Does Will Smith have what it takes to beat Will Smith? By the way, that question only makes sense within the context of Ang Lee's Gemini Man (in theaters Friday, Oct. 11), which critics are starting to review with mixed feelings. You could even say that they've been split down the middle like a man who's been ... CLONED!
On the one hand, no one can deny the incredibly boundary-pushing visual effects that allow the 51-year-old Smith (playing a trained killer named Henry Brogan) to face off against a younger duplicate of himself called "Junior." Even our own features editor, Jordan Zakarin, penned a piece about how Lee has single-handedly changed the way movies are made and enjoyed.
It's also a sentiment shared by early Twitter reactions to the movie, which was shot at 120fps, and apparently makes one of the best cases for 3D since the first Avatar. Reviews are praising Smith for great performances as well. No, that plural not a typo, because the Men in Black and Bad Boys alum had to play two distinct characters for this project. To make Junior truly feel like a younger and more inexperienced human being, Ang Lee actually told his leading man to "act less good" for the clone's scenes.
On the other hand, the screenplay by David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Billy Ray (Overlord), and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps) is reportedly lacking and derivative of other—and better—globe-trotting assassin/spy thrillers, like the Bourne, John Wick, and Mission: Impossible franchises. One review goes so far as to say that Lee (Hulk, Life of Pi) may not have been the best directorial choice for the project, since he seems more concerned with pushing the possibilities of the cinematic medium (nothing wrong with that, though) than he is with crafting an engaging action flick from producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Carribean, National Treasure).
Having languished in development hell since the late '90s, Gemini Man co-stars Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Linda Emond, and Douglas Hodge.
"Was it worth dusting off this clunky pre-millennial screenplay? Frankly, not really. Gemini Man is arguably a significant leap forward for visual effects but a backward step for gripping, sophisticated thrillers. Despite a few deftly handled set-piece action sequences, the formulaic screenplay, stock characters, leaden dialogue and wobbly accents feel gratingly amateurish in places. The thin premise, about a secret program of rogue government assassins, also feels thuddingly familiar in a world where Jason Bourne, John Wick and Villanelle in Killing Eve are all mainstream anti-heroes." -Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter
"In theory, Gemini Man offers quite the novelty, a chance to witness an older A-list star (Will Smith) face off against a deadly computer-generated version of himself (who looks like the zombie double for Smith, circa Bad Boys, minus his signature 'Aw hell naw' charisma) ... Gemini Man is a case in which an awful lot of effort has gone into making an awfully lazy action movie. Once considered one of his generation’s great humanists, director Ang Lee has grown distracted by the nuts and bolts of late ... As a director, he’s constantly challenging himself. But he’s usually a far better judge of material and proves the wrong person to helm a Jerry Bruckheimer movie." -Peter Debruge, Variety
"While it’s not a perfect product, as there are moments where Gemini Man’s effects don’t hold up, the creation of a wholly digital young Will Smith does make for an impressive feat when it’s at its best. It also creates an amazing acting challenge for Smith, who brings his usual gravitas not only to the embattled Junior, but the worn and weary Henry. As creative as the technical side of Gemini Man’s central duality is, it wouldn’t have been as effective if it wasn’t for the acting that Smith, and his younger body double Victor Hugo, puts in on both sides." -Mike Reyes, CinemaBlend
"It’s the script that fails the concept. Once the initial shock of the twist has worn off, revelatory conversations are paced with a total lack of tension, acting as wooden narrative roadblocks rather than crucial words between actual living, thinking human beings. Everything is in service of the aesthetic – in the same way that Junior struggles to become his full self, a clone with a soul, Gemini Man fails to ever fully become a whole movie, surviving instead as a successful science experiment of great tech and poor heart." -Ella Kemp, IndieWire
"The main effect of the lengthy gestation is that Gemini Man now seems fatally dated and derivative. In the years since Lemke drafted his screenplay, The Bourne Identity and its imitators have featured countless agents being betrayed and hounded by their own handlers. Captain America and its sequels have covered the terrain of genetically-engineered super-soldiers. We have even had older and younger incarnations of the same killer in Rian Johnson’s Looper. Gemini Man is significantly less exciting than any of these films." -Nicholas Barber, TheWrap
"Sometimes, Gemini Man brings with it a waft of John Woo’s Face/Off, but even though Ang Lee is attempting huge things technically, this film in itself hasn’t enough character to carry them. Sometimes, it lifts to unprecedented levels, when the younger and older versions of Smith dance through fight scenes or, in one case, over the rooftops and into the audience’s face a la Lee’s Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ... But Gemini Man is also proof that even while some things change, others remain stubbornly the same. The Screen Writer’s Guild can stand down: there’s still no way to engineer a shortcut around a good screenplay." -Fionnuala Halligan, ScreenDaily