Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Terminator: Genisys

It's been a few years since we've had a Terminator movie, and a heck of a lot of years since we've had a good Terminator movie. I contemplated doing a FlashBack Friday series in anticipation of Terminator: Genisys (given that it was on my list of most anticipated films for this year), but with a busy 4th of July week and a slew of theatrical releases I wanted to cover during that time, I knew I wasn't going to be able to pull it off. After seeing this movie, however, I kind of wish I had. It's very self-referential and plays on story beats from the previous films (at least the first two) in a way that will surely work best for those familiar with those movies. With pretty poor word-of-mouth, and some incredibly questionable marketing choices, I went into my showing of Terminator: Genisys with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Kyle Reese would have died at a young age were it not for John Connors, the hero of the resistance against the robotic apocalypse initiated by Skynet. It's been thirty years since Judgement Day, and the humans are finally on the verge of defeating the machines. All they have to do is invade a secret and heavily-guarded complex that houses a time-travelling device. Knowing that Skynet is about to fall, the machines make one last attempt at self-preservation by sending back a Terminator to 1984 to kill the mother of John Connor before he can be born. Already knowing the details of the machine's plan, John sends back Kyle to protect his mother. However, when he arrives in 1984, Kyle finds Sarah Connor much more self-reliant than he was anticipating. Thanks to her companionship with a friendly Terminator (who was sent even further into her past to protect her from another attempt on her life), she has been preparing for Kyle's arrival. She informs him that his mission isn't to protect Sarah Connor anymore... it's to stop Judgement Day from happening at all.

One thing this movie does pretty well is bring people unfamiliar with the series up to speed on what's going on in the Terminator universe. Without relying too much on fan-favorite moments to engender good will, they also satisfy the continuity snags that going even further back into time would create. Though there's a lot of hate out there for this film, I felt like the opening act was actually pretty well done. There are nice call-backs to Terminator 2, including a brief encounter with a T-1000 made of liquid metal that causes some problems for the disoriented Kyle Reese. If you've seen any of the trailers, you also know that there's an altercation between young-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a middle-aged Arnold. The CGI trickery involved to recreate the T-800 from the 1984 film is pretty staggering at times, and it looks almost flawless when the computer Arnold is standing still. It isn't quite a seamless during the fight or when he's speaking, but overall it's a very convincing effect.

Unfortunately, that's where the really good part of this film ends and the rote, middling portion of the film begins. There was so much promise in the opening act, with a burgeoning love story, the complications of having another T-1000 on the loose, and the character changes to Sarah Connor from her portrayal in The Terminator, that it's a little disappointing when it becomes a less inventive version of the first two films' climaxes. Some of the time-travel implications are still interesting, but they teeter on convoluted at times, and the action scenes just aren't filmed excitedly enough to really hold my attention through the weaker parts. Director Alan Taylor had some of the same problems here as he did in Thor: The Dark World (which looks worse and worse in retrospect), with too many close-up action scenes to really give a cinematic adrenaline rush that we all hope for in a summer blockbuster.

Some of the performances were pretty good, and I actually thought that Arnold did probably the best job of the entire cast. His robotic line readings are perfect for this character, and with three previous films under his belt, I think he really wears this part like a comfortable coat. Jason Clarke was the second best, giving us different aspects and angles to John Connor that we've never seen before. I could buy people following him into battle, but he also made his friendship with Kyle Reese more believable than it would have otherwise been. His character goes in a few places I wasn't crazy about (a surprise that would be sooo much better if it wasn't spoiled in the trailers and posters), but he still gave the part more-or-less what it needed. A close third-place is Emilia Clarke (no relation), who is not only incredibly attractive, but she also does a pretty good reinterpretation of Sarah Connors. She sells the toughness of the character as well as the vulnerability of someone who's grown up knowing of a destiny she isn't sure she can fulfill. Bringing up the rear is Jai Courtney, who I wasn't crazy about in Divergent, and the same holds true here. He's somewhat likable at the beginning, but by the end of the film I really found myself wishing the part had been recast. His wooden, emotionless line readings just undermined every relationship Kyle Reese was supposed to have, and were it not for his co-stars it would have been a true detriment to the movie. Hopefully he'll do better in Suicide Squad when he isn't having to affect an American accent.

To round out my thoughts, I didn't dislike this movie like I was afraid I would. It may not be a very good movie, but it's entertaining enough to see if you're already a fan of the franchise. So far the box office hasn't been strong enough to warrant a sequel, but if they end up making another one that picks up where this left off (as long as there was a different director), I think I'd probably buy a ticket to see it. Lower your expectations a little and Terminator: Genisys is a fairly fun action film with a little bit of sci-fi intrigue for those who like that sort of thing. Doesn't hold a candle to T1 or T2, but it's a diverting popcorn flick that doesn't offend your intelligence (ala Transformers). I give it two and a half stars.

TERMINATOR: GENISYS is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language

** What did you think of Terminator: Genisys? Was it a disappointment, or were you pleasantly surprised? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to like my Facebook page! **