Hey, everybody, it’s your good buddy, Michael. This review and analysis features some spoilers for the Will Smith vs. Will Smith movie, Gemini Man. If you don’t want to read spoilers, go see the movie now, it’s not doing well in theaters and it probably won’t be around much longer. Otherwise, keep reading.
We all have regrets. That’s just one of those things you’re going to have to accept. It hits you harder when you get around middle age, and you look around and try to recount all of the things that you’ve done in your life that brought you to here. I know that’s a lot of what I’m dealing with lately, especially as I enter my (muffled) year of Graduate School. Which is why as an existential piece, Gemini Man hit me pretty hard. Will Smith vs. as close as we can get to an uncanny valley version of a young Fresh Prince of Bell Air kind of speaks to all of us as we have to face our pasts and start to look to our future. As a movie it could have been better.
Let’s talk mostly about the larger theme of the movie, because that’s just more fun.
Gemini Man is about a super assassin named Henry Brogan who decides to retire, presumably because he hasn’t seen any other movies where a super assassin decides to retire. It has never worked out well in the history of super assassins attempting to retire. Eventually he’s attacked by a young operative that the movie attempts to conceal for a few minutes but every trailer has shown you that it’s a digitally de-aged version Will Smith playing the younger clone of Henry Brogan, codenamed: Junior, in an attempt to kill the older Henry Brogan. He’s been cloned as part of a program to create a secret army of super assassins so we don’t have to send real people off to war. Again, no one considers perhaps cloning and creating a super diplomat so we don’t have to send any clone, robot, drone, ghost, whatever into war, but that’s an essay for another time. Obviously Henry and Junior have to square off, then team up, then take down Clive Owen playing a bad guy. Oh, and Mary Elizabeth Windstead is in it as the DIA Agent sent to keep an eye on Henry before they decided to kill him, and Benedict Wong shows that he’s good for making quips and peacing out before the really bad stuff happens.
But this is about Brogan vs. Brogan.
Obviously, Gemini Man is mostly about facing your past and dealing with your regrets. This does this by literally having Brogan face off against a younger version of himself who has been raised by a loving father, not one who just throws his kid in the water and waits for him to either kick harder or drown. We know this because the movie makes sure to flash back to when Brogan is in the water, trying to swim while his father watches, just before Henry escapes on a boat.
I’m a little hard on this part because it was a little conveniently placed, but that doesn’t make it any less important to the overall theme of the movie which is not only regrets, but how do you deal with your past.
The movie itself starts with Brogan on his 72nd job. He has to kill a man on a train, and apparently 5 other people have failed before him. At first, he’s unable to pull the trigger then when he does he’s successful but didn’t hit exactly where he wanted to on the target, hitting his neck instead of his head. This is relevant because it does show how Brogan is slowing down, how time itself is starting to turn on him. It’s this incident that inspires Brogan to retire and put this life behind him.
It’s here that we do get some really good subtle moments that speak to the duality of what the movie is trying to say. On the one hand, we have a man haunted, believing himself to only kill the bad guys in favor of a noble cause, and believing himself useless when he almost gets his hit wrong. But we also get some moments of what he can still offer. He figures out that Winstead’s character was there to watch him, and we see that he’s very prepared. Even the way his house is set up is done in such a way that he’s prepared for anything. Here we get the idea that even though Brogan views himself as useless in a few ways, there’s still a spark to him.
That brings us to the whole clone thing. Junior is setup as the antagonist for a good portion of the movie. The tagline “all of your strengths, none of your weaknesses” is certainly the hook that we keep coming back to, but in this case it’s with the presence of a father figure that’s supposed to correct his weaknesses. Essentially, evil Clive Owen has decided to raise Junior as his own, thus giving him that stable father figure who loved him, but also taught him to properly throw a motorcycle at the man he’s trying to kill. He’s essentially trying to correct what he views as a wrong that was perpetrated on Henry: he had too difficult a life growing up where he didn’t not have that loving family connection.
While the movie had some cool action sequences, it was this connection that fascinated me, mostly because we are the sum of our experiences. Henry presumably became a super assassin because of the paths he took, eventually retiring because he never read a book or watched a movie where a super assassin tried to retire. But how can one replicate those experiences exactly? For the most part Junior has a good upbringing, but was still designed and trained a weapon, in this case a very specific weapon. Does this mean he’ll still have the same regrets as Henry at some point? Or will Clive Owen be able to stop him from feeling bad about himself after 72 kills when he gets too old to shoot properly, but is still smart enough to figure out that the new Marine Biology student who just happened to start at the marina he hangs out at every day is actually there to keep tabs on him?
What’s very interesting is the motif that mirrors and reflections play in this movie. You’d think it would be an obvious one, but it’s not overused and there’s a lot of restraint for a movie that ends with a man being lit on fire and guns that look like they’re firing small missiles at people. Henry makes references to not being able to look in mirror until the end, which speaks not only to his past deeds but the fact that he is able to correct many of his past mistakes with Junior. Yes, the movie ends with Junior going on to live the life that Henry couldn’t. But Henry still is able to move on. It’s not just about confronting your past, it’s about realizing this mistakes you make in your past, and using that wisdom to guide others. Henry ends the movie as a father figure to a young version of himself, and using that to sort of complete his journey.
That’s what I really kind of like about this movie, it shows you that you can’t be the person you are without having come somewhere, but not only is there time to change, but you can use that knowledge to help others. That’s a hopeful message. It’s really kind of smart movie for one that telegraphs a scene where bee venom is going to be weaponized at some point. Why is Henry talking about bee venom early on? Don’t worry, you’ll see.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the CGI used to de-age Will Smith back to pre- Wild Wild West Times. Some thinkpieces are taking about how it spells doom for actors as we can now get any actor to start in any movie, so we can finally get Jason Momoa to play Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice as Jane Austen intended. Here’s the thing: it looks good. If I had not been paying attention to Will Smith’s career since everyone said, “The Fresh Prince is fighting aliens? How terrible will that movie be” I wouldn’t have noticed. But there was something in the back of my brain that kind of reminded me that it wasn’t right. Just like… a little off. I think we’re a ways off from the all Emma Stone version of 12 Angry Men is what I’m saying.
In the meantime, remember that at some point you’re going to reflect on your life. Remember where you came from, and remember that you’re here because of where you’ve been. Also remember that there’s still time to do something spectacular, even if it’s passing on that knowledge to someone younger.