Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Terminator Genisys" Review: The Franchise Is Far From Obsolete But The Script Is Certainly A Bit Senile


Just like Arnold himself, this long running franchise has seen better days. But that doesn't mean a thing when you have a property as lucrative as the Terminator, one of the most recognizable and loved antagonists in film history. The formula is simple as our the expectations of the legion of fans, which is to watch these metal monstrosities from the future clash on a modern day battleground as the war is fought to save humanity from the tyranny of the machines...again. Terminator: Genisys, the fifth entry in the franchise, hits all those bullet points as well as can be expected but has a hard time not coming off as extremely goofy with that whole time travel thing. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 6 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: July 1, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: The Terminator 1984, Terminator 2
Likes: Terminator 3
Neutral:  Time travel movies that don't give a dam about keeping anything semi-plausible
Hates: Terminator Salvation
Arnold's last appearance in a Terminator movie? Remember, old. Not obsolete.


Apologies in advance if any of this fails to make a lick of sense. Far into the future years after Judgement Day has happened mankind is at war fighting the evil Skynet, the A.I. that covered the world in a nuclear holocaust which kick started the infamous Judgement Day. Skynet is cornered as we meet up with the human resistance, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke), as they raid the facility which houses the super computer. John, using his knowledge of future events thanks to his mother Sarah, that unless they shut Skynet down as soon as possible it will retaliate by using its secret weapon, a time travel machine which it plans on sending one of its humanoid Terminator units back in time to 1984 to kill John's mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) before John could ever be born.

As expected (and foretold) John is unable to stop the Terminator from going through before Skynet is shutdown and must then send someone back to 1984 to guard and protect Sarah from the Terminator. With only enough power to send one person back, John chooses his good friend, and soon to be father, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) for the mission. As Kyle is in the process of being sent back in time he sees John get attacked by a mysterious person just before he is zapped away. Both Kyle and the Terminator arrive in 1984, with one sent to protect Sarah Connor and the other sent to terminate her, but neither knowing that the rules have changed from the first film...a lot.


Up until this moment Terminator: Genisys feels more like an opening prologue to the original 1984 film than an actual sequel. But that is all just set up for what is essentially one big franchise reboot, much in the same way last summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past wiped its slate clean for a fresh start or how the Star Trek reboot from J.J. Abrams created an alternate timeline for both the old and new cast of the original characters to co-exist. It's a gargantuan undertaking for sure, especially when dealing with a film franchise which has been built around time travel.

Let's cut to the chase though shall we, is Terminator: Genisys any good? Yes, as far as Terminator sequels not made by James Cameron go, Terminator: Genisys (henceforth known as T:G) is a really fun summer popcorn flick with lots of flashy effects, solid acting and even a few genuine surprises up its sleeve. But is that enough of an endorsement for long time fans of the franchise who hold these films up to much higher standards than your average summer blockbuster? That really depends on how much slack you are willing to cut it when it comes to its extremely convoluted story that is hellbent on incorporating just about everything it can from all the other films that came before it while not concerned in the least of what narrative wreckage it leaves behind in its temporal wake.


The best thing T:G has going for it is its sense of nostalgia towards the other films that came before it. How lovingly crafted and recreated the scenes that take place in 1984 are is a real testament to how determined director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) was in staying true to the cinematic universe that James Cameron created almost three decades ago. It's real easy to get caught up in the moment during the early scenes of the film during the 1984 segment in particular, the film's most successful sequence. Seeing the 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger face off against the 2015 Arnold is just about as amazing as it sounds and having the T-1000 thrown into the mix is just icing on the cake.

While you are in the moment those scenes are a lot of fun, especially for anyone familiar with the original film. However, that is also where much of this film's problems stem from as well which mostly has to do with the logic behind how any of this is possible. Time travel is a tough nut to crack no matter what your chosen outlet is. Be it books, video games or movies, time travel is a tough sell in its own right but when you are dealing with a franchise like the Terminator, where time travel is at the root of each film, it becomes increasingly difficult to not only keep things straight but also come up with new ways to add wrinkles while ensuring the previous wrinkles still add up.


Between all four previous Terminator films we had seen the Sarah Connor prophecy fulfilled (Terminator 1), Judgement Day prevented (Terminator 2), Judgement Day reactivated (Terminator 3) and the aftermath of Judgement Day (Terminator Salvation). The franchise had literally come full circle and the only thing left to do at this point was to rewrite history, which is what T:G attempts to do. How successful it is at that though is an entirely other matter, but for what its worth, T:G does an admirable job keeping its complex plot of jumping timelines and crossing paradoxes relatively easy to follow all things considered. But no matter how well its smoke and mirrors cover its tracks, there is no denying the fact that much of T:G just doesn't make a lick of sense.

