I’m a film critic, and I firmly believe we are not immune to the love-it-or-hate-it hive mind. We live in a polarizing world, a place of right or left, love or hate, kill or be killed. It’s a take-eat-take world in the age of the internet, and if you want to be noticed, if you want to be included, not ignored, you take a side. No one wants to wail about the good and the bad and find themselves alone on an island. They want to see the good or see the bad and say to everyone “god is good” or “god is awful.”
I don’t believe in astrology or zodiac signs. That being said, those who do say Geminis have dual personalities, an ability to harbor two different points of view simultaneously. Coincidence or not, I’m a Gemini and I often do. I find myself witnessing most debates from the middle of love and hate. From geopolitical quagmires to frivolous media circuses, I’m often able to see both sides. Not that I’m necessarily unique in that way, but it’s a common feeling I have when talking about film with peers or friends. Though many of those peers will scoff, film criticism can succumb to group-think, and the need to deify or decry a particular movie.
Following in the footsteps of Joker, Gemini Man is the latest victim of such, a technical marvel that proves Ang Lee right for experimenting with high frame rate 3D at 120 fps (although most U.S. movie theaters are only capable of projecting at 60 fps). Old hat hit-man plot in tact, Gemini manages to wow in spite of itself. It’s not the disaster you’ve been hearing about, and it’s not going to revolutionize blockbuster filmmaking either.It’s a tropey rope of a movie that doesn’t lead you on to believe there’s more to it than old Will Smith versus young Will Smith, with a bit of government gone rogue drama via Clive Owen’s clever head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) clone program. It’s a simple, linear story about a man confronting his past self, his former self, the man who ate, drank, and slept murder for the man up top. The point A to point B narrative is actually refreshing.
Smith is in full movie star mode here, embracing his more weathered action bonafides as Henry Brogan, the man in question. As his younger clone, he can cry and pout like the best of ‘em. Smith has given better performances and that’s okay, because the star of the movie isn’t Smith, nor the de-aging effects that are quickly becoming de rigueur in Hollywood. The star is Ang’s high frame rate experiment. I’m the first to cry foul when the older folks turn on the TV at Thanksgiving and I see motion-smoothing galore. I hate it and believe it to be anti-cinema in some ways. Somehow, despite it amounting to motion-smoothing for the big screen, Ang has made me a believer in HFR 3D, at least for action films.
Be it the frame rate or Lee’s considerable gifts, HFR appears to enhance the three-dimensional experience, further deepening depth of field and adding a visceral clarity to the fight scenes. One extended sequence, when young and old first meet, follows their tete-a-tete from a shootout in a house to a breathtaking motorcycle chase through Budapest. The impression is immediate, and suddenly Ang doesn’t seem so crazy, nor Peter Jackson or James Cameron (there’s been talk of HFR being used for the Avatar sequels). The one drawback is the occasional CGI is less-than-believable, a problem inherent to high frame rates and motion smoothing. Regardless, young Willie’s de-aging is nearly perfect throughout, with the exception of the first and last time we see him, which happen to be the most critical junctures for leaving a good impression.
Gemini Man suffers from predictability and pedestrian dialogue. Dull one-on-one over-the-shoulders are much less palatable at 60 fps, though Smith has an easy-going chemistry with Mary Winstead and Benedict Wong, making it all more than bearable. It’s a good thing Ang Lee made an action film, and one where hand-to-hand combat isn’t shucked aside for fiery theatrics. As long as everything on screen is tactile, the experiment pays off. They used to say 3D was like looking through a window, and it was rarely true. It’s true with Gemini Man, where the format enhances and illuminates instead of annoys or induces a splitting headache.
I have a habit of commenting on commentary, of getting preoccupied with picking apart media narratives, social, news, or otherwise. With America burning and the news media more important than ever, I don’t want to do that on the political stage. Movies are less dire, however, and so it must be said that film punditry and criticism cannot and should not conform to the whims of current hot-take trends. There’s not a thin line between love and hate, there’s a vast in-between, and more critics should remember it’s there. Gemini Man is not a bad movie. It’s one of the many films in between.