Terminator: Genisys Review
THE CURIOUS PARADOX OF GENISYS
Back in 1984, before today’s age of dystopian futures and its fixation in mainstream pop culture, director James Cameron premiered his sci-fi adventure film Terminator. As a film, Terminator was hit and vacuumed movie cult popularity for many years along with character lines and imagery that have since become iconic by many. From there, a cinematic franchise was born as its sequel T2: Judgment Day premiered in 1991, gaining praise from moviegoers and furthered its iconic movie cult moniker. The franchise continued again with Terminator: Rise of the Machines in 2003 and Terminator: Salvation in 2009. Unfortunately, Rise of the Machines was met with mixed reviews, while Salvation received less favorable ones than that; spelling certain doom for this once beloved film series. Now, years later, Paramount Pictures, who recently bought the rights to the franchise, debuts the fifth installment in the Terminator saga with Terminator: Genisys. Can this feature film rejuvenate the franchise for a new generation to enjoy or has the future run out on this sci-fi movie tale?
In the year 2029, with Skynet operational and ushering Judgment Day for Earth, future human leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) has become the symbol of hope for mankind’s resistance against the Machines. After attacking Skynet headquarters, John, and his fellow resistance compatriot Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), discover the Machines have sent a T-800 Terminator back to 1984 to kill John’s mother Sara (Emilia Clarke). Volunteering for this harrowing time travel operation, Kyle follows the T-800 back to 1984 only to discover that Sarah has become a battle-hardened warrior, aided by a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who’s been a lifelong protector to her (nicknamed “Pops”). Confronted by this new revelation, Kyle doesn’t have much time to dwell on it as the liquid metal T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) is hunting and pursuing them, while Sarah and Pops are creating their own time machine, hoping to travel to the year 2017 and stop the launching of Genisys, a super omnipresent computer system that Skynet has employed to eradicate all humans.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While many started the franchise by watching the original Terminator movie, I actually started the saga from its sequel (T2: Judgment Day). I liked the movie, gravitating towards its iconic moments and Arnold’s classic one-liners, but I wasn’t an uber fan of the series. From there, I watched the third installment (Terminator: Rise of the Machines) a few years after it got released in theaters, finding the movie to have an interesting story, a great ending, but not as good the 1991 film. In preparation for the release of the fourth Terminator feature, I decided to watch the original 1984 film (dated, but still great start to a film series). As for fourth film (Terminator: Salvation), with the exception of its future setting and of Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright, the movie was bland and not as exciting as it was expected to be. Like most, I was already leery when Paramount Pictures announced that they would be releasing another Terminator movie, thinking that the franchise had already run its theatrical course and should retire from future installments. Terminator: Genisys, while entertaining as a summer blockbuster ride, feels a little convoluted, tiresome, and lacks precision to truly reinvent itself to audiences.
The summer of 2015 has seeing a revival long lost movie franchise, exceeding expectations with films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Jurassic World. In an attempt to rejuvenate the series, Terminator: Genisys follows that similar path by reintroducing core fundamentals of the franchise and also interjecting a new catalyst in the Terminator’s mythos. Director Alan Taylor, who directed several episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones and more recently Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, helms Genisys on shaky ground, trying to please diehard fans of the series, while also establishing a new entry point for a another generation. To its effect, it works, but not without problems.
Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier pen the film’s script. It would seem the pair of taking a page out of last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and 2009’s Star Trek in crafting Genisys’s narrative of dealing with alternative timelines (relaunching a series and choosing to wipe out some failed past entries). It’s a film tactic that’s become formulaic, but Genisys gives its own spin, offering unique way to play with its own movie timeline cannon, without it feeling recycling too much from other similar films. Unfortunately, problems do arise as Terminator: Genisys dishes out a lot of exposition scenes, explaining the new alternative timeline theory of what has happened, what should’ve happened, and will happen. With large amount of emphasis of this on the film’s narrative, the movie then becomes, at times, a little unfocused that it sort of short changes Skynet’s nefarious new plan (Genisys). Speaking of Genisys, it’s an interesting threat, speaking to a modern audience with a Google /Apple applications as the key to Judgment Day, but director Alan Taylor quick glosses over uncovering the Genisys programming that it ultimately feels like a half-baked idea. The other criticism for the movie is the film’s overall tone. While it as its sci-fi action premise (which is where the film is at its best), it then shifts quickly into some obscure comedy scenes that seem oddly placed in an otherwise very serious action oriented film. Its humor is intended for comedic levity, but it just feels forced and falls flat on its face. Then there’s the big elephant in the room spoiler that was revealed in the movie’s theatrical trailer (http://jasonsmovieblog.com/2015/04/13/terminator-genisys-trailer-2/). Why they decided to show off the movie’s “big twist” in the trailer is completely baffling, an action that hurts the movie greatly and deflates its intended impact. Lastly, with this new alternative timeline, the movie offers new insight to certain things, but doesn’t answer them completely, leaving viewers with a couple of unanswered questions by film’s end.
