Thursday, July 2, 2015

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

Director: Alan Taylor

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons

Terminator: Genisys is one of those movies that nobody really felt safe about because, if it’s a Terminator film and Terminator creator James Cameron isn’t involved, then what’s the point right? Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1995) are as mind blowing as they are because of Cameron’s involvement and because of the creative team that he amassed to make them. A work of art is the way it is because of the artist behind it. In the world of film making certain directors stand out as having their own unique style. There’s only one Sam Raimi, there’s only one David Lynch, and there’s only one James Cameron. You try and follow in the footsteps of a distinctive filmmaker that everybody loves and you’ve got trouble coming at you on a massive scale. In this sense, Alan Taylor, the director behind Thor: The Dark World (2013) had a gargantuan task in front of him. Why give a huge film like this one to a director whose only made one film prior to this one? It was probably a monetary decision; inexperienced directors are probably cheaper than paying an a-lister. Still, a Terminator film is better than no Terminator film so of course I decided to give Terminator: Genisys a chance. The previews didn’t look to promising, but I’d read some good reviews saying it was at the very least, entertaining. So is this new Terminator movie worth a damn?

The thing about Terminator sequels from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) onward is that they’ve all been made by different production companies, so each sequel has a different tone and voice to it. Most of them have tried to imitate James Cameron’s first two films. Did they try and fail? No. They tried and died. The rights to the Terminator films have been bouncing around from Production Company to Production Company like a hyper active jumping bean. Sadly, this has created unevenness in the whole franchise, actors keep changing, concepts get twisted…by now we’ve had four different actors play John Connor! And that’s without including the television show! The only consistency in these films has come from Arnold Schwarzenegger who keeps coming back to play the T-800 because he is very fond of this particular franchise almost as much as he’s fond of the Conan franchise. No matter how shitty the idea, he’s going to be there because Terminator and Conan made Arnold who he is, those where the films that truly put him on the map. So here he is, back again in another Terminator sequel without James Cameron behind the camera. My question is, if it wasn’t for Arnold, would we even care about these sequels? I’m thinking Arnold is the only thing keeping us old school Terminator fans going back to these films. Thankfully, we do get a good dose of Arnold throughout the whole film; he’s on it for most of the running time which is great. The younger cgi version of Arnold was well achieved in my book, not as fake as I thought it would look.

The thing about these sequels (at least from my point of view) is that they are not complete crap. In my book, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was a decent sequel; it had tons of action and took the story to interesting places. I didn’t like Nich Stahl as John Connor, but whatever, the movie was well made. After Rise of the Machines, the rights went to some other production company and so those characters were never heard of again. And then we got Terminator: Salvation (2009), which introduced us to a whole other set of actors, characters and premises. Salvation had its moments, but it kind of fell apart in its third act, the way these filmmakers envisioned Skynet was such a letdown! And now with Terminator: Genisys we’re presented yet again with a new premise set of actors and so forth, there’s just no consistency with this series of films! Each one is a different take on the Terminator universe and not a true blue sequel with any sort of continuity. The big problem is there’s no creative force uniting these films, like say George Lucas behind the Star Wars films. Fine, so the sequels are all a disparate bunch, what was this fifth installment like? 

Basically the idea behind this sequel is forget everything that happened in the previous films because what happens on this film is an alternate timeline, so everything has changed. I don’t even think we should call this one a sequel, because it’s more of a reboot. If you thought this was going to be a remake, then you will soon discover you were completely wrong. For a moment we do visit 1984 and we get to see familiar events transpire, we soon discover this isn’t this isn’t the same 1984 we saw in Cameron’s The Terminator (1984). This is where I step in and warn you that the whole time travel element can get a bit confusing, so you’re better off just ignoring the whole time travel mumbo jumbo and just enjoy the movie, it’s what I did and it worked out just fine. Time travel movies by nature can get your brain circuits all crossed, especially when Arnold starts talking about quantum fields and nexuses and time points…my advice is let it all glaze over. That being said, I was having a blast with the first half of Genisys. The film functions as a prequel, showing us the events that lead to Kyle Reese being sent to 1984. This part of the film I really loved! These are events that have always been alluded to in previous films but were never shown, so it was great to finally get to see how it all went down.

