WRITTEN REVIEW – Terminator Genisys (2015)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke & J.K. Simmons
Music: Lorne Balfe
Release Date: July 2nd 2015
In the past 15 years, Hollywood has tried three times to reboot ‘The Terminator‘ franchise.
After the ground-breaking, undisputed action masterpiece ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘ in 1991, which ended the story of Sarah Connor and John Connor pretty definitively, there was 2003’s ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines‘ which was flawed but still a hugely enjoyable action film. That reboot went nowhere so we got ‘Terminator: Salvation‘ which, despite good production values and finally showing audiences the war against the Machines, was muddled and gets worse with age.
Paramount Pictures, who recently acquired the rights to the franchise and need to make a new movie lest James Cameron gain the rights back in 2019, have opted to give us ‘Terminator Genisys‘, a.k.a. “Terminator: Greatest Hits”, which gives the franchise a soft reboot – mixing up the Terminator-timeline to give us a new trilogy.
So, Paramount has big plans, with two sequels already greenlit and due to start production by the end of 2015. But as history and this franchise has proven time and time again; “The future is not set”.
It’s the future and life sucks. A computer system called Skynet became self-aware and tried to wipe out humanity. Those who survived became part of “The Resistence”, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke). On the eve of human-victory, Skynet, in one last ditch effort, sends a killing machine (Schwarzenegger) back to kill John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), to prevent John from being born. John sends his trusted friend, Kyle Reese (Courtney), to the past to defend her.
That’s the set-up for ‘The Terminator‘ that we all know and love. But for ‘Terminator Genisys‘, the story completely changes from there. For the first time on Trilbee Reviews I have to do TWO plot outlines.
Once Reese arrives, he finds that the timeline has changed. He’s greeted by a T-1000 who gets taken out by a battle-hardened Sarah and her Guardian Terminator “Pops” (also Schwarzenegger). The Guardian was sent back to protect Sarah when she was 9 and even took out the original T-101 sent back to kill her in the 80s. The timeline has changed, and in order to stop Judgement Day, the three travel to 2017 in a home-made time machine to take out Skynet’s new form; Genisys.
I want to make this very clear; Terminator is in my lifeblood. I grew up watching the first two, saw the third and fourth in theatres on opening weekend, have played the videogames, watched the TV shows, read the novels and comic books and even rode the ride.
That last one wasn’t a joke. ‘Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time‘ at Universal Studios. Google it. It has a T-1,000,000.
The point being, I am well versed in Terminator continuity. And I still struggled to follow just what in the holy mother of Skynet was going on. I can’t even begin to fathom how a newcomer to this franchise will cope. The opening of the movie is simple enough and it is satisfying to see the final stages of the war against the Machines. ‘Terminator: Salvation‘ showed the early days of the conflict where the sky was still blue, laser guns weren’t as common and Skynet were not an omnipresent force. But the first 10 minutes of ‘Terminator Genisys‘ shows the future we’ve been teased for 30 years, with blackened skies, Skynet constantly surveying the landscape and a helluva lot of lasers. We also get a brief look at the relationship between John Connor and Kyle Reese. So far so good.
And when we return to the 80s, the movie actually does some interesting upending of character traits. Sarah Connor is battle hardened and fighting against the apocalyptic future, but she’s not near-insanity like in T2 where she was in a mental institution because no one believed her. Instead, her and the Guardian, having knowledge of the future have been stockpiling weapons and technology to fight back when the time comes.
But Sarah Connor is not happy with her fate. The Guardian was sent to protect her when she was 9 because a T-1000 killed her parents. Then she is saddled with the knowledge that she must give birth to the future saviour, prepare him for the war and do it alone because Kyle Reese is destined to die. Essentially, she takes on the John Connor role in T2 where she does not want this future and loss of a normal life and begins to resent herself. So she will do almost anything to avert it. The movie doesn’t do too much WITH this idea and since the timeline has changed so much Kyle Reese doesn’t HAVE to die the way he originally did, but it shows that there is a germ of an idea in this film.
Even Kyle Reese, who in 1984 acted as a fountain of knowledge about the future, is now the audience surrogate and he needs to ask Sarah and the Guardian (I’ll be damned if I call him “Pops”, which is the LAST THING Sarah Connor would have called him) just what is going on. It’s an interesting approach even though Jai Courtney is completely wrong for the role.
But as the movie progresses and adds more and more changes to the timeline and the continuity, a singularity takes place and the movie starts to collapse for no good reason. There is no reason why Kyle, Sarah and the Guardian to travel to 2017 thematically. It’s obviously been done so this new franchise can take place nearer the present and take broad, dumb shots at Apple, but the movie offers no explanation as to why “Judgement Day” didn’t happen in the 90s.
