WARNING: Major spoilers for Gemini Man.
Gemini Man's ending squanders the film's captivating premise due to being so rooted in the 1990s. Ang Lee's latest, an action-thriller produced by long-time Michael Bay collaborator Jerry Bruckheimer, sees Will Smith fight... Will Smith. He is Henry Brogen, an experienced sharpshooter whose plans for retirement are scuppered when he made privy to classified information and a secret clone of his, 25 years younger, is on the case.
Much of the hype for Gemini Man has focused on the technological aspect. Most immediately, there's the Fresh Prince-era Will Smith, achieved not with Marvel's de rigueur de-aging but a totally digital creation realized via motion capture. Pushing things further, Lee has attempted to alter the cinematic viewing experience, shooting the film to be viewed in high frame rate 3D. The success of all these effects is mixed, but it's undeniably the core sell.
Yet for all the sparkle, Gemini Man is still a narrative feature. Indeed, many will likely view it in its standard 2D format, whether in theaters or at home. And it's here where everything really stumbles. The concept of an assassin hunted by his younger self was first pitched by Darren Lemke in 1997, with pretty much every A-lister of the past 20 years - from Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford to Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt - linked at one point or another. The eventual version was adapted from that idea by David Benioff and Billy Ray, but it still remains very true to the core. And that's the problem.
Gemini Man's Underwhelming Ending Explained
There's something very basic about Gemini Man's plot from the off. The retirement trope is well-worn, and repeated cutaways to the government suits plotting Brogen's death keep the audience one-step-ahead of the main character. The reveal of the younger Henry - already the crux of the marketing - is less a twist and more an inevitability, with teases during a Cartagena, Colombia fight scene undercut by Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) outright saying it before the big reveal all before Junior (the given name for the clone) is properly established. It's a thriller that doesn't care for narrative thrills, and that becomes exacerbated in the finale.
In Gemini Man's final act, Junior figures out that his villainous "father" Clay (Clive Owen) is, well, a villain and joins up with Henry and Danny in an ambiguous attempt to escape. They're pinned down in a deserted town by spec-op troops, but manage to fight them off before taking on a third Will Smith clone (this one an emotionless, hyper-focused version). Clay explains to them his plan to have an army of brainwashed youth Will Smiths fight on the world's many front-lines, with Junior his perverse pet project. Henry stops Junior from killing his father, doing the deed himself, and they all return to reality: Henry retires, Junior goes to college, Danny hangs around. And... that's it.
Gemini Man Keeps Missing More Interesting Story Opportunities
Gemini Man's story is aggressively pedestrian. It takes the heroes from Georgia to Columbia to Hungary and back to Georgia again (no prizes for guessing where the base studio space was), all nice places but hardly the most dynamic or diverse for such a visually driven project. As already discussed, the handling of the Junior twist robs it of the proper impact, and the conflict between him and Henry is swiftly resolved for a third-act team-up. There's an argument that a simplistic story is a smart choice to better serve the stories, similar to how Avatar's ecological tale riffed on stories such as Pocahontas to better focus on James Cameron's use of CGI and 3D a decade ago. But with that $2 billion hit, there was still a concerted effort to craft strong characters and world.
What stands out with Gemini Man, especially in its ending, is how much potential is actively squandered. That Clay had cloned multiple Henry Brogens in secret and had them as a private army could have been an Earth-shattering twist, but in the movie itself it's played too loose: a quick mask removal makes way for a villain monologue that quickly dismisses the hoard actually existing. Not being interested in the light sci-fi premise is fine enough, but to pay it lip-service before getting back on track feels like missed opportunities.
There's one particular twist that's set-up multiple times yet never comes to pass. Winstead's Danny is an enigma, one who reacts uncomfortably when asked how she'd react to meeting her older self and pointedly states "when I run the DIA...". There's enough groundwork laid for her to be the original Gemini clone of the DIA head, but nothing comes of it. Perhaps that's just a product of viewing the movie through modern eyes when every blockbuster has a major twist (or, failing that, spoiler-phobic advertising campaign). But even if it is, that only serves to highlight Gemini Man's real issue.
Gemini Man Is Two Decades Too Late
Everything raised with Gemini Man is a problem for the movie in creating an engaging story, characters or world, and it comes right back to the script. Or, more directly, when the script was written.
In the past decade or two, what's expected of contemporary sci-fi has shifted astronomically. It can be pinpointed as beginning with The Matrix, which blew up convention in 1999, but the real game-changer was Christopher Nolan's Oscar-nominated Inception in 2010. Here was a film that dreamt up an elaborate premise, carefully explained it to the audience throughout the movie, then in the third act plundered all the possibilities raised by clearly-defined rule exceptions, all the while fuelling a bigger story. It was a well-developed, cohesive sci-fi for a mainstream audience. In the years since, we've seen many more blockbusters use these ideas (Interstellar, Arrival), and indies push limits further (Predestination, Annihilation).
Gemini Man's premise predates these landmarks and by all evidence seems to have not been updated massively in rewrites to fit the modern climate (likely due to how hard-baked the premise and plot are). It coasts on the out-dated thrill of a movie star vehicle with a loosely fantastical idea that enables a string of action sequences. There's a disregard for scale of story or concepts, which leaves it feeling quaint and lacking nay greater purpose. But it's hardly a good example of 1990s dumb fun - not even by Jerry Bruckheimer standards.
There's an entertaining movie to be made with Gemini Man's concept, and it needn't be as self-satisfactorily smart as the works of Nolan, Denis Villeneuve or Alex Garland. But when it comes to viewing this technological experiment as a piece of storytelling, it's that lack of engagement that really stands out.