Gemini Man review: two killer Will Smiths face off

Smith’s hitman and his younger clone do battle in Ang Lee’s digital retooling of the 1990s ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre.


Clive Owen as Clay Verris and Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man

Clive Owen as Clay Verris and Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man

“Copy that” are the first words we hear Henry Brogan (Will Smith) utter in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, as he receives intelligence through an earpiece. From the hill where he has set up his sniper rifle, Henry takes the shot, sending a bullet into the neck of his target on a crowded speeding train two kilometres away.

The problem is, Henry was aiming for the head – and so, at the age of 51 and after 72 successful kills, America’s top government assassin decides to hang up his guns. Then a shadowy private military outfit named Gemini sends another assassin to take Henry out – and this assassin, Junior (also Smith), not only looks like a younger Henry (thanks to some very convincing digital de-aging), but actually is him, having been cloned from Henry’s DNA about 23 years earlier as part of a covert supersoldier programme run by Henry’s former recruiter Clay Verris (Clive Owen).

Henry’s first words are not just sly foreshadowing of the film’s cloning themes, but also acknowledgements of its imitative nature. For, with its hyperviolent, hyperstylised (120fps! Or 60fps per eye in the 3D version!) mano a mano between conflicted gun-toting killers in a world of corrupted values and shifting loyalties, Gemini Man replicates the DNA of the ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre first popularised in late-1980s/early-1990s Hong Kong and imported to the US in films such as Sheldon Lettich’s Double Impact (1991), John Woo’s Face/Off (1997) and Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers (1998), all of which influence the plotting of Gemini Man.

It was originally conceived in 1997, when these films were still the cutting edge of action, and one year after Dolly the sheep became the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, and it has remained in development hell for a little over two decades – which also approximates the number of years since Junior’s birth. So now, as we see Henry brought into confrontation with his fresher-faced self, we are also witnessing the gulf between this film’s conception and its execution, during which the world has changed (and special effects have advanced). A similar effect might be achieved watching Smith in Bad Boys (1995) and in the two forthcoming sequels.

Even before he meets Junior, Henry is a divided self: a stone-cold killer but also a man with feelings, scruples, vulnerabilities and personality. Unhappy with what he has become, he can no longer face his own reflection – and is uncertain whether to take down his younger mirror image or to father him, even as Junior is caught between Henry and the manipulative Clay for paternal guidance. Junior is on a path to becoming another Henry, but Henry sees in him all the potential for the better life he himself might have led. The ensuing mix of action and paradoxical family drama is an earthbound reimagining of Duncan Jones’s Moon (2009) – with hitmen – examining the duality between soldier and human. Somehow all at once old-ass and state of the art, Gemini Man both races and creaks through fun, forgettable routines.


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