Gemini Man (2019), a recap (part 1 of 6)
“Development hell” is a term describing films in various stages of production that for one reason or another have hit a wall. Perhaps there’s problems with the script, or it’s discovered the budget will be too high. Perhaps producers or directors have bowed out or the actor associated with the project is now in disfavor with audiences or the studio. Whatever the reason, the film has been derailed and it’s possible that it could take many years before it gets finished. There are two good examples of this. The first is I Am Legend, which began development in 1994. Back then, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson as well as Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas were considered for the lead. Personally, I think any of them would have done a fine job, although each actor would have brought a very different tone to the project. I was fortunate enough to have read a draft of the script from back then, and if you watch the film that was finally released in 2007, you can still see bits and pieces of it here and there. For example, the part where the protagonist is snared in a trap? That’s in the original script.
Another example of a film caught in development hell was Gemini Man. I can remember back around the turn of the century (because that sounds so much cooler than saying “around 2000”) when the film was announced and how excited me and my friends were, because the plot was that Harrison Ford was going to play a hitman in a dystopian future who had to fight his twenty-five-year-old clone. Harrison Ford playing a heavy? Two Harrison Fords in the same film?! Where do I buy the advance ticket? As a matter of fact, there were quite a few actors attached to the project or considered as leads over time, among them Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Michael Douglas, Chris O’Donnell, Mel Gibson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Jon Voight, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Gerard Butler, Nick Nolte, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Sean Connery. Whew!
Nicolas Cage I had heard about before, but not any of the rest until I started doing research for this recap. It’s almost as if they couldn’t find anyone to take the role, or with all the different producers, directors, and screenwriters involved over the years (not to mention some of the older actors getting, well, too old to do an action movie), preferences and priorities changed.
Problem was, the special effects weren’t quite up to snuff, and making Harrison Ford look half his age simply wasn’t possible in ’00. By 2006, the technology was better, and it got used in X-Men: The Last Stand to make Xavier and Magneto look some twenty years younger. But they looked a little, well, plasticky.
We saw it later used in Tron Legacy in 2010, and there had been considerable improvements by then, but Jeff Bridges’s Clu character still looked a bit off. Michael Caine was given the treatment in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, but those scenes were cut due to time constraints. Still, it would have been cool to see Caine looking like his old ’60s cold war spy Henry Palmer again. Where the technology really took off was when we saw it used on Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Especially with Pfeiffer, who had been one of my many, many crushes during the 80s.
All of this brings me back to Gemini Man, which was released in 2019. And who was the lead star? Why, the same guy who had starred in I Am Legend, that other movie that had gone through development hell I talked about earlier. The actor’s name was Will Smith, who I always considered this era’s Charleton Heston. When I say that, I’m not claiming Smith is a Heston knockoff; only that he’s shown great versatility as a comedic lead, action star, and dramatic actor (in Heston’s case, maybe the comedic roles were unintentional; did you see his Man for All Seasons? Oof!), just like Tom Hanks became his generation’s Jimmy Stewart, the likeable everyman. Or Samuel L. Jackson this era’s Humphrey Bogart, a journeyman actor who didn’t hit it big until his forties and proved to be as nuanced and adept a performer as any who had worked in Hollywood. Where I Am Legend is concerned, Will Smith had another massive sci-fi hit on his hands. Could lightning strike twice with another film that had seen years of production difficulty? Let’s find out.
The film opens up with what looks like some ultra-super futuristic architecture, and then we see it’s the atrium of a train station in Liege, Belgium. The train leaving the station looks futuristic, but compared to Amtrak, every other country’s trains look like they’re from the future. On board we see an older dude bracketed by three large guys in black. Nearby, a young man murmurs that he’s in “car six” and that they’re moving. Outside, we get our first look at Will Smith as our protagonist.
The SUV behind him either means he’s really into classic cars, or the movie is not taking place in some dystopian future… or they’re being really faithful to the original script and we’re living in someone’s idea of a dystopian future. If it’s the latter, then that screenwriter was some modern-day Nostradamus or something. It turns out the young guy on the train was talking to Smith, who sets down his sniper rifle. We then cut to the really weird creative decision of using a fisheye lens to film the train as it shoots by. Smith uses a small range finder to check out the bridge the train will be coming across, then picks up this other thing whose function I have no clue about, and then he writes notes in a little book. If I had to guess, I’d say the thing measures wind speed. He makes adjustments to the rifle scope then reaches into his shirt pocket for a single bullet, because I guess if he misses the one time there’s really no point in having two. He cocks the rifle, then lays there waiting. He flexes his hand and we see an ace of spades tattoo on his wrist:
Either he’s really into poker or he’s a Motorhead fan. He licks his fingertip and rubs it across his thumb before touching the rifle’s trigger, and I guess with all the COVID-19 stuff going on, this just makes me super uncomfortable and all I can think about is hoping he wiped that gun down with a cleaning solution that’s at least 70% alcohol. He asks the guy on the train what the speed is and the man says it’s 238 kilometers. That’s almost 143 mph, in case you were wondering. So the train is moving PDQ, and according to the range finder Smith used, the tracks are 1268 meters away. That’s a little over three quarters of a mile. Smith prepares his shot, zeroing in on the guy, but a little girl gets up to see what the man is doing. He gives her this creepy dead-eyed stare that if I were that kid’s parent, I’d be hosing him down with mace. The guy on the train tells Smith, “civilians in play” and a grimacing Smith adjusts his rifle to shoot when the train is farther down the track. Fortunately, mom finally sees her daughter is in stranger danger territory and retrieves her spawn. Smith gets the green light and…
…fatality! I could easily call bullshit on this impossible kill, but I looked it up and the world record for a sniper shot is 3,540 meters. I mean, that’s pretty insane. Also, Will Smith is playing a guy his actual age, with all the years of experience that entails. So… unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Maybe. But for the purposes of the film where there’s cloning involved, I’m not going to complain. After the meeting with his partner, who showed him the video he took on the train, they pack up Smith’s rifle to have it shipped out of the country. Henry—that’s Will’s character’s name—tells his friend to delete the video even as his buddy keeps singing his praises. But Henry doesn’t seem very proud of his work.
