This story contains spoilers for Gemini Man and Bad Boys for Life.
At the end of his 2019 action blockbuster Gemini Man, Will Smith battles a younger version of himself. Literally: He plays a retired assassin named Henry Brogan who finds out that he’s been cloned, and that sprightly double (created with de-aging technology) is now trying to eliminate his forebear. The film, directed by Ang Lee, was released last October; three months later, Smith returned to cinemas in Bad Boys for Life, a long-awaited new entry in his buddy-cop franchise with Martin Lawrence. And in the climax of that movie, Smith also battles a (less literal) younger version of himself—a son he knew nothing of, who, much like the clone, was raised by villains.
The parallel, intentional or not, is too glaring to ignore. Both Gemini Man and Bad Boys for Life deal with aging, with technology and crime-fighting methods evolving beyond tradition, and with the fragility of Smith’s onscreen image. For years, his sheer star power could overwhelm any adversary; starting with Bad Boys in 1995, he was the kind of marquee name who could make a hit out of nearly anything, a streak that continued for many years. But his past decade has been rockier, dotted with flops (After Earth), failed Oscar plays (Concussion and Collateral Beauty), and poorly reviewed franchise films (Suicide Squad and Aladdin). Smith’s celebrity hasn’t really diminished, but now in his early 50s, he’s been struggling to figure out his place in Hollywood.