CLEVELAND, Ohio — Forget the amazing CGI creation of a young Will Smith opposite the now 50- (or 51-year-old) Will Smith in Ang Lee’s amazing “Gemini Man.” It IS amazing, a true piece of art, but it’s not the best part of the film.
No, it’s that Lee and Smith and combined to create a morality play in the middle of an action movie that honestly will stand the test of time and should be heeded for its lesson even more than its technology.
The film centers around Smith as Henry Brogan, a former Marine sniper turned Defense Intelligence Agency assassin, and a mercenary company owner – think Blackstar — who was his former commander and cloned him.
Clive Owen is merc boss Clay Verris, and is deliciously evil, in part because he believes he’s doing the right thing: Using science to create the perfect soldier, physically superior, devoid of feeling and remorse, with no family to mourn if he is lost in combat.
I’m an Army brat. My father served three tours in Vietnam. He always came back, but I had friends whose fathers did not. The idea appeals to that part of me.
“Gemini Man,” (the “twins” title is more than a bit heavy-handed in its double entendre) is a somewhat cliched story, albeit told through some of fantastic action sequences. That’s an Ang Lee staple, for sure. Plus you have the true onscreen chemistry between Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Smith’s accidental DIA partner and the comic relief of Benedict Wong as his fellow former Marine buddy.
But what makes this more than a good guys vs. bad guys beat-’em-up, car-chase, bullets-flyin’ thriller is the story under the story.
The late Sen. John McCain spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner-of-war in North Vietnam. His experience reflects a lot of what my own father, who fortunately was never even wounded in three years of flying helicopters in Southeast Asia, used to tell me. Only people who’ve never been to war seek war, or glorify it.
From McCain, in 1999:
“Few veterans cherish a romantic remembrance of war. War is awful. When nations seek to settle their differences by force of arms a million tragedies ensue. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”
And that is what Lee and especially Smith, who is one of the most charismatic and, quite frankly, gifted actors of our time are able to convey.
Yeah, there are amazing action sequences, especially a stunning motorcycle chase and fight scene, and yeah, the creation of a young Will Smith totally by computer (complete with tears and those trademark ears, which are as distinctive as those sported by Clark Gable) is a marvel to see. Since Smith had to voice the character, it’s clear that his time as Aladdin’s genie was a pretty good primer, as well.
Then, too, the flip and shallow Will Smith of “The Fresh Prince of Bellaire” has become a true actor, with the the ability turn a professional killer into a sympathetic character, and that’s been a remarkable metamorphosis. In a way, it’s not unlike Tom Hanks evolving from the role he played in “Bosom Buddies,” so many years ago. Together, the two have become among the best actors of this generation.
But it’s the lesson of the “Gemini Man” that makes it more than a fun piece of fluff entertainment. And that lesson is pretty simple:
War should not be painless.
That’s the mistake Owen’s Verris makes, for if it is painless, where is our humanity? What is the price our souls pay when we kill? And worse, what reason is there for nations to avoid it?
The older Smith, as the assassin, has realized this, and it’s why he wants out. Beyond that, he more than others realizes evolution doesn’t mean creating the perfect soldier, the perfect guilt-free, unquestioning, remorseless killer. True evolution occurs when we realize it’s just the opposite.
Yes, there are people whose deaths would make the world a better place, and I’m not naïve enough to believe it doesn’t happen, probably for good reason. But Smith and Lee have shown that even so, a little piece of us dies with them, too.
What: Action thriller starring Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong; directed by Ang Lee; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Jr.
When: Opens Friday at area theaters.
Rated: PG-13 for violence and action, and brief strong language.