Monday, July 6, 2015

Terminator: Genisys

We all know that the original The Terminator is a classic. It was one of the first R-Rated films I remember seeing as a child and it holds a special place in my heart due to its tense action, wonderful characters and time travelling storyline thanks to the genius of James Cameron. It was also a movie that made 9-year old me think in ways I hadn’t before. Time paradoxes aren’t something you normally hear being talked about during recess, but I theorized about it with my friends as we made our way across that rickety old playground jungle gym.

So when Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in the summer of 1991 I was super hyped. It had a lot to live up to in my eyes and it delivered on everything I wanted and more. Returning writer/director James Cameron revisited the heady concepts of the first film and expanded upon them in creative and imaginative ways. Additionally, he not only toyed with the audiences expectations when it came to which of the time travellers was the villain and which was the hero, he also made me care about a robot.
In 2003 audiences received the Cameron-less Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Despite it not having quite the same braininess of the previous two films it was a fun and entertaining entry in the series that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the role that made him famous while blowing stuff up real good. Plus it had a great, ballsy ending. It wasn’t well received by fans, but I always felt it was a decent film despite the rampant overuse of CGI.

Unfortunately I can say nothing positive about 2009’s Terminator: Salvation. It didn’t look like a Terminator film, it didn’t feel like a Terminator film and worst of all… it didn’t have THE TERMINATOR. Without Schwarzenegger this abomination lost all connection to the franchise, and I don’t count that cheesy CGI Arnold that pops up for 20 seconds in the finale. It was pointless, had one of the worst endings in the history of film and most of the surprises were ruined in the trailers. Boo!
In 2015 we get a film that promises to return the series to its roots. Terminator: Genisys, which serves as a Star Trek styled reboot as well as a full on sequel, was being touted as not only the beginning of a new trilogy of films, but the one that would finally begin to piece together all the loose ends while creating some new ones of its own. And James Cameron gave it his official seal of approval so it has to be good, right?!

Future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) travels back in time to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from being killed by a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and thusly her unborn child John (Jason Clarke) who will eventually lead a rebellion against the robots in the years to come. However, when Reese arrives he finds out that the past has been altered; Sarah has been raised by a mysteriously reprogrammed Terminator since she was a child, is as much a warrior as he is and Skynet never came into existence. Together they attempt to stop a computer program called “Genisys” from becoming a new version of Skynet.
While the storyline is very convoluted and introduces a number of plot threads and mysteries that are left open for the planned sequels, I feel that Terminator: Genisys is the best sequel since Terminator 2. It doesn’t even come remotely close to the awesomeness that is T2, but its pretty rad in its own right.

Writers Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Alexander) and Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000 Trilogy, My Bloody Valentine 3D) appear to have been given the go ahead to do whatever they saw fit in order to develop the story. They succeed about as often as they fail, but for the most part they keep the events fun and thrilling while giving the fans a few clever pats on the back to show that they haven’t forgotten what makes these films work in the first place. There are some goofy, pulpy bits that seem a little out of place, but I have to say they surprised me with a few of their twists to keep the script fresh and moving in a new direction while not abandoning what came before it.
Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) certainly upped his game after his highly mediocre pass at one of the better characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a confidence at play that wasn’t present in Thor: The Dark World, and thankfully he didn’t attempt to try to get kooky and crazy with the visuals like McG did with Terminator: Salvation. He keeps the film feeling like a natural extension of the original trilogy thanks to cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau and editor Roger Barton. He also gets some fantastic performances out of his reimagined cast. I certainly hope that if the sequels do come to pass he sticks around to direct them. It would be nice to see some directorial continuity much like Cameron’s films.

