Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Cinema: Terminator Genisys

Following Saturday's phenomenal screening of Conan the Barbarian, Tuesday continued Arnold week with the release of Schwarzenegger's other signature role as the killer machine from the future, The Terminator. The 5th film in the James Cameron originated series sees The Oak taking center stage after sitting out of 2009's maligned but enjoyable Salvation. The Terminator is one of my all time favorite films and it's ground breaking sequel is high on my list as well. Cameron more or less closed the story but studios love a franchise so I wasn't offended by Rise of the Machines, Salvation, TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles or the litany of comic books and video games set in the universe. I went into Genisys with hopes of a big, entertaining, sci-fi action spectacle set in The Terminator mythos. Sadly I walked out of the theater a bit disappointed.

The story is what you already know; computer defense network Skynet becomes self aware, launches nukes on humanity with the survivors being enslaved or fighting back as part of an underground resistance. Fabled leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the fight in the future post Judgement Day but Skynet sends a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill his mother Sarah. The resistance sends back protector Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) who is actually in love with Sarah and ends up siring John. In Genisys, the timeline has changed, Sarah doesn't need saving anymore and another protector Terminator has already been preparing her for the future. Things go crazy when Kyle and Sarah time jump to a possible future in an effort to stop Skynet and meet with John, who is now part man and part machine after being injected with some nano-bot style bugs that changed him at a cellular level.

If that seems a little confusing it's because Genisys simply has a lot going on, much of it with no explanation or reason. The opening scenes in the Future War and 1984 work well enough. Director Alan Taylor basically recreates key scenes from The Terminator then writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier throw in a few surprises so it's not a total retread. But once John and Sarah jump into the future, things just get not very interesting. There's chases, explosions and gun fire galore but it all unfolds in a very bland and overuse of CGI way. I will say that the fight scene between old Terminator and '84 T-800 looked pretty fantastic and kind of creepy as Arnold slammed a younger, computer rendered version of himself around. There's plenty of humor and even some heart with Arnold playing protector, Sarah stricken with sorrow that everyone in her life dies and Kyle's disbelief that John is actually a Terminator. While the flick looks shiny and expensive, it comes off cheap and visually boring at the same time. I thought Jai Courtney taking over for Michael Biehn would be the weak link but he's fine with the material provided. It's Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor that's the real problem as she looks like a teenage girl and just doesn't have much of a presence maternally or physically. Arnold is Arnold and a highlight of the film but playing a bodyguard versus an unstoppable monster doesn't provide a hugely memorable role. Jason Clarke is fine as leader and infiltrator John Connor.

The overall issue with Genisys is that it has no reason to exist beyond being a product to make money. Cameron's films already closed the story, Rise of the Machines negated that build up while Salvation missed it's opportunity of giving us a Future War movie. Arnold is the only constant here because he's Arnold so we randomly get Byun-Hung Lee taking over for Robert Patrick's T-1000, new actors as Kyle, Sarah, Miles Dyson, etc and most jarringly, some really random guys playing the punks brought to life by Bill Paxton, Brian Thompson and another guy in '84. Starting in familiar territory then jumping around into new periods just gives the film a jumbled feel with a little too much going on with plenty of questions to be asked.

While I didn't overly enjoy Terminator Genisys, I wouldn't mind giving it a second chance as years of Terminator and Judgement Day viewing has probably caused a blockage in my brain. Same thing happened with Captain America: The First Avenger where the film I was watching didn't match the film in my head for a couple of decades. When I was able to jettison those non-existent expectations, I really enjoyed Cap so hopefully the same thing happens with Genisys.

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