The newest entry into Ang Lee’s weird, wonderful filmography continues his late period streak of tech-based oddities, this time expanding on the high frame rate presentation of his last film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Not letting the critical and commercial failure of that movie stop him, Lee shoots Gemini Man in 120fps 4K 3D, and it ends up being the most interesting thing about the movie. Though most theaters won’t be projecting it in its full format due to technical limitations, opting for 60fps 3D instead, it remains a remarkably bizarre viewing experience and is just about the only thing that makes the generic ‘Will Smith has to fight his own clone’ narrative the least bit engaging.
The 4K renders the whole frame crystal clear, and combined with the sense of fast-motion that the 120fps adds it creates an intense feeling of hyperreality when viewing; somehow both more immersive and drawing more attention to itself. While high frame rate filmmaking was a headache in The Hobbit movies and it only amplified the sense of artifice in Billy Lynn, it feels oddly fitting in Gemini Man, despite not necessarily being 100% effective. I can’t see it ever becoming the norm — cinema isn’t supposed to be a reality, so while movies like Gemini Man remain oddball curios in their pursuit for a total reality they don’t feel like they’re paving the way for the future. But it feels fairly undeniable this is the best utilization of the technology thus far.
The lack of motion blur in this format leads to some truly exhilarating sequences — one early shot of Smith riding a motorcycle down a tight, colorful alleyway is a rush of pure adrenaline, a thrilling moment made all the more visceral by the hyper-clarity the high frame rate provides. Similarly, the action as a whole is very strong. Lee’s camera is graceful and sturdy, carefully capturing every move so as to retain the intensity without delving into over-cutting. The action in Gemini Man isn’t allowed the luxury of motion blur to mask where the punches and kicks land, creating a sense that you can truly feel the effort and impact of the stuntwork. Lee also embraces the video-game feel of the 120fps by utilizing several first-person sequences, alongside the obvious prominent inclusion of a heavily digital character in the form of the young Will Smith.
The de-aging isn’t perfect and at moments it bottoms out to nightmarish, rubbery quality, but when it’s done well it’s just about as impressive as this technology gets, crafting an emotionally complex character that doesn’t sink the movie with its lack of believability. Kudos is due to Smith himself, who isn’t given the toughest of material to work with and mostly has to grunt workmanlike dialogue, but I found myself genuinely forgetting the fact that he was playing both characters. While the physical resemblance is obviously there Smith puts in the work to ensure they’re two distinct personalities, allowing both of them earnest emotional moments that seem increasingly hard to come by in the modern blockbuster climate.
Smith and the tech are the clear highlights of the movie because if you’ve seen the trailer you can probably guess the trajectory of the plot. Very little in the script (penned by Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff) does much to surprise — in fact, the most surprising thing about Gemini Man might be its simplicity. I kept waiting for a third act twist that would lead to the typical modern final CGI setpiece, and it never happens. Lee’s lack of narrative ambition somewhat circles back around to being impressive, allowing this story to operate on simple emotional character-based stakes instead of forcing it into the shape of a bloated contemporary blockbuster. It’s a weird, weird movie; on the surface operating as an unremarkable throwback to the simple star-led high-premise action movies of the 80s and 90s, but presented in such an oddball, unique format that it’s difficult not to be charmed by the strangeness of it all.