Seeing Ah-nold back in the saddle as the title character, referred to as “Guardian” in the end credits, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because he IS this franchise. Not being able to participate due to his duties as Governor of California severely ruined the credibility of Salvation in my eyes. But he’s back (derp) and that is awesome. The curse is that he is more than a little over the hill. He’s 67 now and it’s plainly obvious that he’s not able to perform physical stunts like he used to. Thankfully the writers weaved his age into the story and made it work without drawing much attention to the details. He clearly is having a blast playing his most popular character once again, albeit one that is a little more human and emotional than the other incarnations. It shines through in his performance.
I really liked Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) take on Sarah Connor. She came off as a nice combination of the character from parts 1 and 2 with a little bit of resentment for not being able to have a normal life after being raised by a robot since she was 9. Her petulance at not wanting to have to be bound by her own fate she knows is to come was an interesting choice, especially when it comes to Reese and his siring of John Connor.

Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, A Good Day to Die Hard) is a great Reese. Where Michael Biehn’s version of the character was all business, Courtney’s take is a little more of an out of his element sidekick. Thinking that he knew everything beforehand when he travelled to the past, he quickly learns that it means next to nothing since he has no knowledge about the events that have transpired in this alternate timeline. The character’s sense of humor comes out a lot more due to this and Courtney takes it all in stride. He’s great in his action scenes, shares a wonderful chemistry with his co-stars (Emilia Clarke especially) and manages to make the part his own without taking anything away from Biehn’s performance.
I will say that I was definitely not a fan of Jason Clarke’s (Zero Dark Thirty, Death Race) John Connor. His scenes in the opening of the film were perfectly fine and I liked his take on the character. He had a great repartee with Courtney’s Reese and it felt like they had been in the trenches for years fighting alongside each other. However, once the character resurfaces halfway through the film as the evil version of the character I felt like his casting was a huge misstep. Why? He’s not even slightly threatening. He comes off as an arrogant frat boy with motivations that aren’t exactly clear. Does he want to kill Sarah and Reese? If he does that will kill him as well, but he never really gets his point of view across due to some plot holes in the script and Clarke does nothing to help matters. He comes across as more of a robot than Schwarzenegger’s character at times, mechanically reciting his dialogue in a faux charming manner that isn’t scary in the slightest. If he came off as more unhinged I might have liked his performance more, but as it is he kind of sucks and ruins a good portion of the film for me.
While there is some slick action (loved the 1984 Terminator versus Guardian fight), good moments of humor and some clever twists to the franchise timeline I felt there were some glaring issues that kept this from being a “great” addition to the franchise as opposed to a “good” one. Let’s start with J.K. Simmons. His detective character was so out of place and worthless that I wish he was never included in the first place. I liked that the character had his place in some of the events in the past, but where the character ended up going and the conclusions he drew in the future timeline were so badly conceived by the writers it’s embarrassing. Another is the marketing of the film. Specifically the way Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame was being touted as having a huge part in the film. Yeah, well, that was a pack of lies. And why were 75% of the big twists given away in the trailers? Who the fuck thought that was a good idea? Oblivion had great twists that were never ruined in the multiple trailers that were released, so why not keep John Connor’s cyborg transformation a secret for those that actually want to see the film? Shoehorning certain minor characters from the previous films into the script felt like pandering to the fans for an “OMG” moment. And finally I like the fact that the studio wants this to be the first part of a trilogy, but could they just make a self contained film in case the box office take isn’t good enough to warrant follow up films? There are so many unanswered questions when the end credits roll that I’m getting a vibe comparable to when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ended its second season with a massive cliffhanger and then was cancelled due to low ratings. I want fucking closure! Don’t anticipate you’re going to have a massive hit on your hands until the money says you do. If this is where the franchise ends I’m going to be uber pissed. Lorne Balfe’s score is underwhelming too.
I won’t spoil the surprises not already ruined for you by the trailers, but I will end this review by saying that this is a very entertaining film despite all the flaws and missteps taken. I do believe that they have reinvigorated this franchise in the same way that Star Trek was in 2009. There are cool places the story can go in the future and mysteries that need to be answered. I just hope this flick is a hit so we can see everything come full circle. It’s certainly not the best film in the series, but its definitely not the worst like most critics are saying. I recommend you check it out and make up your own mind.

3.5 out of 5

P.S. Avoid seeing it in 3D. It is useless.

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