In continuity, it didn’t happen because Sarah, John, Miles Dyson and the T-800 stopped it in ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘. But those events never happened. So why has the date changed!?
The movie also leaves vital details completely unexplained. When Kyle asks the Guardian who sent him back, he says that those files have been deleted. Okay, that’s frustrating, but whatever. But also add on top the fact that a T-1000 was sent back by…somebody? Was it Skynet? Maybe. But when you also factor in Skynet sending a T-3000 to 2017 to ensure Skynet’s creation AND the original T-101 to the 80s to kill Sarah Connor then it has to be a third party that the human resistance and Skynet in the future don’t know about. Otherwise it would be illogical overkill on Skynet’s part.
The movie’s priorities are utterly warped. It wants to be a standalone conclusion to the franchise (the movie has a DEFINITIVE ending) despite not filling in the vital gaps in the continuity that allows it to exist. There are even some characters and concepts that have “Sequel” written all over them, such as who sent the Guardian, Matt Smith’s character, J.K. Simmons’ character (who disappears halfway through the movie), the worst and most tacked-on, counter intuitive post-credits scene since ‘Green Lantern‘ and even the fact that there might be two T-1000s running around in the 1980s. The movie never says that the one in the 80s is or isn’t the same one that attacked Sarah when she was 9.
Incidentally, the T-1000 played by Lee Byung-hun is practically a cameo appearance. As the trailers foolishly spoiled, Jason Clarke’s John Connor has been sent back in time to ensure Skynet’s creation as he has become a T-3000 – a Terminator made up of thousands of nanomachines. The T-3000 is very well designed but as an antagonist he’s emotionally hollow as there’s no context surrounding his existence. The T-3000 doesn’t just look like John Connor. By all intents and purposes, he IS John Connor, but who has 100% defected to the other side. But is he being brainwashed, or was he convinced to help Skynet? The movie never says. There’s no sense of John Connor trying to resist the influence and all the characters immediately dismiss the idea of trying to reverse the process, so there is no emotional anchor or connection for the protagonists to combat.
When this twist was revealed in the trailers I was trying to be optimistic and suggest that there was more to the movie. How naive of me, as the John Connor twist is THE twist of the movie. The movie also messes with the timeline even more by having John be sent back to oversee the creation of “Genisys”…and for some reason build a time machine that is NEVER shown to be operational.
Why does Skynet need a time machine in 2017?
Also, what the hell does Genisys actually do?
In 2017, there are countdowns to it going online on almost every billboard, all the news channels are talking about it (including cameos from Miles & Danny Dyson from T2, even though neither are played by their original actors even though both are still alive and the year ‘Terminator Genisys‘ is set in would be ideal in terms of them aging) and people even have the countdown as phone screensavers. This must be a pretty awesome product/service! What does it do?
It connects to stuff.
No, that is literally it.
It connects your phone to your tablet, or your car or your computer.
Okay, decent tech (for 2010, despite ‘Terminator Genisys‘ taking place in 2017) but not worth 24/7 countdown coverage.
Cyberdyne even hold a press conference where a CGI, holographic 10 year old appears in front of the countdown to say it can’t wait to meet everyone in the most creepy and intimidating manner possible.
WHO WOULD PRE-ORDER THAT!?
Obviously, the reason for the countdown is to give the movie a false idea of tension due to the “ticking clock” cliché, and Genisys is meant to be a representation of Apple and how we’re a slave to machines so humanity are practically asking for “judgement day”. Okay, a worthwhile message, but humanity are a slave to technology because it’s so useful, multi-faceted and makes life easier.
Not JUST because my phone can “connect to my car”!
Seriously, all Genisys does for the (paying) user is “connect” to shit. Lame!!
The cast is a mixed bag. Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor has an incredibly hard act to follow after Linda Hamilton and to be fair to Emilia she is playing a very different version of the character. With that in mind, she does a decent job. She has a strong presence and sells the action beats but the character isn’t written with much dimension and she has shockingly poor chemistry with Jai Courtney. I’m not sure who’s idea it was to cast a muscle-bound, tall and stoic action star in the role of Kyle Reese, but needless to say it was a BAD move.
‘The Terminator‘ from 1984 is a movie built on contrasts. The T-101 was played by the biggest, most muscle-bound person on the planet so the original casting of the thin, malnourished but strong-willed and a bit insane Michael Biehn immediately gave the audience a visual reference for who is the more powerful fighter.
The T-101 arrives gracefully, kills for clothes, blends in and barely says a word.