On a positive note, the movie has improved visual effects from its predecessors. This can be seeing in the movie’s opening salvo of the war in the future as well as film’s finale when our heroes are racing to stop the countdown of Genisys from coming online. Also, there’s plenty of with winks and nods to past Terminator movies. Scenes like witnessing the original T-800 Terminator and Kyle Reese going back in time, recreating the T-800’s famous nude arrival from the first movie (and kind of cool how they used CGI to render Schwarzenegger on how he looked in 1984), the appearance of the T-1000, a brief cameo appearance of the character Miles Dyson, the mentioning of Cyberdyne, and so on. Of course, the iconic theme from the Terminator movies is present in the feature, rescored by film composer Lorne Balfe. Additionally, Balfe’s score for Terminator: Genisys is actually pretty good, rousing momentum in certain scenes with musical empowerment.
The primary cast in Genisys consists of some well-known actors, but their roles in Terminator: Genisys are a mixed bag of sorts. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be in his element as he returns to his iconic role of the T-800 Terminator. His mono-syllabic tone and one-liners are always welcomed, making his stoic character unique and fun. The film also gives an explanation of why Arnold’s Terminator aged, which is interesting, but kind of seems a little goofy at the same time. The movie further acknowledges the action star’s age, calling him “Pops” and echoing the line “Old, but not obsolete” several times, which can be a little heavy handed. However, Arnold is Arnold and the 67 year old hasn’t loss his step in his most famous role.
Jai Courtney make have had a bad rep after the film A Good Day to Die Hard, but he’s slowly been regaining his footing in Hollywood and does so in Terminator: Genisys with his portrayal of Kyle Reese. The character has a more of central role in this movie as Courtney delivers a solid action performance along with a couple of dramatic moments. While he’s better than Anton Yelchin’s Kyle Reese, it’s unlikely that’s he would overtake Michael Biehn’s portrayal of Kyle from the original film. Jason Clarke plays John Connor. He has acting chops for the role and has good rapport with Courtney’s Kyle, but the character becomes problematic after he’s reintroduced again in the second act of Genisys. This goes back to what I said about the spoilers that marketing team behind the movie blatantly ruined. Trute, it’s an interesting twist, one that plays with franchise’s cannon, but it feels that John’s transformation from good to bad is never fully explored (psychologically speaking) on what he feels about the situation, making him a somewhat hallow de facto baddie. This isn’t Clarke’s fault as he gives what he can for the role, thus I blame the writer’s for not properly examining this twist in what could’ve been an incredible game changer. I do have to admit that Jason Clarke’s John Connor is ten times better than Christian Bale’s performance of the same character in Terminator: Salvation
Unfortunately, of all the main characters, Emilia Clarke is simply miscast as Sarah Connor. Clarke has performed very well as Daenerys Taragaryen on HBO’s Game of Thrones, showing that she can play someone tough and fierce. However, that’s not the case in Terminator: Genisys. I agree with many that’s she incredible beautiful, but actress just seems out of her depth. Her youthful appearance doesn’t match what the movie wants to her to be (she actually looks like she belongs in The Hunger Games or the Divergent movies), but much of the misfires derives from her performance. She doesn’t have the right presence for Genisys’s Sarah Connor (a battle hardened warrior); resulting into a role that I personally (and probably many) can’t buy into.
In a more minor supporting role, J.K. Simmons plays Detective O’Brien, a police detective who believes in Sarah and Kyle’s claims. However, his limited screen time makes his character a throwaway and could’ve been easily removed from the film’s final cut; a disappointment on wasting a talented actor’s theatrics. The same can be said with former Doctor Who Time Lord Matt Smith, whose role is somewhat important in the grand scheme of the movie, but, overall, is a very small role. Again, another actor’s talent wasted. The only minor character that’s memorable is Byung-hun Lee as the new T-1000, complete with improved visuals effects and morphing abilities. As a side note, whether they didn’t ask him or he declined, it would’ve been cool to see Robert Patrick reprise his role as the original T-1000.
“The rules have been reset” is the tagline for the newest Terminator movie and indeed it has been. Terminator: Genisys has improved visuals from its previous films, some fun nuances from past movies, a couple of good performances from its main cast, and a interesting (though familiar) narrative scenario that takes place in multiple / alternative timeline eras, setting the stage for a new possibilities for the franchise. However, the film lacks focus, is (at times) a tonally mess, a miscast in its female lead, and leaves several things unanswered in its wake. Fans of the series will probably draw a more favorable verdict to the movie versus the causal moviegoer. To me, it was a an okay popcorn blockbuster movie, proving to be better than Terminator: Salvation, but still can’t fully measure up to the excitement of the original film and its 1991 sequel. While Genisys chooses more nostalgia than reinvention, it’s ultimately unclear on whether or not the Terminator saga will continue further. Like one character says in the movie “The future is not set”.