Monday, July 6, 2015

Movie Review – Terminator: Genisys

I wanted to be sure I watched Terminator: Genisys before I heard anything about it. I didn’t want to see a review, a Facebook comment, or even someone on Twitter saying, “OMG Mother of Cyborgs so amazeballs!” or whatever. Every once in a while I have a really bad feeling about a movie that I am hopeful for and I find it important to see it before my opinion can be tainted; positively or negatively.

Before I get I into the review, let me establish where I stand on the Terminator franchise:

I really like the first movie. It’s hard, gritty sci-fi and it effectively makes us care about the characters of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in a very short period of time. Arnold is fucking scary. I probably watch this once a year.

I loved the second movie when it came out, just like everyone else did. Now I don’t. I find it hard to get through. The story is great and the action sequences are epic, but Edward Furlong is intolerable and I do not like the cornification of the T-800. I don’t mind that Arnold is a good guy, it’s the jokey stuff that I don’t like. Robert Patrick and Linda Hamilton are great, though.

Terminator 3 is really bad. The acting, the story, many of the effects. I think I liked it, initially, as well. But I tried to watch it again recently and had to turn it off. I was embarrassed to be watching it (please note that I openly admit to loving Sharktopus). Not even the presence of two of the most gorgeous women on the planet could keep me from turning it off.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles was excellent, and I’m still angrier about its cancellation than any other show that I’ve watched. It handled time travel well, the characters really felt like deeper, more interesting extensions of the movie versions, and the cast was absolutely fantastic. The season 2 cliffhanger finale was incredible and we will never know what happened.

I enjoyed Terminator: Salvation. I thought it made some mistakes as far as continuing the franchise was concerned, but it was a very good action/sci-fi movie. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it sold me that the story and the characters were real and existed in the Skynetverse.

Which brings me to Genisys. I didn’t buy it. The acting was terrible. I loved Jai Courtney on Spartacus, but he has been vanilla pudding in everything else I’ve seen him in. Emilia Clarke is beyond fantastic on Game of Thrones, but as Sarah Connor she has no gravitas whatsoever. I didn’t buy her for one second and part of the issue was that she looked exactly twelve years old. The shift from Daenerys to Sarah should have been jarring, but somehow the shared traits of independence, survival at all costs, and organic toughness got lost. Not for one second did I buy Ms. Clarke as a competent, hardcore character in the way that I did Linda Hamilton and Lena Headey (my gosh, Headey’s Sarah was phenomenal – I didn’t even like the character at first and I wasn’t supposed to).

Jai Courtney in no way captured the damaged, haunted man that Michael Biehn portrayed in The Terminator. He was a big, dumb sack of beef that made snarky comments from time to time. He never felt like a hero or savior, only a big goof that managed to not get terminated.

I can’t discuss the rest of the characters without spoilers, so hang in there. I’ll get to them in a bit. For now I’ll say that J.K. Simmons and Matt Smith were great and Lee Byung-hun did a great Robert Patrick impersonation.

The movie was dumb. The story was overly convoluted and had massive plot holes. Some of this may have been due to the intention to make this a trilogy or new franchise or whatever (dear God, no), but that’s no excuse. When the credits rolled there were major plot questions left unanswered and I’m not okay with that.

The effects looked good. There were some terrible helicopter scenes that also involved absolutely moronic decision-making from the characters (seriously – if these dum-dums are in charge of saving the world, we’re all fucked). The shots with T-800s and the various other flavors of Terminators looked good, but things faltered a bit when they showed Skynet’s larger killing machines.

I did think that the music was great. There was a lot of new stuff that was reminiscent of Brad Fiedel’s powerful score, as well as straight-up reuse in all the right spots.