Kyle Reese arrives painfully, steals the clothes from a homeless man and is hysterical when talking to Sarah and the police (“You can’t stop him! He’ll wade through you, reach down her throat and pull her f****** heart out!!”).
So why cast the bulky, un-charismatic Jai Courtney? This is just terrible casting.
He doesn’t even act like Kyle Reese and his character gets a phenomenally dumb “self-fulfilling prophecy” time travel story arc revolving around his child-self (which ONLY exists so the trio travel to 2017). He’s just a bland character in spite of the casting.
Matt Smith gets hardly anything to do, J.K. Simmons does well selling the role of a bumbling, nervous detective (which is surprising considering his fiercely confident turns in ‘Spider-Man‘ and ‘Whiplash‘), Lee Byung-Hun has nothing interesting to do as the T-1000 and only seems to be here to sell the movie to an Eastern market, Jason Clarke is decent as the wartorn John Connor even though he’s a walking cliché (he wants to “Get a beer” when the war is over). But he does make for a unique Terminator villain with a hint of hubris due to his human origins.
As is to be expected, Arnold Schwarzenegger does a good job as the Guardian and Schwarzenegger can still convince as an action star. He is great at the action, a few dramatic moments and is better then ever at the under-stated comedy. His showing in T3 was fascinating and I think playing a veteran Terminator who has aged decades from when he was originally sent back feels very fresh for the franchise. The best performance and best character in the movie.
The production values are all over the map. One scene will have a terrific and inventive effect and the next will have a moment that looks like a 1999 direct-to-video moment. The T-101 exoskeletons are particularly terrible (seriously, we’ve been seeing these machines for over 30 years. Why do they look so terrible?) as are the CGI helicopters during a 3rd act chase. The combination of green-screened make up was perfected in T3 and looks strong here despite the clearly unfinished effects in the trailers. The stunts are strong, the sets are expansive and the movie does some very unique things with the T-3000’s skill set.
Director Alan Taylor arrived onto the blockbuster scene with ‘Thor: The Dark World‘. It’s a film I really enjoy but in terms of MCU directors, Taylor lacks the unique touch of Jon Favreau, Joe Johnston, James Gunn or Joss Whedon (a lot of J’s in there). It’s with that in mind that I can say that Alan Taylor is a good director, but not a particularly visionary one. There’s no sense that ONLY Alan Taylor could have directed ‘Terminator Genisys‘. But it’s still a well shot movie with clever shot composition and visual tableau’s that do stand out and visually tell a story.
The action, while decent, is a low-point in the franchise. The much-hyped old vs. new Schwarzenegger fight basically amounts to a lot of pushing (though the CGI young Arnold is about 96% convincing), the Golden Gate bridge chase is okay with a great bus stunt, the helicopter chase is spectacularly lame with a terrific climax and I honestly did enjoy the final showdown. But nothing holds a candle to the truck chase in T2, the crane destruction in T3 or even the vastly underrated toilet fight.
You may have garnered from my summary of the action scenes that there are singular elements to appreciate in ‘Terminator Genisys‘ even if it doesn’t satisfy as a whole. That includes the franchise callbacks. For every awesome “Get out” there’s a dumb pandering moment of fan-service like when John Connor starts spouting off the “Can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with” speech from the first movie for no good reason. Another callback that distracted me was that before Kyle Reese gets sent back to the past, John Connor makes him memories the iconic “The future is not set” message from the first film to deliver to Sarah.
Kyle Reese never gives Sarah Connor this message.
The score by Lorne Balfe felt appropriate to the franchise, standing out during some scenes while feeling a bit generic in others. However, Lorne’s rearrangement of the iconic main Terminator theme is possibly the best version in the franchise’s history. Even if iconic opening five-notes are over-used and lose their impact over time.
‘Terminator Genisys‘, while not without merit, is easily the weakest instalment in James Cameron’s influential franchise. The main problem is that it tries to add more plot-lines, continuity changes and moments of fan-service then ever before but there’s no over-riding point to the whole thing. It’s complicated for the sake of being complicated and it’s not trying to SAY anything other then “Watch our sequels” which feels odd because the movie gives the franchise a definitive ending (ruined by an aimless post-credits scene). Despite a smattering of decent moments and performances, ‘Terminator Genisys‘ will be utterly incomprehensible to anyone not wholly immersed in Terminator canon.
The story is done, Hollywood. Mankind won. There is no fate. If this franchise is going to continue, it needs a ground-up reboot. Not more pseudo-sequels.
I give ‘Terminator Genisys‘ 2 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 10th Jul 15