WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Gemini Man, in theaters now.
Ang Lee's Gemini Man focuses on Will Smith's Henry Brogan, a retired assassin for the U.S. government, who plans to spend the twilight of his life in Georgia fishing. However, his world is upended when former army buddy, Clay Verris (Clive Owen), head of an elite private security firm known as GEMINI, sends someone to take Henry off the map permanently.
This assassin's none other than a younger version of Henry, a clone Clay had created years before from Henry's DNA who goes by the name of Junior. But while the trailers made it clear the movie would show both men going at each other's throat, it was a bit obscure as to whether Junior was a clone, a long-lost son or maybe someone displaced in time -- hey, Looper. Regardless, the big reveal that Henry's facing a stronger, faster version of himself should take away the audience's breath. Sadly, though, when the time comes for this Winter Soldier-esque moment, well, it falls flat.
While avid comic fans knew the assassin in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was Bucky Barnes, there were a lot of average cinema-goers who were truly shocked to see Sebastian Stan's character still alive with longer hair. It was a cleverly disguised reveal and audiences felt it when Chris Evans' Steve Rogers saw his best friend turned into an instrument of destruction. It replicated the drama, surprise and emotional heft of the books, creating an air of tension.
That's what Lee was aiming for but his execution is off. In the trailer, we see Henry meeting Junior in the catacombs of a Hungarian monastery, however, we could tell he'd already met him before. The trailer also indicates they first meet in a bike chase.
As the movie plays out, the big revelation actually happens just before the chase when Henry and his partner, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are ambushed while hiding out in Colombia. When Hnery realizes Junior has found them, he flees the safe house so his comrades can escape. What ensues is a shoot out in the streets, leading to a key moment in which Henry's hiding behind a car. He looks through his sniper's scope, and Junior comes into focus. It should be shocking but it's a remarkably dull moment.
It's something that would have had more impact if Junior's face were concealed, leading to an unmasking in a fight sequence. In fact, that monastery scene would have been a better fit for the reveal because it was dark, so Henry couldn't have made Junior out until he shone his gun's light on him. But having it happen in broad daylight when both men are at a distance from each other feels weak. The shock and fright Henry feels at that moment doesn't translate well.
To make matters worse, Lee has a second chance for a big reveal. There's another, even younger clone that takes on Henry and Junior at the end, Henry III. Only this time he's masked up in a suit and helmet a la Daft Punk. Sadly, by this time, though, the director has spilled so much information on GEMINI's cloning program, it's clear it's a Super Junior.
With the element of surprise lost, when Henry, Junior and Danny unmask a dying Super Junior it's another botched moment. There's no suspense at all, which leaves us wondering if maybe the cloning reveal should have been saved until the end to perpetuate the mystery over the masked hunter.
In theaters now, Gemini Man is directed by Ang Lee from a script written by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke. The film stars Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, and Benedict Wong