Gemini Man (2019)

Gemini Man first published by Sight & Sound, Dec 2019

Review: “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, not the neck – and so, at age 51, and after 72 successful kills, America’s top government assassin decides it is time 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 Gemini’s covert super soldier 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 the film’s imitative nature. For, with its hyper-violent, hyper-stylised (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-Eighties/early-Nineties Hong Kong, and then imported to America in films like 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 all 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 since 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 SFX 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 comes with a divided self: a stone-cold killer, but also a man with feelings, scruples, vulnerabilities and personality. Unhappy with what he has become, Henry can no longer face his own reflection – and he is uncertain whether to take his younger mirror image down 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 might himself have led. The ensuing mix of action and paradoxical family drama is an earthbound reimagining of Duncan Jones’ 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. 

Synopsis: Georgia USA, now. Aged 51 and starting to lose his edge, ace American government assassin Henry retires. Friend Jack reveals that Henry’s last hit was not a terrorist but a molecular biologist, and suggests Yuri in Hungary knows more. Assassins kill Jack, and try to kill Henry, who flees to Colombia with his old friend the pilot Baron and younger agent Danny. Henry’s former military trainer Clay, who now runs private military group Gemini, sends Junior to kill Henry. Henry, barely escaping the encounter alive, recognises Junior as his younger self. Henry, Danny and Baron fly to Hungary, where Yuri tells Henry that Junior was cloned from him in the mid Nineties, as part of Gemini’s super soldier programme. Henry bests Junior in the Budapest catacombs, but instead of killing him, explains that Junior is his clone, and that adoptive father Clay has been lying to Junior about his origins. Henry, Danny and Baron return to Georgia, where Junior intercepts them again, removes the tracker implanted in Henry, and agrees to help them take down Clay. They are attacked by Clay’s paramilitaries and Baron is killed. Henry, Danny and Junior expertly eliminate all the paramilitaries, save one in a mask whom all three work together to stop. He turns out to be an inhuman super soldier, also cloned from Henry. Stopping Junior killing Clay, Henry shoots Clay himself. Six months later, Junior attends university.

Anton Bitel