Cut to… Buttermilk Sound? They made that up! [consults Google Maps] Huh. Okay, it’s an actual place. Were Georgians letting five year olds name places back then? Was this the drink of choice for some British governor? Did it amuse him to saddle this provincial colonials with this most silly of names? We find Henry burning a picture of his target then staring moodily out at the water. He walks along a bridge back to his home where he puts a bird house up on his porch, with bonsai trees arrayed before him. His phone goes off and we see it’s a perimeter alarm, and sure enough, a car arrives. A man gets out and waves a piece of paper and tells Henry that he can’t do… something, but the pair hug like bros anyway. Later, we find them inside sharing a drink.
It turns out Henry’s retiring, because while he killed the bad guy, he shot the man in the neck and was aiming for his head. Henry talks about his seventy three [!] kills and how it’s weighing on him, and while it was implied before, we now have proof positive Henry is a hitman with a heart of gold, and just a soldier who’s weary of war. And the movie just got a lot less interesting for me. I would have loved to have seen Will Smith try and play a heavy, as in an actual bad guy who gets what’s coming to him and has to atone for all his sins. Maybe Smith was too concerned about his image? I don’t. Henry’s guest Dell is his handler, and he’s sorry to see his number one shooter go, but there’s little Dell can do. The two men share a moment of somber silence. Later, Henry takes his boat out to a dock where he loads up on fuel. He heads over to pay for the fuel and sees that Jerry, the regular guy, isn’t around. I wonder if it’s this Jerry:
After all, I can’t imagine he was able to get much work after being arrested in Latham, MA and spending a year in prison for criminal indifference. But the woman in the booth, Danny—
—says that Jerry “retired”. Or… was Jerry “retired”, as in, whacked by somebody? Like the Soup Nazi, perhaps? The pair exchange small talk and Henry suddenly swats a bee with his hat; it seems he’s allergic to bees. Hmm. I wonder if that’ll be important later. Henry says he’s fishing for peace and quiet and maybe a bit of mackerel, but we discover that he’s really headed out to sea to rendezvous with a yacht. The owner of said yacht is Jack—
—and judging by the ace of spades on his wrist, just like Henry’s, he’s a Motorhead fan, too. He’s got a wife in Paris and a kid in boarding school, and the pretty lady in the bikini wandering around in the back must mean he’s got a little something happening on the side. But Henry don’t judge and they get down to business. We learn Jack is on hand to warn Henry that he’s been played. The guy he shot on the train? Not a bio-terrorist at all, but a molecular biologist… which apparently is a thing? [consults Bing] Huh. Apparently, it is a thing. Henry wants to talk to Jack’s source, a Hungarian named Yuri Kovacs who works for “the other side”. As the two wrap things up, Henry glances up and notices a flash in the air. It’s a drone and he’s being monitored by two suits in an office at the “Defense Intelligence Agency”. Damn, why can’t they use a real spy agency rather instead of making up… Wait, there really is a Defense Intelligence Agency? Huh. I’m just getting hit with all sorts of knowledge bombs this time out.
One of the suits looks like a classic villain type, and I have no clue who this is, and then he starts talking and holy shit, it’s Clive Owen!
What the hell happened? He looks so… old. I mean, he was in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and he looked alright, but here it looks like he’s aged a decade in two years. I guess I’m just used to guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson, and the Toms (Cruise and Selleck) moving heaven and earth to continue to appear youthful, but for a guy to actually look his age in Hollywood? The mind boggles.
Clive and the woman behind the desk debate what to do. We find out Clive is a dude named Clay Verris, and he isn’t DIA, but rather the head of “Gemini”. He says Henry can’t be contained; our hero’s going to look up Jack’s contact and uncover some unsavory stuff and he needs to be stopped. The woman says she’ll clean up her own mess, thank you very much, and won’t authorize “hits” on American soil.
Later on, Henry finds a tracking device on his boat, so he returns to the dock and accuses Danny of being a DIA plant put in place to keep an eye on him. Danny denies this and says she’s just a student. After seemingly making an ass of himself, Henry offers to buy her dinner and Danny reluctantly agrees. They meet that night and Henry brings flowers along with something else.
Busted! Danny admits she’s DIA and there’s this clunky exposition as Henry goes through her record, talking about how her Dad was FBI and is now dead, how she served in the Navy and has had a spotless record, and how for some reason got the crap job of watching a retired dude on a dock. I don’t know, I just think this whole scene could’ve been skipped. Anyway, with her being burned, she’ll probably be reassigned the next day. The two part amicably. Meanwhile at sea, Jack and his mistress discover they’re a loose end. Men board the yacht…
…and there’s one loose end tied up. And more are sure to follow.
Next time: The DIA ramps up its war on Henry, and Varris activates a very special asset.