Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys
Directed by:  Alan Taylor.
Written by:  Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier based on characters created by James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Guardian), Jason Clarke (John Connor), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), J.K. Simmons (O'Brien), Dayo Okeniyi (Danny Dyson), Matt Smith (Alex), Courtney B. Vance (Miles Dyson), Byung-hun Lee (Cop / T-1000), Michael Gladis (Lt. Matias), Sandrine Holt (Detective Cheung), Wayne Bastrup (Young O'Brien), Gregory Alan Williams (Detective Harding), Otto Sanchez (Detective Timmons), Matty Ferraro (Agent Janssen), Griff Furst (Agent Burke).

Some franchises just need to die – and Terminator is one of them. James Cameron’s 1984 film is a low-budget sci-fi masterwork, and his 1991 follow-up Terminator 2: Judgment Day is even better – one of the best action sequels in movie history. But since then, there hasn’t been much to recommend this series. Sure, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was okay, and actually kind of fun, but the fact that it took a dozen years to follow the second film, and that James Cameron was not involved, tell you that no one really thought it was necessary. Neither was Terminator: Salvation (2009), which wasn’t even all that fun, and didn’t have Arnold. Some people seemed to like the short lived TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but it was short lived, so probably not that many people. Now comes Terminator Genisys – and if this doesn’t kill the franchise, that perhaps the franchise is unkillable – because the movie is shockingly bad, and twists itself into knots to fit some of the timelines of the previous films, while ignoring others whole cloth. I’m not sure why every franchise now wants to be like the Marvel films – and create a wide ranging “Universe” (well I do know – money – but surely that has to more to it than that), but some franchises just aren’t built to sustain that sort of thing – and this is one of them.

The story of Genisys is basically the story of the original Terminator – except completely different. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney – stop trying to make him happen studios, no one is buying it) is sent back in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to save his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) in 1984 before a Terminator can kill her, so that John, the leader of the human resistance to the machines that have killed most of humanity will not be born. But when Kyle gets back to 1984 – he doesn’t find the helpless Sarah Connor he was expecting – and not the one we saw in The Terminator. In fact, she has her own Terminator already (Arnold, of course) who she has had since she was a child, and another Terminator was sent back to kill her. Etc. It’s all very confusing, and requires a hell of a long time to explain – and gets even more complicated than that, when Kyle and Sarah have to travel forward in time – to 2017 – to stop the Rise of the Machines, which had originally happened earlier, but of course the timelines have all shifted. And yes, the movie does explain how robot Arnold has aged.

The tortured storytelling sinks Terminator Genisys before anything else could. This is yet another movie that is meant to play on people’s nostalgia for the previous films, so much so that they throw in a lot of meaningless references to what came before, while ignoring the part they do not like (if I’m not mistaken, this movie takes place in a world where Terminator Salvation never happened – but the rest of the movies did). The movie is so devoted to playing this game of spot the reference from previous films, and has to spend so much time setting everything up, that it never really settles into telling a real story. The acting in the movie is pretty awful – although I cannot help but think that the screenplay sunk the actors before they opened their mouths - this is after all the role Arnold was born to play, but he’s terrible here. Jason Clarke is a talented actor as well, but what the screenplay requires him to as John Connor is ridiculously dumb. No, I don’t think Jai Courtney is a very good actor – but no one is saving this version of Kyle Reese. I haven’t been overly impressed with Emila Clarke on Game on Thrones (I’m only through 4 seasons, and the best acting she has done is in the Season 4 finale – other than that, I keep wondering if she’s going to do something, anything in the goddamn series) – but she’s better there than she is here.

The film was directed by Alan Taylor – one of the best TV directors (he has worked on The West Wing, The Sopranos – for which he won an Emmy -  Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Deadwood and Homicide: Life on the Streets among other) he now seems to be the go-to director for disappointing franchise sequels. He doesn’t really handle anything well here – not the convoluted plot, not the actors, not even the action sequences which are leaden and dull.
We live in an age where franchise movie dominate the box office to such an extent, that it is somewhat understandable that every studio is looking at the properties they own, and trying to find a way to turn it into something larger – like the Marvel movies. I’m not great lover of those Marvel movies – but the more films like Terminator Genisys I see, the more I have to admire what Marvel has done, and admit they’ve done it well. For the most part, the Marvel movies have all been fun and entertaining – and are able to tell a story, over a series of movie, while still maintaining each movie’s individual stories. The quality of the film varies to be sure – but they’ve never made a film as dismal as Terminator Genisys (they even hired the same director for Thor: The Dark World – one of the weaker entries in their series, but a hell of lot better than this). I may not love that era of the never ending, ever expanding franchise – but I have to admit that Marvel does it well, and it cannot be easy, if others are making films as awful as this one is. Please, put the Terminator out of its misery, and end the series here.

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