Monday, July 13, 2015

On Terminator Genisys

Oh, happy day! What could have possibly pulled my sorry ass out of retirement? What could possibly drag me away from classes and a minimum wage job selling tarts to confused old people and obnoxious teenagers (or alternatively obnoxious adults and confused teenagers)? 

Why it's the fifth installment of the Terminator Franchise?

Is it because it's the most awful thing this side of the curly hairs of Satan's ass-crack? 


Is is the golden egg laid by baby-jesus riding a Indominous Rex? 


Then what the hell is it?

... kinda meh, honestly. 

Most Idiotic Review

"Watching this ponderous spectacle ... I wished I wasn’t the I sent from the present to make sense of impenetrable nonsense. But then I thought about how much worse it must have been for the writers, the director, the producers and the studio executives to have created a feature film that defied their own comprehension, and rendered moot such conventional judgments as good, bad or indifferent. What could anyone have said of the finished film except that it was finished? “Terminator Genisys” plays like the worst of all outcomes." — Joe Morgenstern (The Wall Street Journal)

I hate reviews that try to get clever (I would neeeeever stoop so low) and this case of playing cutesy with the time travel is just ... painful. I also want to point out that old Joe used the word "moribund" which apparently means "at the point of death/in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigor" but god-forbid we use a description that isn't archaic you pretentious fuck.

His review as a whole is powerfully negative, and being the neurotic type I am, the more I like something, the more I want to find holes, and the more I hate something, the more I search for redeeming qualities. So considering the film was a domestic flop, what good things are there to say? 

Most Accurate Review

"All of that said, the film works far more often than it doesn’t, and while I cannot say it’s on par with the first two films, it’s the best of the last three sequels and the one closest in spirit and style to Cameron’s films. It didn’t skimp on ideas for taking a new approach, it made the story its own and built a new mythology atop the old one, and it successfully revived the story in a way allowing for a whole new examination of where things could go from here." — Mark Hughes (Forbes)

I can get behind this review, if only because I love a good underdog story (that agrees with me). One of the things that I did really enjoy about this movie was the concepts it played with. I won't say they executed them very well, but they had them, and if a film can spark my own imagination, then I'm usually a lot more forgiving from there on out. 

Genisys is, admittedly, the closest of the films to capture the flavor of Cameron's originals, but I still think it's a far cry from Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I think did a far far better job of it. But it does go in new directions.

What I Say -- Spoilers

I liked the film enough to see it twice. 

Plot — Anyone who hasn't figured out the plot must have fallen asleep during the trailer for the movie, because there it is. The whole story spoiled right out the gate. I wonder how things would have played out with a less infuriating advertising campaign. 

For the first time we see the end of the war with Skynet in the future (2027), where Jason Clarke's John Connor defeats the machines. We see the T-800 sent back in time on its mission to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 and we see Kyle Reese volunteer to go back in time and protect Sarah Connor. We also hear John Connor deliver his famous message to Sarah.

Then shit goes crazy. Connor gets attacked by a mysterious Time Lord and when Kyle Reese arrives, not only has the entire timeline changed, but he begins remembering an alternate timeline where Judgement Day never happened. In this timeline, Sarah Connor has been raised by the Guardian, a Terminator sent back with orders to protect her. She calls him 'Pops' and I still don't know how I feel about it.

Honestly, this is my favorite section of the film. There's a lot of nods to the originals, outside of shot-for-shot recreations of certain scenes, and other than Jai Courtney's performance, there's a distinct sense of returning home, at least for me. I enjoy the interplay of time travel though. So I guess I'm a freak.

Then things ... go off the rails a wee bit. They decide to travel to the future. For reasons. Stopping Judgement Day, yadda-yadda. For whatever reason Pops built a time machine. For whatever reason, he could build a time machine. So our heroes embark into 2017 to stop Judgement Day sooner (for them) rather than later, because they're now representing my generation and patience is not on our list of virtues. 

Then the next major twist. John Connor was attacked by an alternate dimension version of Skynet (played by Matt Smith), turned into a T-3000, and sent back to ensure Skynet's success. 

So, in 2017 our heroes battle John Connor and try to murder the murder-bots. Kill the badguy/save the day type of ending.

Character  — 

Arnold holds this movie together. I'll say it, I think he's a damn fine actor. He brings a lot of pathos to scenes where there shouldn't technically be any (I can use big words too, dammit!), and humor to others. And it all seems so effortless to him. Pops might be old, but he's still a scene stealer. 

Emilia Clarke ... tries. My main complaint with her performance is there are times where she seems to be trying too hard to sell herself as this character. That said, I don't think the writing did her any favors. She has a lot of moments where she comes across as ... fake. In that, she's pretending to be strong. Linda Hamilton's (and Lena Heady's too for that matter) Sarah Connor was tough as nails and vulnerable. She was a impossibly tough woman in an even tougher situation, and even when the chips were down, she was a desperate mamma-bear. This Sarah feels like she has something to prove. Maybe she does. In the context of the story, it makes some sense.

Jai Courtney can just stop. Please just stop. He said in interviews that he in no way tried to emulate or capture Michael Beihn's performance, and it shows. He feels like a smart-alecky action-hero, not a war torn survivor. It's jarring and I don't like it. He also has the emotional range of a dried cookie: dusty and disappointing. This too is in the writing however. I could never imagine the original incarnation (or even the Terminator Salvation depiction) trading barbed comments with an aged-terminator in a Grumpy-Day vs Badboy Boyfriend conflict. Also, the love he feels for Sarah never feels ... deep. He kinda just seems like he hasn't gotten laid in a while and in a post Game of Thrones world, who hasn't fantasized about the Mother of Dragons?

Jason Clarke--I'll stop here and say I like him. I hate that it was in the trailers, but I like this. John Connor is a shit. He's always kind of been a shit. So finally the movies took that to it's conclusion. They made him a shit. What I'm trying to say is, this is new. It's a fun idea. It makes ... some sense. But mostly, Jason Clarke just seems to be having too much damn fun with the role. He's the only actor who has a strong connection with whoever he's acting with onscreen, and his relationship with Kyle Reese is one of the few redeeming factors of Jai Courtney's performance. The two bounce well off each other. 

JK Simmons plays a cop who is criminally underused, and I'll skip spoilers because this is getting overly long anyways, but I personally found him a joy to watch. If ever a sequel were to materialize (long shot at this point), I demand more JK Simmons. 

Lastly, Matt Smith, also criminally underused. I don't really like the idea of having a human version of Skynet from an alternate timeline within the Terminator Multiverse ... wait, scratch that. I do like the idea, in concept. In execution, it's the basis for it's own movie, not ten minutes of this one. 

Any one of these ideas could have been sufficient (John turned Terminator, Kyle Reese landing in an alternate timeline, Sarah Connor raised by Pops, Skynet from an alternate reality), but they tried so desperately to cram them all into Genisys--suffice it to say, they were getting dangerously close to the kitchen sink.

Spectacle — There ... is? I don't know, none of the actions scenes really grabbed me. Did anyone see the initial promo photos? That pretty much sums it up.

The beginning had some fun action scenes, but there never was the sense of risk. I'm on the bandwagon here, but I blame overuse of CGI. Fury Road sees Genisys and laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs....

There is one problem the movie has and it's pretty simple, either the first two films used every trick in the book, or, in terms of action, Genisys was more concerned with emulating action-beats from the first films than having their own (but with CGI). The final moments of the conflict between Pops and John Connor are ... cool in theory, but it only achieves catharsis when the CGI takes a backseat to Arnold's acting (Jason Clarke is replaced by his CGI Terminator body by this point. 

I will say I think the soundtrack is quite nice though. I downloaded it and am very pleased. So if nothing else, you can tune out Jai Courtney's every word, Arnold delivering some really shaking Time Travel MacGuffins about Nexus Points and Alternate Timelines and so-on and so-forth, and listen to some pretty cool music. 

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