There are some bits of fan service – the “I’d like to see this happen” sort of stuff – and when they’re plot points or visuals rather than awkwardly delivered lines of dialogue they work.
I can’t recommend Terminator: Genisys. There were a few rewarding moments, but I just did not care about the characters or their situations. I kept thinking, “Is this almost over?” and if I hadn’t been with friends I would’ve gotten up and left, not one bit curious about what had happened afterward. As a matter of fact, the second the credits rolled I walked out of the theater, but my buddy stayed behind just in case there was an after-credits scene.

Out in the lobby he told me there was and I genuinely did not care. I said, “Did it make the movie not suck?”

Which brings me to the point where details must be discussed.

From here on out, be warned. There will be

*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*

If you’re reading this and you’re super disappointed, don’t just take my word for it. If you want to go and see a new Terminator movie, by all means do it. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t.

But man, did I not like it.

Let’s start with what is undoubtedly the biggest selling point of the movie – Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as the T-800. To answer everybody’s first question – yes, they explained why he’s old. The living flesh that coats the endoskeletons ages. It makes sense and is the explanation I expected.

Arnold was actually very good, which was a relief because since his return to showbiz he has had moments of being very not good. Many of them. My issue isn’t with Schwarzenegger’s performance, it’s with the way they wrote the T-800. It’s back to being corny and loving and humanized. I don’t take issue with a Terminator being sent back to protect Sarah Connor (and we never do find out who sent it, by the way), but it’s a fucking robot. There’s nothing wrong with it being awkward and stolid, but I don’t need jokes. There are ways to make interactions with the Terminator awkward and humorous without humanizing it.

There is one gag that they repeat that works. Sarah has been teaching the T-800 to blend in and Arnold does this horrifying and hilarious rictus grin. The way he does it totally looks like a robot trying to smile. It’s a funny visual and an example of the machine being a point of situational humor without becoming a goofy character.

The opening portions of the movie are solid. They do a lot of playing around with what we already know. The T-800 arrival scene from The Terminator is recreated, but when a nekkid Arnold asks the punks for their clothes, older Arnold (called “Pops”) shows up and a pretty great fight ensues. I like that the filmmakers kept the T-800s nice and slow and didn’t decide to have them start using kung-fu or some bullshit. It looked like two robot Arnold Schwarzeneggers beating the crap out of each other.

The problem with the opening scenes is that as I was watching I was reminded of the other actors that have played these characters and was painfully aware of the fact that the new ones just were not getting the job done. I wasn’t buying them.

Note to Hollywood casting agents – Jason Clarke looks like a villain. I don’t know why you guys keep casting him as a hero, but you’re fucking things up. And it really fucked Genisys up.

Folks were pretty upset when the studio gave away the fact that John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) is a Terminator in the movie. That’s not the part that’s the problem. The problem is that from the first second that I saw Clarke’s shitty scar makeup on screen, I was like, “Oh, I don’t trust this guy. I don’t care what his name is.” So when he shows up later in the movie to rescue the two dumbest time travelers ever –Sarah and Kyle – there was no doubt in my mind that he had bad intentions. The dude just looks evil.

Setup is a big problem in Genisys. There were several events like the aforementioned Connor reveal that could have been memorable and exciting if not for the structure of the movie being so awkward. As an example, at one point we see that the T-1000 played by Lee Byung-hun has thrown a bit of itself onto the truck that Pops, Sarah, and Kyle are driving as a means a tracking them (a clever concept, by the way). The problem is that we didn’t need to see that. The resulting scene has Pops turning around, apparently ready to shoot Kyle Reese because the two do not trust one another. But the audience already knows that the piece of the T-1000 is back there, so there’s no tension or exciting reveal. Instead what we knew was going to happen happened.

There was a lot of lazy storytelling, things that felt like, “Well, we want to do this, so let’s figure out an excuse to do it”. Kyle Reese is the crux of the new timeline that has been created by Skynet, and there’s a lot of questionable, “Remember this thing!” stuff that goes on in his head.

