Monday, July 6, 2015

Arnold Is Back...Sort Of. Schwarzenegger Is Underutilized in the Decent but Disappointing "Terminator: Genisys."

Terminator: Genisys
They definitely relied on this gag too much. This is one of four or five times you see the smile that originated in 1991...

At this point, the Terminator franchise has been rejuvenated more times than Judgment Day has been avoided. The last attempt, Terminator: Salvation, was meant to be the beginning of a new trilogy. It is now regarded a disappointment with the box office and fans alike, so that was scrapped (even though there are people who liked it, like me, and it made $371 million worldwide). Now, with Terminator: Genisys, much like Skynet, they refuse to let the franchise die.

The easy way to describe Genisys is that it’s not as good as the first two, but it’s better than the last two. Simplistic, sure, but it’s accurate, especially since Genisys is a return to the storyline of the original film. Of course, a real assessment is more complicated than that, but to get into it completely, spoilers are involved. So, if you want to watch Genisys completely fresh, stop reading now (although if you’ve seen the previews for this movie, everything mentioned in this review has already been spoiled for you).

Genisys has one of the worst marketing plans for a movie in recent memory. It is revealed, both in previews and articles (like the one I regretfully read in Entertainment Weekly which didn’t even feature a spoiler warning) that John Connor is now a Terminator. Usually when a preview reveals something like that, it means it happens early in the film. But in Genisys, it is a major twist roughly forty-five minutes in. What is truly irritating about the twist being spoiled is that it could have been actually surprising. For some reason, the marketing team thought spoiling a major plot point would drum up more business (it didn’t).

Spoilers aside, Connor as a Terminator is a decent and interesting change to the storyline. Aside from that change, Genisys is much more interested in reminding fans of the past. The main element is the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his career-defining role. His presence, along with a return to the 1984 setting of the original, should be enough to please fans of the series. Some have complained about the movie resorting to fan service elements, but if you’re a fan, what’s the problem? (By the way, I am a fan, and the fan service did its job; overall, I liked the movie.)

That’s Genisys in a nutshell: fan service. People want to see Arnold in awesome action sequences spouting off one-liners (even though it makes no sense for this version of him to know those one-liners, but who cares?). The action of Genisys is fine, though sometimes it feels too fake (the old Arnold vs. young Arnold sequence comes to mind). There are some standout moments, however (the bus sequence is pretty great). Put simply, it’s a serviceable action film, but not genre-redefining like T2.

The main problem with Genisys is that it doesn’t adhere to the original film enough. In the original, the Terminator was as much a character as Kyle Reese or Sarah Connor. Here, he’s subordinate to Kyle and Sarah, which is a mistake. Kyle Reese was not the main character in The Terminator. He was one-third of the focus. Here, he’s the main protagonist with Sarah Connor the close second lead. Arnold is reduced to being their violent robot butler (I know, I know, it’s “cybernetic organism,” not robot, but I prefer “robot”).

Arnold playing third fiddle is annoying for two reasons. First, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in the original) is now played by Jai Courtney, an actor who is mediocre at best, and an unlikable husk at worst. Here, he’s mediocre bordering on likable for a change, but he’s no Michael Biehn, and worse, he’s not playing the character like Beihn at all. Kyle Reese went from an intense, jittery time traveler to a milquetoast everyman who seems pretty calm about traveling to a time that should be unrecognizable to him. So he’s not the best character to be stuck following.

Second, this version of Arnold was sent back in the 1970s to protect Sarah Connor and then be a surrogate father to her. We’re shown a glimpse of this in a flashback, but how much more interesting would it have been if the film started there and followed Arnold and Sarah all the way through? On top of that, there’s a point in the story when Kyle and Sarah must travel from 1984 to 2017, and Arnold can’t go with them. So he has to bide his time for over thirty years. Those thirty years would be an interesting movie on their own, but in Genisys, we don’t see a second of it. At the very least they could have done a montage sequence or something. (Perhaps the progression of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Bruce Willis in Looper could have been mimicked.) It’s just unfortunate that positive elements of the film are overshadowed by what might have been.

The positive elements make Genisys an enjoyable, if disappointing, film. Arnold still inhabits the Terminator effortlessly and makes every scene he’s in better. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) is an interesting choice for Sarah Connor this time around. She’s a good combination of the original, fragile Sarah and ultra-militarized T2 Sarah. And, despite the obvious setups for future movies (it is never revealed who sent Arnold back to the 1970s, for instance), it is interesting to see where the story goes from here.

The best thing the series can do, however, is end for good once this planned trilogy is over (if the trilogy even happens, that is, since this film isn’t exactly tearing up the box office). The most boring aspect of this film is that it’s about stopping Judgment Day again. Hate the last two movies all you want, but at least they were willing to accept that Judgment Day is inevitable. Whatever happens in the future of this increasingly convoluted time-traveling saga, let it at least come to a true, final conclusion. Let’s just hope Arnold is front and center for that conclusion. 

Terminator: Genisys receives a:

Random Thoughts (even more SPOILERS)

Some people have applauded the film for returning to a more light-hearted tone. While this film contains more jokes than the extremely bleak Salvation, I don't think T2 was as goofy as everyone remembers. Sure there was the smile and all the catch phrases, but Genisys crossed the line with the mugshot scene set to the COPS theme music. 

The Arnold vs. Arnold sequence really disappointed me, especially since the young Arnold in Salvation somehow looked better. Granted, young Arnold is cloaked in shadows in Salvation, but at least they were aware of their limitations. A couple of moments during the fight in Genisys it looked like a videogame.

John Connor as a Terminator is interesting because it takes the ending of Salvation and tweaks it a bit. I just wish he was meant to be a bridge between man and machine (like in Salvation when he get a heart transplant from a hybrid Terminator) rather than just a new tool for the machines. Aside from the initial reveal, the characters seem to have no issue with actively trying to kill John Connor, the man the entire series has been about. The twist is really wasted since John simply ends up being the new, "bad" Terminator. It would make more sense for Terminator John to stay in the future and figure out a way to end all of this rather than go back to make sure Skynet happens. They could have sent back any mimicking Terminator to provide the info to get Skynet going. John Connor isn't the only one privy to that info.

Stopping Judgment Day and Skynet is just stupid at this point. And naming it "Genisys" now is just annoying because every time I type it I have to deal with the computer telling me it's spelled incorrectly. Anyway, remember Terminator 3? The whole point of that movie was that Judgment Day was inevitable, and the reason was because everything is connected now. Destroying a hard drive in some office building isn't enough in the internet age. And they figured that out for a 2003 film, when the internet was not nearly as prevalent. Back when phones were still mainly used for communication. You might think that it was more advanced, but the movie actually has the villain log onto the internet through dial-up. I'm serious. This is why it's so stupid that a movie set fourteen years later would revert back to early 90s T2 logic: just smash it all up, and it will be okay. It's just lazy.

Finally, I think people need to reevaluate the last two movies. They get a bad rap, but at least they were willing to do something different with the series. Terminator 3 was meant to put n end to the Judgment Day stuff, and the character of John Connor was very interesting because it evaluated what time travel and prophecy could do to someone. Who is John Connor without the end of the world? And Salvation was a straight up war film that didn't even feature time travel. John Connor was dealt with interestingly here, as well. Some people didn't believe he was all that great, and he's really only a "prophet" because he's been told everything, not because he's some miracle worker. The films have their flaws, don't get me wrong: until the end, Terminator 3 is just about prevent Judgment Day again, and Connor in Salvation is kind of a screaming lunatic. But they dared to take the series in a different direction, which is more than you can say for Genisys.

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