Gemini Man has kicked around for a couple of decades, with people like Nic Cage attached, but producers always backed off because the software just wasn't there to render, believably, an older actor at 20 years old. Now, with experimental sequences such as de-aging Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, the already impressive process has been surpassed by next-generation technology.
At least visually, you will believe 51-year-old Will Smith is fighting his 23-year-old self to the death.
It's fun, even cathartic for actors to confront their alter-egos, exploring Jekyll/Hyde differences. Sometimes the doppelgangers are robots, alien body snatchers, or time travelers, but at least as far back as 2000's The Sixth Day, the protagonist has been cloned against his knowledge or will. There's echoes all the way back to Mary Shelley about what science shoulda-coulda-oughta have done, but you know it will.
Smith portrays aging government assassin Henry Brogan, who's decided to call it quits and leave the agency, but Henry hasn't seen enough of these movies to know that no one retires. Presently, a relentless killer shows up with one thing in mind. Although sidekicks Mary Elizabeth Winstead (All About Nina) and Benedict Wong (Dr. Strange) catch on pretty fast, Henry doesn't immediately accept the truth about the mysterious assassin who has all his skills, knows all his moves and looks exactly how he looked 30 years ago.
Gemini Man is an enjoyable enough action romp, and everybody loves Smith, even when's he's playing a CIA killer. The first two acts play out fine, with director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) delivering a spectacular motorbike chase through the narrow alleys of Cartagena, and an eerily claustrophobic follow-up in the catacombs of Budapest, sequences which surpass the climactic confrontation in rural Georgia. There's things that seem lazy, like baddie Clive Owen (The Informer) raising and training the clone, yet never giving him a more interesting name than "Junior." To his credit, Smith delivers one of his more memorable characterizations as the uncertain, angsty clone.
As a technophile, I was enthralled by Gemini Man. Shot at a mind-boggling 120 frames per second, the movie's hyper-realism has a sheen more like video than film, yielding the best 3D presentation I've ever seen, especially in cinematographer Dion Beebe's astoundingly convincing day-for-night shooting. Director Lee believes his new "look" is the future of movies, and I wouldn't object to such a transition, which could be analogous to the advent of sound film. Yes, it's that big a difference, and for that reason, I suggest you see Gemini Man in an auditorium equipped to faithfully display Lee's vision.
As a movie, this is only a passable action thriller that doesn't begin to address the issues brought up within its PG-13 confines. Even so, its technical innovation is so radical that I'll recommend it even if only for the sake of curiosity — and the fact that its rendering of young Will Smith is so successful that it brings Hollywood closer to a Holy Grail more precious than sparkling 3D: the ability to de-age, even reconstruct — or invent — an actor from scratch.
The real-life ramifications of Gemini Man are uncannily similar to its central theme: From now on, when an actor gets too old, passes away or just doesn't want to do it anymore, he or she can be digitally cloned. Eventually, no one will be able to tell the difference as humans, both in movies and real life, become replaceable.