In terms of action and special effects, nothing will ever surpass Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1995). What James Cameron offers us with his movies is jaw dropping action scenes that are meticulously planned; showstoppers that take over the film. This is something that a lot of the directors that have taken over the franchise don’t understand; the action in these films has to be special because it’s what we’ve become accustomed to. Action scenes can’t be five second cgi cheats, they can’t be run of the mill chase sequences, they have to be special somehow, they have to blow us away and they have to be spectacles. I mean, how bad ass was it when they blew up that real building in T2? Sadly, no single Terminator sequel has ever come close to achieving this level of awesomeness, Genisys included. While Genisys does have explosive action sequences, there’s nothing that offers that extra wow factor because we know a lot of it wasn’t done live. Most of the stunts and action scenes in Genisys are computer generated, including this nifty helicopter chase sequence that was cool, yet completely unrealistic, and realism my friends is what sells an action scene. One other action sequence involving a school bus in the San Francisco Bridge was cool, but sadly falls on cliché. How many times have we seen a car or a truck flip over? How many times have we seen said vehicle dangling from the edge of a bridge? Actually, that scene with the bus dangling from the bridge was the only true letdown in the whole film for me, I was rolling my eyes. So the film does have its action, it’s just nothing that we haven’t seen before.  

The film does have a decent cast holding it together and that’s a bonus for this one. The ones that stood out for me were Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Jason Clarke as John Connor, they offered good, solid performances. J.K. Simmons does his usual crazy guy thing here, again, but of course it’s J.K. Simmon’s so it’s entertaining. And of course, it was a pleasure seeing Arnold back (just like he always said he would) playing The Terminator. Its funny how they’ve gone and switched things around making the monster from the first film into a father figure throughout the rest of the sequels. This is one of the things that I miss the most from the original film, that feeling like you’re in a horror movie, and The Terminator is the monster. That first film has a feeling of dread that none of the sequels has been able to match. By comparison, this new one feels like a family film. No guts, no nudity, no profanity, no blood. The first film was for adults, a hard ‘R’, this one is aimed at everyone. Everything here is squeaky safe, a la Disney films. There’s no edge like in the first film, when the Terminator rips his hand open to fix it, or when he gauges out his eye. There’s no steamy sex scene...once again, the dreaded terror of the PG-13 rating has struck with a vengeance. It’s the same cleansing process that films like Total Recall, Robocop and Poltergeist went through with their remakes. I’m dying to see films with an edge again. I remember going to the theater at one time was kind of scary because you never knew when a film was going to go “over the line” and shock you. Nowadays it’s all a lot of gee whiz effects, but none of the edge. It’s all perfectly safe entertainment. Terminator: Genisys falls in that ballpark.

Bottom line with Terminator: Genisys is it didn’t surpass my expectations, but it didn’t piss me off either.  James Cameron endorsed this film by saying that “if you like the Terminator films, you’ll love this movie”, and I have to say that I agree somewhat with this statement. Genisys does give us a lot of visual homage’s to the first two films and then twists them around just when you think you know what’s going to happen, I really liked that. It has many inside jokes that Terminator fans will no doubt enjoy. Also as a fan of the first two Terminator films, I was twisting and turning in my seat with some of the events that transpire which is a good thing. At least the film was getting a reaction from me. But essentially, what we have here is a squeaky clean reboot of a franchise that has had trouble trying to return to the grandeur that once was. They’ve gone and rebooted Terminator for a generation that has been born and bred in PG-13 cinema. Once again, a franchise has been neutered. Still, I reiterate that it’s not a total disaster, but then again, I don’t want a Terminator film that’s just ‘okay’ I want one that will freaking blow me away! Let’s see if this film makes enough money to jumpstart a new cycle of Terminator films. They better spit out as many as they can before 2018, when the rights to the Terminator films go back to James Cameron! That will be the day! Maybe then we’ll see a decent Terminator film, cause god knows only Cameron knows how to make a Terminator film right.

Rating: 3 out of 5   



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