speed train, from two kilometers out, and notices he got distracted by the little girl who was standing near his victim. He thinks he got lucky—could have killed the girl. And this gives him pause.
And so what might an agency do when confronted with a conscience-growing (and thus soon to be ineffective) lethal predator? They’d replace him with a new, improved, upgrade of himself, named Junior. Junior (also Will Smith) is a literal upgrade. He’s Henry’s genetically enhanced clone.
Isn’t that an exciting premise? The idea’s been kicking around for 20 years; they just didn’t have the CGI wizardry available yet. Andy Serkis’s Gollum changed all that.
So is it realistic? Well … that opening, about a confirmed kill from two kilometers away? Compensating for all the minutia snipers have to adjust for—gravity, wind, and even earth rotation—all in addition to calculating enough lead time to pinpoint a target on a high-speed train? I didn’t go to sniper school, but I’m pretty sure such a shot is ridiculously unrealistic.
So, again, are cloned super-soldiers realistic? They’ve cloned stuff! They cloned that sheep! Named her Dolly, they did. They can clone humans. Probably already done it. But can they also turn down the clone’s emotional life, as if it had a genetically accessible volume dial, which could render it 100 percent fearless?
What would we call that? You know. We would call that a terminator. Or a robocop. Let’s call Junior a military-grade robo-operator. Let’s say it’s realistic enough to make for a fun actioner.
Henry’s tired. As characters inevitably say in this kind of story, “I’m getting too old for this.” He’s looking to go back to Georgia and mellow out on his porch, maybe do a little fishing. But his Spidey, er … Henry-sense, picks up that he’s being surveilled.
He suspects the new, pretty grad student (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, actually the best thing about this movie) who’s booking fishing boats at the office shack for the local marina.
Now, while Henry’s busy getting comfortable, we learn that two decades earlier, one Clay Verris (Clive Owen), who trained Henry, also surreptitiously helped himself to some of Henry’s DNA and cloned the aforementioned Junior. Clay raised Junior as his son. Strangely, though this type of storyline involving enhanced super-soldiers always has mass production as its endgame, Junior doesn’t get mass-produced. Not in this movie.
Instead, Clay trained terminator-son to outperform Henry in every respect, then waited for signs of aging, for Henry to start losing a step, and for the dreaded conscience to start coming online. He then sent the copy to eliminate the original.
Good Fight Scenes
Since this is a terminator-type movie—that is, detect the terminator, run away from the terminator, fight the terminator, and so on—it’s not terribly deep. It’s mindless action. But this is Ang Lee we’re talking about, one of my favorite directors, and so as shallow as the premise is, it’s quite fun.
The gimmick here, much like Richard Linklater’s superb gimmick from “Boyhood,” where he went back every year, for many years, and actually filmed a young boy growing up, is that we get to see mature, white-beard-stubbled Will Smith roll around with and pummel—and be pummeled by—his computer-generated “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” era self. Which is maybe a bit less fresh.
Fun, right? Pretty much. It’s just that the CGI, while adequate, can’t come close to conveying the vintage wattage of “Bad Boys” era Will Smith hollering congratulations at Martin Lawrence’s hair-raising stunt driving: “Now that’s how you supposed to drive! From now on—that’s how you drive!!!”
In fact, speaking of Linklater’s “Boyhood,” the ideal way this film should have been shot would have been for Ang Lee to develop his supernormal ability of precognition and start shooting Will Smith doing all the Junior scenes in his 20s. And then shelve the project for 20 years and wait until Smith turned 51.
In addition to the CGI, “Gemini Man” was shot with a higher frame rate. (Motion picture film cameras typically shoot 24 frames per second. The higher rate is supposed to prevent that ghostly flicker you see if you avert your eyes from the screen in a darkened room and, thereby, feel more realistic.) This personally does nothing for me. Neither did the 3D in this case.
Anyway, there are two fight scenes. One involves a “Mission Impossible”-style motorcycle chase, with shooting and driving, punching and kicking and driving, and stunt riding using the motorcycle itself as an assault weapon. The bike is also deployed as a martial arts extension of the rider, as in the case of a moto-version of a spinning back kick, using the back wheel instead of the heel. Exxxxcellennnt.
Then there’s a Smith-on-Smith Muay Thai and jiujitsu fest, staged in a catacomb in Budapest, where they crunch around on skulls and whack each other with femurs and tibiae. Exxxxcellennnt.
Heightening the conflict is the construct that, since they’re the same person, they have the genetic ability to predict each other’s moves. Smith and Ang Lee present this more or less convincingly (although, when you think too much about it, the pseudoscience herewith jettisons nurture from the nature/nurture equation).
All in All
We’ve been spoiled regarding CG characters ever since Gollum. One instance that matched that standard recently was the pretty little huge-eyed cyborg Alita. But you’d think that with the star power of Smith and Lee, a more scarily convincing facsimile of young Smith could have been produced.
In the end, what you get is that you’re reminded that human cloning is a thing, and it’s going to happen. According to ancient wisdom, a different god was responsible for the creation of each human race. This was the ancient understanding behind the forbidding of race mixing. The thinking went that a biracial child would not be able to be accepted into the paradise of either of the gods who produced the mother and father of different races, and the child would therefore suffer in limbo.
A cloned human is created by no god, so there is no human soul. But a human body needs a soul to animate it, and nature abhors a vacuum. What kind of entity will creep in there and animate that human clone? Those are likely stories the horror genre will address in the future.
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 11
Rated: 3.5 stars out of 5