First of all we are now meant to believe that Sarah Connor was targeted when she was 9 years old by a T-1000 who proceeded to kill her parents and was subsequently saved by a T-800 (whom she lovingly calls Pops) much in the same way Sarah and John were saved in T2. That simple change causes multiple problems that aren't easily ignored, such as why send a T-1000 after her when she is 9, a T-800 when she is an adult and then another T-1000 after her kid? Why not make them all T-1000's? Plus, who is sending all these Terminators anyway? We now have 2 T-1000's, 3 T-800's, a Terminatrix and one human. Can only send one person back in time my ass!


Then there is the idea that both the T-800 from the past and a now battle hardened Sarah Connor are waiting in 1984 for both the bad T-800 and Kyle to show up. This raises a ton of questions. Have Sarah and Pops been running from the T-1000 for the past 20 some odd years? If so, why did the T-1000 from Sarah's past suddenly know where to find Kyle at when he arrived? As a matter of fact how did either Pops or Sarah know where the bad T-800 or Kyle would arrive or when? If that weren't enough plot holes and paradoxes for you just wait, because soon both Sarah and Kyle will time travel into the future to 2017 which causes a whole other set of problems.

Problems like how the John Connor we saw at the beginning of the film still exists since Sarah hadn't given birth to him in 1984 like she was supposed to (if she got pregnant with him in 2017 he would be like 30 years younger) or why they even needed to time travel to the future in the first place? It's not like by getting there sooner they were beating anyone there. As a matter of fact, by traveling to the future like they did they in fact missed a golden opportunity to prevent Skynet from taking over. If they had just went with the flow of time they could have prepared better and even discovered Skynet's plan years in advance when the Genisys project is first announced instead of coming in right when it is about to go on line. There is a sense of urgency before they travel to 2017 that doesn't make any sense. Why not wait a few days and discuss your options? You killed both terminators, what's the rush?


As for the casting choices, they are a mixed bag. There is still no good replacement for Michael Biehn's intensity for Kyle Reese. Anton Yelchin tried and failed and now Jai Courtney got his chance but is way to action hero-y in the role. Jason Clarke is the fourth person to portray John Connor (is that a record for the largest number of people to play the same role in so few films?) and is alright in the role but comes off a bit too creepy for someone who is supposed to be mankinds savior. Lee Byung-hun (mostly known as Storm Shadow from the G.I. Joe movies) is fine as the T-1000 but isn't really given enough screen time to make any real impression.

The rest of the cast though is much better with Emilia Clarke being passed the mantle as the new Sarah Connor. Although she will always and forever be linked to her iconic role on Game of Thrones, Clarke makes for an appealing presence in the film and does a good job in what is essentially an action role. Also, it hadn't never struck me before just how tiny Clarke really is until the moment in TG where she whips out a grenade launcher (which is twice her size) and fires it. Then there is Arnold, which aside from the clever gimmick of a Terminator's human tissue aging, slips right back into his iconic role with the greatest of ease. He is clearly having a lot of fun here and that fun translates directly to the audience.


Are any these concerns raised really that problematic? Yes and no. Yes because in a franchise that already stretches credibility with its ludicrous timeline shuffling, the last thing we need are another dozen or so events that make it impossible for us to suspend our disbelief. No because in the end T:G is still a fun movie. The aforementioned 1984 scenes are a real hoot, especially the confrontation in the sewers where Kyle, Sarah and Pops must face off against both the bad T-800 and the T-1000. Furthermore, it is just a lot of fun seeing these characters brought back to life on screen and fighting to save our future once again. As long as you shut your brain off before entering the theater chances are you will have a great time watching T:G which proves that both the Terminator franchise and Arnold Schwarzenegger may be old, but they are far from obsolete.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

While its true that directly after watching T:G I was more interested in discussing how the film destroyed all forms of continuity between the other four films with one swift blow than I was in how much fun I had watching it. But now, after a few days of marinating on the film, I can appreciate how well made and acted it was despite its many glaring plot holes and paradoxes. It won't go down as the best in the franchise, but it certainly isn't the worst either. If you have ever been a fan of the franchise or Arnold Schwarzenegger in general, this is one of the safer bets of having a good time at the cinema this summer.

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