Gemini Man is getting slammed for being a box office flop with the Hollywood Reporter claiming that the film is set to lose $75 million after earning just $20 million in the U.S. compared to its $140 million budget.
We saw this coming, just based on the trailers. But now that we’ve seen the film, we can break down why this ‘very’ good idea turned into a failure. Beware, spoilers ahead.
This seems to be something that plagues Will Smith’s entire career. Two of the most egregious examples are I, Robot and I Am Legend. In both cases, the CGI was quite noticeably behind the curve of the state of the art. Of course, if a film is really great, bad CGI can’t completely unravel things (see Blade as a good example), but if the film isn’t otherwise solid, the bad CGI makes things infinitely worse. That goes even further if you hinge the entire plot on CGI, as Smith for some reason, keeps doing in his films.
Many of the scenes featuring young Smith (aka Junior) are cringeworthy because the CGI is just really, really bad. Don’t be fooled by the still images (which look impeccable), when the fake/younger/CGI Smith (aka Junior) speaks or shows emotion (and there’s a lot of emotion), it just looks fake. And the bad CGI gets, unbelievably, worse during the Smith vs. Junior fight scenes. Nothing about those fights looks real. The moments when Junior “doesn’t” look like an uncanny valley video game character are about 10% of the time. The most baffling thing about all this is that there are currently deep fake videos that do a better job than this film. For an example of how to do this kind of thing right, see Alita: Battle Angel.
Ang Lee is a talented director. There’s no doubt about that. But every director has their strengths and weaknesses. The last action film Lee directed that was successful was about 20 years ago in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And let’s be honest, that film was just as much a romance and fantasy film as it was an action film.
There’s this myth in Hollywood that truly talented directors can direct “any” kind of movie and succeed. That’s just not true. Lee is not a great action film director and should never have been given a spy meets sci-fi property with such a high ($140 million) budget.
The problems with the plot of Gemini Man are everywhere, but let’s just run through the easiest parts.
-None of the people Smith kills are made meaningful. Sure the story is about him and his clone, but root the world building in something meaningful first. Similarly, the Gemini team isn’t developed so that we see their work or care about what the implications are if they succeed in killing Smith and making a clone army.
-Junior (the clone) turns on his own “father” far too easily. It not believable and makes the character as fake as the CGI.
-We’re supposed to believe Smith is a super assassin, perhaps the best on Earth, but he never knew he had a tracking chip in his body that can be removed in under 30 seconds?? Come on.
-Is the bad guy Junior or Clive Owen? Or the older spy exec? Or the other older spy exec at his son’s school? There’s too much ambiguity around the good and bad guys. Ultimately, it becomes clear who the bad guy is (Owen), but we don’t really find out until the end, so in the meantime, it’s hard to care about the stakes involved.
-Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Fargo TV series, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Braindead) is one of the most talented new actors working, but her talents are barely used here as she basically serves as a very lightweight accent on Smith’s scenes. She’s not given much to do. And for an international sci-fi spy thriller, it shouldn’t be hard to give her more interesting things to do.
-Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, The Martian, Marco Polo, Black Mirror) is also one of the most talented actors working. He’s often the best thing in his scenes in various movies. But again, in this film, he’s fairly two-dimensional and fills a role that could have easily been taken by a less talented, lesser known character actor. Wong is wasted in this film, literally (and with little import toward the end) and figuratively.
It was exciting for a moment to see that Owen had created a secret second clone that was even meaner and unable to feel pain. The Terminator vibes were strong, in a good way. This is the moment the film might have saved itself. But then we find out that the older spy agency guy confirms that there’s no more clones out there. Really? Developing this point a bit more, and going even darker, could have made us care a bit more about the evil that Smith and Junior just battled.
But even with all those problems, if the CGI hadn’t been so bad, this film might be a full 20% better. There’s no good reason why Smith in particular seems to keep getting saddled with horrible CGI compared to his peers. The only possible explanation is that maybe the producer keep betting (incorrectly) that his sheer charisma (which ‘is’ is strong suit) is enough to overcome mediocre CGI. It isn’t.
If Smith plans to keep on making sci-fi films, he should redouble his efforts to ensure that his CGI is at James Cameron levels from here on out. Because at this point, bad CGI and Will Smith are becoming a familiar punch line.
Cover image via Paramount Pictures/YouTube