The film just about pulls off the magic trick of Junior, who—save for a bit of rubbery computerized sheen—basically looks like Smith as he might have appeared in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. On top of that, though, Lee has shot Gemini Man in 120 frames per second, using advanced cameras to capture images at frequencies five times faster than the typical 24 frames per second that most cinema is photographed in. Lee’s previous film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, harnessed the intense smoothness provided by this high frame rate to suggest the eerie sense of hyperreality experienced by its title character, an Iraq War veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder. In Gemini Man, it’s used to heighten the complex visual effects and lend an intense verisimilitude to the action. Still, the aesthetic remains more intriguing than fully effective.
Watching a film in 120 fps (an experience that’s available at only a few cinemas around the country; many more are playing Gemini Man in 60 fps) is exceedingly strange. You know that cinematic fuzziness that most films have when projected onto a theater screen, as if they’re playing behind a pane of glass? In 120 fps, the pane is gone, and the characters on-screen look like photorealistic giants. Some critics compare it to having “motion smoothing” on your television, but where motion smoothing is a digital effect applied to regular footage, 120 fps is the closest a camera can get to replicating what the human eye perceives. Either way, viewers just aren’t used to seeing people move that fluidly on-screen.
I personally prefer my movies to exist behind a pane of glass; I go to the cinema for the unreality, and a silly, high-concept yarn such as Gemini Man hardly needs to try to emulate what life looks like. But I still appreciate that Lee is trying something different and new, especially on a hoary old premise such as this one. Presented typically, Gemini Man would be no different than the million other star-driven action thrillers Hollywood has churned out over the years; seen in high frame rate, it’s nothing if not memorable. The first set-piece battle between the two Smiths emphasizes every punch, kick, and fall with alarming veracity; in high frame rate, there’s no blurring when bodies move, no way to hide Hollywood trickery. Every successful stunt feels more earned, and every battle scar lands more bluntly.
Lee has directed great action films before (his masterpiece, of course, will forever be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). But he’s also a remarkably compassionate filmmaker who’s dipped his toe in every genre available over the decades, and his gift for woozy sentimentality is all over this film. Henry is a character who recognizes the limits but also the strengths that come with his years of experience. Through the film, he strives to impart his unwavering sense of morality on his younger self, who was created without a conscience as little more than a killing machine. With every unnervingly polished image, Lee is telling a story as decent and upright as the most classic Hollywood tale of good and evil. Gemini Man has a foot in the past and the future, and it’s all the better (and weirder) for it.
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