Gemini Man, starring Will Smith, may have been a long time in the making but the reviews have not been kind to this sci-fi blockbuster. It's been a strong year for Will Smith so far. After a few box office disappointments and concerns over whether one of the biggest stars on the planet could still pull in the major box office grosses, he had one of the biggest hits of his career with Disney's live-action remake of Aladdin. Of course, that was a previously existing IP and not the kind of studio tentpole blockbuster Smith used to lead to commercial glory in his prime. That's where Gemini Man comes in.
Directed by Ang Lee and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Gemini Man has been one of Hollywood's longest-running in-development movies for the past two decades. Originally conceived in 1997, the film went through numerous directors and was set to star some of the biggest names in the business from their respective eras: Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford, to name but a few. Eventually, the rights to the story were picked up by Skydance Media, the company behind the newest Mission: Impossible movies and Will Smith was brought on board. He plays an aging hitman who becomes the target of another highly skilled assassin who turns out to be his own younger clone (also played by Smith.) It's taken until 2019 for the de-aging technology to be strong enough to pull off a concept like this, and Ang Lee decided to up the special-effects marvels by shooting the movie at an extra-high frame rate of 120 fps, similar to how the Hobbit movies were released.
However, reviews for Gemini Man have not been especially enthusiastic. Currently, the film has a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That's bad news for a movie with a reported budget between $138 - 158 million. Currently, it's set to be beaten at the box office by Joker in its second week and faces tough competition from The Addams Family. While reviews praise the visuals and performances, the movie has been heavily criticized for its subpar story, leaving the film more as an impressive technical demonstration than a coherent movie. Here are what some of the negative reviews are saying.
Justin Chang - Los Angeles Times
"There are charitable explanations for the uncanny-valley effect of Smith 2.0; maybe your younger clone should look a little off, a little CGI. But it remains an empty, off-putting stunt, and not a particularly moving one. No matter how many (presumably non-computer-generated) tears Smith sheds, he and Lee never transform this baby hit man into a plausible science-fiction conceit, let alone invest him with a soul."
Alison Wilmore - Vulture
"The movie is so disinterested in the philosophical issues it raises as to feel reluctant to commit to being this particular breed of science fiction at all, and by the awkward ending, it doesn’t seem like it really needed to. At its core is a scenario in which someone’s given the chance to confront their younger self and call out their worst choices — one that feels like it has more to do with therapy than with all the unconvincing action in which it’s unfortunately packaged."
Anthony Lane - New Yorker
“Imagine what wicked sport the Smith of yore would have had with this conceit. Imagine, that is, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air making fun, not just mincemeat, of his middle-aged self. Regrettably, as we know from Smith’s performance in “Suicide Squad” (2016), the effusive joy that once ran through his veins appears, for reasons unknown, to have leaked away, and “Gemini Man” is largely a sad affair. Fans of double characters should stick with Austin Powers, who, in “The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999), enjoys the rare privilege of meeting the person he was ten minutes ago. “You,” he says, “are adorable.””
Lindsey Bahr - Associated Press
"While “Junior” does look pretty good for a computer-generated approximation of a 23-year-old Smith, it’s hard not to wish that all the time and money spent on this gimmick might have been put toward making sure the script and story were at least engaging and entertaining. As it stands, “Gemini Man” is a lot of show, but there’s no life behind the eyes."
Pat Brown - Slant Magazine
"Gemini Man is an action movie whose attempt to carry emotional weight is betrayed by the utter weightlessness of both its spectacle and its narrative. There’s a story here about middle age and the loss of youth, the uncanniness of knowing you were once a person you no longer are—the existential discomfort of looking in a mirror and seeing someone else looking back."
Ben Travis - Empire Magazine
"All of these flaws are only accentuated by the film’s high-frame-rate presentation. Gemini Man was shot at 120 frames per second rather than the standard 24, and while the filmmaker’s preferred ‘3D+’ format promises smoother action and greater detail, it instead fundamentally dismantles any suspension of disbelief. As with the dreaded motion smoothing effect on HD TVs, everything appears too real and too artificial at the same time — giving an expensive Hollywood blockbuster all the visual sheen of an episode of Hollyoaks."
Peter Bradshaw - The Guardian
"The digital novelty is striking for the first 10 minutes, silly for the next 10 minutes, and by the end of the movie you’re pining for the analogue values of script and direction. A wittier, smarter riff on everything could have saved this and Smith can play lighter material. Gemini Man has been born under an unfortunate sign."
Stephen Dalton - Hollywood Reporter
"While Lee's dedication to exploring this emerging digital aesthetic is admirable, it feels ill-suited to the larger-than-life conventions of a glossy genre thriller. Captured at an unusually high frame rate between 60 and 120 frames per second, the hyper-real look of Gemini Man is immersive and richly detailed. But it also has the disconcerting effect of making a big-budget cinematic spectacle look like a vintage videotaped TV drama. To steal a line from Dolly Parton, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap."
However, the film does have its supporters. Some critics, in the minority, enjoyed the film for its SFX novelty, the endless charm of Will Smith, and the sheer silliness of the concept. Here are some of the more positive reviews for Gemini Man.
Hannah Woodhead - Little White Lies
"Though its plot never quite reaches the heights scaled by Rian Johnson’s similarly-themed Looper, Gemini Man is a classic tale of good versus evil that fully embraces its silly science and exuberant lead. Lee is a director who constantly pushes himself to innovate and tell new stories, which is commendable in an age of apathy and homogeny. It’s the kind of imaginative filmmaking we rarely get to see outside of a franchise like Mission: Impossible or Fast & Furious, and a great showcase for Smith’s star power, which has yet to dim after 30 years on our screens."
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky - AV Club
"Because for all of its tear-stained speechifying about how you aren’t what they made you, the film is best enjoyed for its killer qualities: Lee’s gracefully elastic direction of the sequence that first introduces Junior, pitting him against Henry in a series of shoot-outs that turns into an awesome motorcycle chase; the spotless hand-to-hand fights; the way the climactic showdown (staged against the less-than-scenic backdrop of a small-town hardware store) turns into fiery, full-bore martial arts action; the fisheye lenses, digitally composited smash zooms, and other eccentric touches with which Lee seasons the set pieces. Like its characters, Gemini Man is groan-inducingly sincere, but runs like a machine when it counts."
Conor O'Donnell - The Film Stage
"It’s as silly and mundane a set-up as any from 25 years ago, but it’s also perfectly fertile ground for Lee to cultivate the most forward-thinking action film since Avatar [...] Gemini Man isn’t just a novelty, it’s a miracle. It’s a Big Bang–a confluence of the right elements and conditions perfectly situated to create something that can flourish, but may never happen again."
Do you plan to see Gemini Man this weekend? Have you already seen it, and if so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments.