Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: Terminator Genisys

by Patrick Bromley
Terminator Genisys, the latest entry in the 30+ year Terminator franchise, is further proof of the series' diminishing returns. That's bad news for any movie that follows Terminator Salvation.

I love the first two Terminator movies, both written and directed by James Cameron and two of the best action movies of all time. The first Terminator (1984) is a perfect movie and among my all-time favorites, while 1991's T2 is near the top of the list of my favorite sequels. But as Adam Riske pointed out this week, each subsequent film in the series has gotten worse, a trend that continues through Terminator Genisys, the low point in the franchise and a stupid, wrongheaded movie.

I'll be honest. I normally spend about a paragraph describing the plot of the movie I'm reviewing. I don't feel like doing that here. Genisys spends its first 10-15 minutes recapping Judgment Day and Skynet and everything we have heard for four movies now. This is the fifth Terminator movie. WHY are being told these same events for the fifth time? The only change this time around is that it's told from the perspective of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, the world's luckiest slab of laundry), who catches us up on Skynet becoming self aware and destroying the world (which, thanks to the wonders of CGI technology, we get to see in full detail despite the fact that James Cameron pulled it off much more efficiently and effectively with the shot of Sarah Conner holding on to the fence in T2, a haunting image with a human cost and the sort of thing that's nowhere to be found anywhere in Genisys) and the war with the machines and John Conner (Jason Clarke) leading the resistance and winning the war and a terminator gets sent back in time to kill his mom Sarah Conner in 1984 (now played by Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to John but then John sends back Kyle Reese to protect her and seriously why are we still seeing all this stuff play out in the fifth retelling of the same shit?
Once Reese arrives back in '84, Genisys finally begins departing from the story we already know. Barely. It jumps ahead to 2017 so the characters can once again stop Skynet, except it's called something different here because that's the movie thinking that it's being different. What it actually does is tell the same story but shuffles the roles around, so now Sarah is the one who says "Come with me if you want to live!" and has her befriending the T-800 the way Eddie Furlong John did in T2. There's a liquid metal cop played by Byung-hun Lee (of I Saw the Devil) who's there just to reenact Robert Patrick's scenes from T2 even though those happened in the 1991 chronology of the movie and not 1984. But there's no plot hole or inconsistency this movie won't ignore in the interest of providing fan service -- including the very existence of John Conner, which, according to what we see here, shouldn't even be a reality.

But I don't come to Terminator movies for logic, because no time travel movie can hold up to much scrutiny. That's the beauty of time travel plots. My issues with Terminator Genisys have much more to do with bad writing, bad performances, uninteresting action staged with computers, plot developments that are stupid (the biggest of which has been spoiled in much of the marketing but which I won't reveal here, even though it's not any advancement or new spin on the story; it's just a dumb choices that, again in the words of Adam Riske, is shit that's made up just to make up shit) and a tone that feels all wrong.
The main villain of the movie is a mistake, and not just because it flies in the face of canon or what I want out of a Terminator movie. It's a mistake because it has no real ramifications or thematic consistency -- it's the result of some screenwriters sitting around saying "What do we do now? Would it be kewl if...?" We also get to see Skynet take a kind of physical form in a subplot that I have to believe ended up largely on the cutting room floor given the way certain things have been marketed. This might be a novel idea if it hadn't already been done with Helena Bonham Carter in Terminator Salvation. When your movie is behind the curve of Salvation, you have gone very, very wrong.

Every character in this movie bickers like they're in a cutesy comedy. It's wrong. It lowers the stakes. It gives everyone the same voice. James Cameron takes a lot of shit as a screenwriter, and while I'm the first to admit that his dialogue can be atrocious and his characterization simplified, at least he writes distinct characters and understands how they relate to one another. T2 isn't just a great film because of its breathless action and its state of the art effects that, almost 25 years removed from its release, still feel 10 times as special in anything in Genisys. It's a great movie because of its characters. The triangle at the center is truly wonderful: we see how John relates to the Terminator, we see how Sarah relates to the Terminator, we see how Sarah relates to John. All three of those relationships are distinct and interesting and make that movie what it is. In Genisys, everyone just talks to each other like smartasses and makes jokes no matter how much danger they are in. Even the love story between Sarah and Reese -- once intense and tragic and deeply felt -- consists of them being annoyed with each other and bickering. It doesn't help that Jai Courtney doesn't create a character so much as take the name of a familiar character and Emilia Clarke is like if Sarah Conner was shrunk down to a little girl. She is, to put it nicely, miscast.
But then there's Arnold Schwarzenegger, who deserves better. He's the one thing about this movie that still works. I feel bad for him, actually; he's done the best work of his long career in the years since returning to acting after his stint as Governor, but it's been in movies that aren't all that good and which few people have gone to see. He needs a hit, and returning to his best and most iconic character seems like an easy way to get some of that '90s mojo back. Unfortunately for him, he's climbing back on the Terminator train long after its derailed and is powerless to get it back on track.

And he's good in the movie. He's underused and turned into the dog who tags along with the fighting lovers -- that is, when he's not just asked to deliver long stretches of exposition -- but he's the only actor in the film who manages to create a character, and he does it without hardly ever changing his expression. I like how the movie deals with having him age, despite the fact that his outdatedness is never really a theme of the film. Again, T2 does a good job of establishing a conflict between the lumbering, heavy T800 and the quick liquidity of the T-1000 -- it's analogue versus digital. Here it's Schwarzenegger versus CGI (sometimes Schwarzenegger versus CGI Schwarzenegger, which is a horrible scene and further proof that that effect is not there yet) and it's all weightless and meaningless. He's got what might be the only good scene in the film, though, in which he reloads ammunition and Sarah discovers some proof of how he feels about her. It's touching and an honest to goodness character beat in a movie devoid of them. Too bad it's just a recycled character beat from T2, except in that film it was Sarah looking on at the T800 being a father figure to her son and now he's a father figure to her. Because this sequel is totally new and different!
Like so many bad franchise reboots of the last few years -- most recently Jurassic World -- Terminator Genisys is filled with callbacks and visual references to past Terminator movies, though only the first two because those are the only ones this sequel acknowledges. Are they there to remind us of better movies we would rather be watching? To pat us on the back for getting them? We're at the FIFTH Terminator movie. We're on board for the franchise. All it really represents is another lazy way of tapping in to the nostalgia frenzy of the current generation of movie geeks. It's like the greatest hits of the Terminator movies, only way worse.

It brings me no joy to dislike the new Terminator movie. As a lifelong and somewhat obsessive fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I wanted nothing more than to see him step back into the role in a film that justified trying to revitalize the franchise. What I got is a poorly paced, uninvolving, unexciting retread that defines itself by existing in the shadows of better films. It ends, of course, with the potential for another sequel hanging overhead -- this despite the fact that it leaves only one real question left unanswered (who sent back that first Terminator?), the answer to which truly does not matter in the least. Alas, such is the state of blockbuster filmmaking in 2015: worry about the next one, not this one. Get them coming back for more even when you give them garbage the first time. I don't know if I'm ready to declare Genisys the worst Terminator movie even though it probably is, but such gradations don't even matter. There is the first movie, the sequel and the very good FOX series Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Everything else is degrees of bad.

30 comments:

  1. I'd also put T2 3D: A Battle Across Time into the category of good Terminator films (that is when all the effects are working in the theatre) that Universal Orlando show is pretty good minus some dated references. As for Genisys I wont continue on from my post in Riske's column, odds are though this may be my low point of the summer. I really hope it doesnt take off internationally that might be the only way to finally kill this franchise.

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  2. So, I get it you didn't like the movie then? :-)

    I don't know how you can say this is worse than "Terminator: Salvation," which I thought had sunk the franchise for good and didn't even have Schwarzenegger (no, the digital cameo did not count). His presence alone guarantees that, horrendous one-liners aside, "Genisys" is at worst a return to the better, more entertaining moments from "Terminator 3." I didn't watch the "Genisys" trailer (had to walk out of previews-before-movies a dozen times to avoid it, which made me feel like a dope) so I didn't know anything going in. While the movie has some moments that I can see the trailer ruining (the whole 'is the T-800 secretly programmed to turn on Sarah?' subplot, which is frankly embarrassing) you could say the same thing about the publicity for "T2" blowing the reveal that Arnold was playing a good "Terminator" the second time around. I came to "Gensys" to see the latest summer popcorn chapter in the convoluted story of the time traveling robots from the future. And, except for the should-have-seen-it-coming whitewashing of any unpleasantness and grit from the main story (damn you, PG-13 rating!), "Genisys" gave me an entertaining good time.

    What "Genisys" reminds me of is the 2013 remake of "RoboCop," which took itself so seriously it didn't know how to have fun. Not this one, the point of messing with the continuity of the story is to have fun with the fan fiction-type ideas about how to defeat Skynet (or in this case, Skynet plus) and get our heroes into an even bigger pickle. Though its handled rather clumsily I thought that J.K. Simmons' O'Brien character, who is this movie's Dr. Silberman, was a great linkage between the two timelines the movie unfolds (and kudos to the filmmakers for not going the easy route and cutting to flashbacks from earlier in the movie so dumb people could go 'Oh, it's him!'). And I disagree that '84 Arnold looks bad. This isn't "Tron: Legacy," I was amazed at how well and believably they pulled off both this effect and the different aging stages of the T-800. And the poor Golden Gate Bridge keeps getting hammered this year at the movies ("San Andreas," the upcoming "Maze Runner" sequel, etc.). :-P

    I agree that the acting across the board (except for Arnie and J.K. Simmons) is pretty terrible. I swear that I thought for two seconds that Kyle Reese was played by Jon Favreau after he went on a killer workout, and Emilia Clarke is... no Linda Hamilton. But I got past that pretty quickly and looked at the big picture. We've gotten four "Terminator" movies starring Arnie in each of the past four decades, and the set-up for an inevitable sequel (another great workaround Schwarzenegger's age) means these not-as-good-as-Cameron's-first-two-classics sequels are here to stay. So why not enjoy them for what they are and stop judging them for what they will never be? "Genisys" has moments of fun, and at least the bad-acted heroes in it are trying to save the world instead of casually going about their business while thousands die all around them. The summer of 2013 taught me to appreciate flicks like this, which are bending over backwards to entertain me without killing a city's worth of digital civilians in the process.

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  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is confused by Jai Courtney being able to get parts. He is the worst. When I see his name in a movie it's an automatic 1 star deduction.

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  4. I feel bad for 15-year-olds. T2 was the first movie I ever saw more than once in a theater, because I was 15 and for the first time able to move around with a little bit of freedom. I can't imagine any action-loving 15-year-old today having a reaction like that to Genisys. Where T2 felt organic and lived-in, Genisys is hollow plastic and nothing more. It's a Happy Meal toy, flimsy and small but molded to resemble something you love.

    I didn't care for the joyless Salvation and thought this had to be better because it looked like it at least had a sense of fun, but it really doesn't. It's just as bad but in a different way, and that bums me out because like Patrick I love Schwarzenegger and want to see him back on top of the world. Maybe he can be a mentor figure in Magic Mike 3: Rise of the Sex Machines, at least there he'd have an actual character to play.

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    1. Would you rather see the cast of Magic Mike XXL in a Terminator movie or the cast of Genisys in Magic Mike 3?

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    2. The former. Got my fill of Jai Courtney beefcake to last me a lifetime, and the T-800 old model stripping and smiling for the ladies? No thanks. :-P

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    3. Yikes, that's a tough question. I wouldn't want to see the cast of Magic Mike waste their talents on another brainless reboot, but the empty vessels of the Genisys cast (other than Arnie) wouldn't be able to handle the charisma/presence required for a Magic Mike movie. I'd probably have to go with the Terminator movie, in hopes that the cast would be able to bring some fun. Also, Gabriel Iglesias was clearly born to play Sarah Connor.

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  5. Re: the Sarah Connor photo "Look at this photograph!""Every time I do it makes me laugh"

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  6. What a horrible, horrible film. And i love the terminator lore... but this movie had me cringing from the very first second jai courtney opened his mouth for that dumb opening monologue to the last scene with the little kid. Just awful. And emilia clarke....wow was she miscast i agree. Give me a break.

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  7. Wait. Are you telling me I should see this?

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  8. Awful, awful movie.

    Annoyingly bad. I dont watch Game of Thrones but I'm surprised how comically bad Emilia Clarke is in this. That's not even the tip of the iceberg, because she's alongside of Jai Courteney who should never be cast in anything, but she's as bad. Every single thing she says is awful. Even how she holds a weapon...Linda Hamilton must be seeing this and laughing her badass self to death. The liberties they take with the idiotic timeline to make this stupid story possible is beyond ridiculous. Soulless, joyless movie. There's an after credits scene and it's everything that's wrong with movies in 2015.

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  9. With this being the 4th of July weekend this movie will probably make a shitload and the 2 more already announced with release dates in 2017 and 2018 will most likely happen. I love it - it's great Junesploitation year 2035 material!

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  10. Am I the only one who looks at Emilia Clarke in this film and thinks "Katniss Everdeen Lite"?

    Matt Smith actually "bulked up" for his role in this movie - he's posted pics on FB. But then, he shows up wearing some pseudo-armor that could have been made to suggest muscles. So, either they shot all of his scenes for the next one while making this...and he has to look muscular at some point....or movie budgets are just paying for actor's health regiments like it's "Heaven's Gate" all over again?

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    1. Or Matt Smith was in much more of the film, and either due to bad test scores or time, the bulk of his part was cut way way down.

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    2. That was my guess. He was featured heavily in early marketing, probably before the editing was done.

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  11. You'd think, if they were trying so hard to continue on from where T2 ended, they wouldn't make all the same mistakes Terminator 3 and Salvation made. Unless these last three films share the same exec producer making the same bad story decisions film after film.

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  12. It's crazy that Jurassic 4 & Terminator 4 did the exact same thing both are soft reboots but also sequels. Both copy multiple shots & used dialogue from the prior movies. Both aren't very good movies. One is going to be the 3 largest grossing movie ever & the other will be deemed a disappointment in the US but will be huge hit overseas. All I know is get ready for more soft reboots/sequels. Star Wars is next, Ghostbusters after that, another Spider-man, 3 new Harry Porter universal films, even the new Friday The 13th is going back to the 80s...hollywood will keep pumping this garbage out & everyone will eat it up.

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    1. Between the two of them, though, I'd go with Jurassic World, any day of the week. I know the common responses that statement will receive, and that doesn't bother me. Divisiveness is very common in cinema today. I've seen Jurassic World three times now. The first time, I thought it was okay; that it was fun. The second time I watched it with the negative criticism heavy on my mind. After that, some new analysis had sprung up and I weighed both camps, then saw it again to justify my new consideration of it. And it worked for me.

      Jurassic Park is the prestige picture, and the sequels are its drive-in alternates. The Lost World: Jurassic World is still my favorite sequel. It doesn't seem like anything will change that.

      As far as the summer is concerned, Mad Max: Fury Road is my favorite summer movie. It's doubtful anything else this summer could trump that.

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    2. Actually, what I should have added was the first time I saw JW, I thought it was okay, I thought it was fun, but there was something gnawing at me about it. Then I heard the common criticisms and then reflected on it until my second viewing.

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    3. Just noticed that my auto correct went with The Lost World: Jurassic World instead of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. That gave me a nice little chuckle.

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  13. What can I say. Firstly thanks for the review. This year could be a year of let downs. First was Poltergeist now Terminator. I was quite looking forward to it too. And next Star wars. Hopefully Star wars will break the mould of rehash failures

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    1. I did forget about Jurrassic world though and Mad Max. Lots of old films being redone recently

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  14. Ok, so I'm going to see whether I'm crazy or not here. I've had something really odd happen to me with this movie and JURASSIC WORLD. I actively disliked almost everything about the movies, but I was entertained throughout. I have no idea why I was entertained, I didn't like them at all, thought almost none of the decisions made were good ones, but I "enjoyed" them. Is this a thing? Has any one else felt this way about a movie? Because it's not ironic enjoyment. I wan't laughing AT the movie. It just wasn't boring me. Basically, I'm looking for like a support group here, because these movies confused the hell out of me.

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    1. If you were entertained by them, you were entertained by them. There's no shame in that.

      In a situation like this, I always take into account something Edgar Wright once said:



      I feel compelled to write as it’s always a thrill to discover a ‘bad’ film that absolutely, thoroughly entertains. There’s an intense glee as you watch, partly because you know you will share the experience with others. But what typifies a ‘bad’ film anyway? Conventional wisdom would suggest it’s atrocious film-making, laughable writing and horrific acting. But if a film consistently entertains, can it really be bad? Is RIKI OH a spectacularly terrible film? Or does it flat out rock? How can something so ridiculously ripe, so ridiculously gory, so ridiculously entertaining be a ‘bad’ film. Is THE ROOM an inept Ed Wood spectacle for the 21st century? Quite possibly. But it is also one of the most consistently funny films of the last ten years. Where do you place SHOWGIRLS? Is it an embarrassing folly or the new BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? How do you rank Russ Meyer’s film for that matter? Some would actually put it on the so-bad-it’s-good pile. I, on the other hand, would genuinely hold it aloft as so-good-it’s-amazing. And many critics would agree. (Not least Roger Ebert) BTVOTD was on my all time top ten list for EMPIRE Magazine and not as an ironic choice. I absolutely love it. I have long been of the opinion that the only truly bad films are those that are bland, boring or offensively brainless. If I’m engaged as an audience member then I’m having a good time. I was in the theatre at the 2007 TIFF showing of MOTHER OF TEARS, with Dario Argento in attendance. I have no idea how the maestro felt about the screening as the audience reacted with gales of laughter. But, just as tellingly, they also responded with huge cheers and applause, too. When people ask me how I liked that film, I replied genuinely that it was his most entertaining in years. I cannot separate an enjoyable experience watching a film from its perceived cinematic worth. Was 2008’s RAMBO a good film? Not by conventional standards perhaps. Was it one of the most entertaining screenings I attended in 2008? You betcha. I’m going to drop the Robert Evans speak, but will stress again my thinking that there are two kinds of films; good films and dull films. I like to subscribe to Quentin Tarantino’s thinking that he has no guilty pleasures in film; if he likes it, he likes it. End of story. Thus I can happily rank RAMBO alongside HUNGER in my films of the year and feel no real need to measure their worth against each other or compartmentalize them beyond that. Much like ‘guilty pleasures’, I don’t really like to use the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’ either. I prefer to think such films are ‘party films’, one that I know I can show to friends and have a grand old time living vicariously through their peepholes. Twice I’ve shown RIKI OH at the New Beverly and half the buzz is hearing the audible reaction of newcomers, getting a kick out of their virgin experience. With that in mind, I watched a film yesterday that would be considered by many to be dreadful. But halfway through VIRGIN WITCH, I was already planning who I could watch it with next. And indeed, I’ve already seen it a second time with a friend.

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  15. They keep making John Connors that are make you want the old one back.
    First you're like "Edward Furlong is a little exhausting."
    Then whiny Nick Stahl happens and you're like "I take everything back!"
    Then you get that grunting cardboard box performance from Christian Bale and you think "Well, can't get any worse than this."
    It's like Terminator Genisys heard me and was like "Oh yeah? Think again!" and gave us Angry Chandler Bing. Can't wait to see what awfulness they have in store for us next time.

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  16. I just saw this yesterday and sadly I agree with pretty much everything you said. Especially the part about Emilia Clark as a Shetland Linda Hamilton. So weird.... During the cartoon helicopter chase I really yearned for Terminator 2 which had a REAL helicopter chase and it is spectacular. Such a shame...

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  17. Just saw it (2D, dubbed in german) and I have to admit that I was entertained a lot more than with "Salvation" - which may be not very hard to achieve.
    I had very low expectations, so that may contribute to my relatively positive reaction.
    Arnie was fine and I also liked his oneliners.He´s clearly the best part of the movie and I also liked the various stages of his age they established. I even don´t mind the 84 CGI-Arnie wich is way better than terrible CGI-Jeff Bridges in "Tron Legacy" as J.M. Vargas pointed out above.
    Emilia Clarke is miscast and I still have no clue about Jai Courtney, who is better here than in der "Divergent" films, but clearly can´t hold a candle to Michael Biehn´s performance and intensity.
    The time travel story line lost me 2 minutes into the presumably senseless explanations, but that happens everytime someone tries to explain time travel....
    Some pacing problems aside and being annoyed (as always) from too much CGI and some of the dialogue, I had a good time with this movie.
    But I´m sure I will have forgotten most of it by the end of next week and that´s the real shame considering the impact T1 and T2 had on me, when I saw them for the first time.

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  18. The movie is a lot better once you ignore all logic and physics. it also helps that the actor playing John Connor reminds me a lot of Matthew Perry aka Chandler Bing from Friends. Only then could this movie BE anymore awesome! Hello!

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  19. Patrick, I wish I shared your optimism of what blockbusters can be. I have given up on this franchise, hence i found this film entertaining. I have not given up on Bond and Star Trek, hence i agree those films are horrible.

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