It’s been a while since Will Smith was known as “Mr. July” He earned that nickname as the movie star who brought in huge audiences (and huge box office returns) for his ’90’s and 2000’s summer blockbusters. The 2010’s have been less than kind to Smith, however. During that period, Smith headlined or appeared in a string of either critical or commercial flops. But, the 50-year-old rapper/actor/showbiz mogul is still making his presence felt in Hollywood. He’s now set to headline a new sci-fi action movie this fall. Twice. As in two Will Smiths. Wills Smith?
“If one Will Smith is good, two is even better” seems to be the premise of Ang Lee’s action thriller Gemini Man. The film will premiere on October 11th. In the film, over-the-hill government assassin Henry Brogen (Will Smith) is looking for a way out of his profession. Before he can make his exit, however, he finds himself being hunted by young up-and-comer, Junior (also Will Smith). Junior is 25-year-old clone of Brogen. As the two clash, a deadly game of cat-and-younger-cat (kitten?) unfolds across the globe. Both men must face not only each other, but the powers that created them.
Gemini Man: A Long Path to the Screen
The idea behind Gemini Man is almost as old as the gap between Brogen and Junior. In 1997, screenwriter Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Shazam!) sold the idea to Touchstone/Disney as a Tony Scott vehicle. However, the film languished in development hell with re-writes and a succession of screenwriters. Disney was experimenting with visual effects that could de-age an actor’s face, but their efforts fell far short of the successes seen in Disney’s contemporary Marvel films. At that point the studio put the project into turnaround.
Over the course of the film’s development, the studio considered stars such as Harrison Ford, Jon Voight, Nicholas Cage, and Mel Gibson for the lead role. Skydance Media then bought the film in 2016. Ang Lee (The Life of Pi, Hulk) came on board on to direct, with Smith in the starring role(s). The film will also star Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Benedict Wong in supporting roles. The script went through many changes and many writers over its two decades of development. Ultimately David Benioff (Game of Thrones, The 25th Hour), Billy Ray (Overlord, Captain Phillips), and Lemke received final credit for the film.
New Chapters for Lee and Smith
A techno-action thriller may seem like a strange choice for Ang Lee. His eclectic oeuvre has included unconventional and emotional films like Brokeback Mountain and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. However, the Taiwanese director has always favored stories that feature strong emotions and characters dealing with pursuing or repressing their desires. The director is expanding his cinematic canvas, as well; Gemini Man is being filmed in 3D and 4K at 120 frames-per-second.
Smith, too, has become more eclectic of late. He’s put aside the dramas of the late and early teens to appear in lighter fare. (See, for example the supervillain ensemble flick Suicide Squad, and Netflix’s fantasy cop movie Bright.) He launched his own YouTube channel in December of 2017, and the video of his 50th birthday bungee jump into the Grand Canyon has earned over 19 million views. He’s also appear in Aladdin this Christmas and will reunite once again with Martin Laurence for Bad Boys for Life next year. He even made a surprise appearance at this year’s Coachella, crashing Jaden’s set to perform his son’s hit “Icon” with him.
By expanding beyond Oscar-bait flicks into new media and showcasing his multi-talented family, “Mr. July” could be primed for a second Willenium. Interestingly, the “younger” Will Smith in Gemini Man’s trailer bears more than a passing resemblance to Jaden (for obvious reasons). One can only hope that in 2022 we’ll get a father and son sequel, Gemini Man 2: Just the 4 of Us.