I’m still not clear on how or why the timeline changed or how Sarah and Kyle could travel from 1984 to 2017 without bringing John Connor into the world and yet he’s still there. I don’t want to devote too much thought to all of the paradoxes presented by Genisys because I am generally pretty forgiving about that sort of thing, but so much of it seemed like the filmmakers just saying, “Shhh… don’t look at that”. It’s the kind of fuckery that Doctor Who gets away with because I love Doctor Who so much.

Maybe the filmmakers knew that and it’s why they cast the Doctor as Skynet.

Matt Smith is great as Skynet, by the way. He starts off as a new flavor of Terminator that we haven’t seen before and is seemingly the cause of the timeline change when he attacks John Connor as Kyle Reese is leaving for 1984. Why at that moment? Why didn’t he kill Reese? Why didn’t he kill John Connor before they accessed Skynet’s time travel device? Why did he allow the resistance to shut down Skynet? There are an awful lot of questions like this that the movie simply glosses over, and I got the feeling that the answer was, “Because we didn’t want to have to think too much about it and didn’t that scene look cool?”
Again, I am usually pretty forgiving of this sort of thing, but Genisys had far too many flaws to get away with so much of it.

Later on Smith is shown as a holographic projection that Skynet uses to express its displeasure with humanity in general and Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor specifically. Smith is cold and sinister and I really wish we’d seen more of him.

J.K. Simmons played a police officer named O’Brien that witnessed Sarah and Kyle’s Terminator craziness in 1984. Reese saved him, so ever since then he has been trying to figure out what happened. He becomes involved with the pair again when they show up in 2017 (nobody ever explained why they decided to show up just a few days before Skynet launched under the guise of the Genisys networking platform – why not go to 2016? They seemed to be able to control their arrival time). Simmons does a great job portraying a desperate but likeable guy and he definitely had the most interesting story in the movie.
There’s a lot of tension set up about the fact that Sarah and Kyle are supposed to get it on and create John Connor. I just didn’t care. Connor was not an inspirational or likeable character in the movie, and there was zero chemistry between Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. Again, this could have been a powerful and effective storyline, but it just wasn’t portrayed competently.

I have to mention the helicopter chase. Pops, Kyle, and Sarah hop into a helicopter with a big bag of weapons to escape the pursuing John Connor Terminator. There are two helicopters on the roof and they do not shoot the second helicopter as they take off, despite knowing the Connornator is right behind them. Somehow the Connornator instantly starts his helo and has it in the air and on their tails within a few seconds. At this point they shoot him with something that makes a huge explosion but does not bring down the helicopter. They shot him and not the helicopter. Helicopters are fragile air vehicles with many vulnerable points, the loss of any one of which during flight results in a crash. But these wise warriors – one the survivor of humanity’s most brutal and taxing war, one a killing machine, and one an eleven year student of said killing machine – don’t think to target any of those spots.

Also the helicopters fly sideways and scrape on buildings and it’s utterly ridiculous. They could have filmed a cool helicopter sequence without throwing the potential for suspension of disbelief out the window.

I want to end on a positive note, so here are two things I liked:

1 – The John Connor/Terminator hybrid was a great concept. It was very cool, with only a couple of moments of lame CGI to detract from its menacing presence. I loved the idea of Skynet infecting a human host after recognizing that its constant defeats lay in its inability to think like a human. Since I’m being positive, I won’t think too much about how, exactly, Skynet knows it has been defeated so many times.

2 – Seeing all of the different Terminators fighting and having active roles was awesome. They were utilized well and I have to admit that I was excited to see them in action. I even liked the idea of Pops’ chip being integrated into T-1000 liquid to give it a new body. That was a cool idea that was teased and paid off effectively.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever watch this movie again. It was pretty much as modern-Hollywood-sequel bad as I was expecting and lacked any of the soul or gravitas of the original, or even of Salvation, which I liked a lot more. If you need to see it, go check it out. Maybe you’ll like it. But I sure didn’t.



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