According to the critics, it wasn't just one thing. In addition to its thin plotting, Gemini Man suffered from underdeveloped characters, groan-inducing dialogue, and a central gimmick — the conflict between the two Will Smiths — that ended up being not quite as cool as it sounds.
The flick might have been hailed as a visual effects landmark by many of the critics who took to Twitter after its press screenings, but don't tell that to >The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The digital novelty is striking for the first 10 minutes, silly for the next 10 minutes, and by the end of the movie you're pining for the analogue values of script and direction," he wrote. "A wittier, smarter riff on everything could have saved this." Bradshaw also had harsh words for Lee's choice to shoot the film in high frame-rate, an aesthetic which many of the initial reactions lavished praise upon. "[The technique] creates a new pin-sharp clarity, but at the expense of making the film look like video — or like a celluloid movie on a plasma TV when you haven't de-activated motion smoothing," Bradshaw opined. "It's not a taste I want to acquire."
Peter Debruge of Variety alluded to all of the time Gemini Man spent in development hell, changing between the hands of a laundry list of directors and actors — and he suggested that there may have been a different reason for this than has been publicly stated. "[Gemini Man] has been a nearly impossible project to get made... falling through multiple times because the technology wasn't there yet," he wrote. "At least, that's been the excuse, although judging by the finished product, it was the script that never lived up to the promise of its premise."
If there was a common theme among the flick's many detractors, this was it: that Gemini Man is destined to be remembered as a fine technical achievement in the service of a supremely half-baked script. Wrote >CNET's Richard Trenholm, "It's genuinely impressive when Smith as we know him goes face to face — and even hand to hand — with the digitally de-aged mid-20s model... Unfortunately, it ends up as an unengaging tech demo, because the characters and storyline seem to have been given barely a fraction of the thought that's gone into the effects."
Even some of Gemini Man's positive notices, such as that posted by Abbie Bernstein of >Assignment X, took the film to task for the laziness of its writing. "[Gemini Man boasts] what is arguably the best use of 3D since >Avatar," Bernstein wrote. "This makes it all the more disappointing to report that the screenplay... is pretty standard science-fiction fare. It's moderately entertaining, but neither director Lee's visual pizzazz nor the commitment of the actors can keep the story from being predictable and feeling familiar."
Wilson Morales of >BlackFilm.com concurred. "The story is not original, but the visual and action sequences rock," Morales wrote in his positive review. "With wasted performances from Wong, who does his best to provide comic relief, and Winstead... it's all on Smith to carry the weight of the film. With so much time given [to developing the movie], surely some of the money spent on the technology could have gone to the writers to punch up the script."
You know you're in trouble when even those critics who would recommend your film can't keep themselves from lobbing disses at your screenplay, and the whole endeavor was probably summed up most succinctly (and brutally) by >The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Dalton. "[The movie] feels less than the sum of the talents involved, a weak script and thin high-concept plot only just held together by smart visual wizardry... The hyper-real look of Gemini Man is immersive and richly detailed. But it also has the disconcerting effect of making a big-budget cinematic spectacle look like a vintage videotaped TV drama. To steal a line from Dolly Parton, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap."
Ouch. Or rather, to steal a line from Will Smith... aw, hell naw.