Will Smith vs. Himself

Image of poster for "Gemini Man" showing Will Smith staring at a younger version of himself
"Gemini Man" promo poster | Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Since his crossover from rap music into acting, we have witnessed Will Smith conquer Hollywood to become one of the most celebrated and talked about actors of our times. From the street-smart kid we were introduced to in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” back in the early 90s; in subsequent years, Smith successfully tapped into his versatility to bring to life some of the most outstanding characters on screen.

Beginning with his lead role in the 1995 “Bad Boys,” Smith became a marquee name who could make a hit out of nearly anything he touched, a streak that continued for over a decade. He dabbled in a variety of genres of film over the years with his go-to genre being action. From playing a maverick detective in buddy-cop blockbusters like the “Bad Boys” and “Men in Black” franchises and the Netflix original “Bright,” to the pithy one-liner spitting world-saving hero of “Independence Day,” or the broody anti-hero in “Hancock” or “Suicide Squad” we just love to love Will Smith. The actor has seen his fair share of fights, shoot outs, car chases, explosions, and all the exciting high energy elements associated with action films.

Smith now 51 certainly still has several more years of action films left in him. However, as he begins to age out of the genre, he finds himself struggling to figure out his place in Hollywood. This is evident in his last two offerings: “Gemini Man” and “Bad Boys for Life.”

Coupled with the fact that some of the projects he has completed in the last ten years or so have not enjoyed the same success as his earlier film and music career, it is clear that both on and off screen, Smith is confronting the fear of disappearing into obscurity and exploring ways to adapt.

While “Gemini Man” and “Bad Boys for Life” are two different films with nuances to the plots that set them apart, the parallels between them, whether intentional or coincidental, are too uncanny to ignore. The films are not so different at their core.

Released within three months of each other; both films are packed with the typical elements that constitute action films starring Smith: fight sequences, shoot outs, stunts, car chases, explosions, and witty sarcasm. However, instead of battling gangsters, aliens, robots, zombie vampires, or any of the usual adversaries we have seen Smith’s onscreen characters battle before, Smith’s character in both “Gemini Man” and “Bad Boys for Life” finds himself battling himself, and instead of saving the world as is usually the case, he must save himself from himself, literally and figuratively.

In “Gemini Man,” Smith plays the character of Henry Brogan, a 51 year-old assassin who decides to retire from his work. His plans, however, are turned upside down when he becomes the target of a mysterious assassin sent to kill him. Eerily the assassin looks like a younger version of him and can seemingly predict Brogan’s every move. Brogan finds out that the young assassin is in fact his clone. Brogan must confront his past in order to save his own life as well as that of his young clone.

In “Bad Boys for Life,” Smith plays the character of Mike Lowrey, a 51 year old maverick detective who is not quite ready to let go of his youth just yet. Lowrey is gunned down by a mysterious assassin and spends several months in hospital recovering. After his recovery, he decides to go after his shooter. However, he soon discovers that the young shooter is in fact a son he didn’t know he had. The shooter was raised by his mother believing Lowrey had contributed to the death of his father, a cartel boss. The mother was married to the cartel boss, but she had an affair with Lowrey. As was the case in “Gemini Man,” Lowrey must confront his past in order to save his own life and that of his son.

By the end of each film, both of Smith’s characters acknowledge that they are not the same people they were in their prime and they adapt to their new realities. Brogan becomes a father figure to his clone, and Lowrey strives to establish a father-son bond with his son.

The man-versus-self theme is not new to Hollywood, and strained father-son relationships have been explored before. Having two such films released around the same time with the same actor playing the lead role possibly mirroring what that actor may in fact be facing in his career makes “Gemini Man” and “Bad Boys for Life” a little more than coincidental. The films are a fitting reminder of Smith’s multi-generational appeal as an actor and a mega star, as well as a testament to the fact that he will not be disappearing into obscurity any time soon, even if it takes two of him to prove it.