July 6, 2015

Movie Review: Terminator - Genisys

The Terminator was a franchise that once held a world of promise, and before that it was a bad ass science fiction/action film that took cues from the horror realm to make an involving and terrifying film that thrilled you at the same time it scared the wits out of you. Seriously, that first film was a legitimate horror movie. The sequel arrived seven years later and delivered a hugely satisfying action film that expanded the universe while remaining true to the toy box opened in the first. Now, thirty-one years after that first film, the Terminator is back and ready to thrill audiences once again. Sadly, it is not to be.

Terminator: Genisys, the fifth film in the franchise, is an utter bore. The script is completely devoid of anything interesting, the cast is partially good and partially terrible, and the story introduces a score of new elements that seem out of place and makes choices that make absolutely no sense. It feels a lot like a movie that was made by a committee of suits who have no idea what good storytelling is. They all just sat around a table throwing out ideas that had no relation to each other, while just being a slight tweak on what we already knew. At the end of the day, they gave each other a pat on the back for a good days work, passing all of the random notes off to the screenwriter and told they had to make it work.

I honestly wanted to like this movie. It was great to see Arnold back in the series after missing out on Salvation. It is true, the first trailer looked awful, but the second had an interesting reveal that made me legitimately curious about how they were going to do that (although, I think it would have been better had it happened in the movie and not a trailer). But, upon seeing the movie, it played on nostalgia, tweaking what we know from the first two movies and twisting it a little bit. We get multiple timelines, multiple time jumps, a few different terminators, and it all just becomes a mess.

One of the things that work so well in the first two classics (yes, classics) is the simplicity of execution while still containing a good deal of complexity. They were stories that wrapped themselves up in a fashion that works, that explains what needs to be explained while retaining an openness for future stories. Genisys does none of that, it lets its threads get all tangled up and leaves story threads hanging, requiring a future movie to make sense of it. It terribly inelegant and frustrating film making.

Terminator: Genisys takes the single timeline with an adjustable future approach and introduces a multiverse with multiple futures, changing pasts, and interchangeable memories with convenient messages for the “present.” We also have multiple time jumps, and if you think about why they are doing one and do not question why they need to do it, you may like this movie.

Everything about this is a very ho-hum. Dull and dreary, that is the name of the game, with periodic attempts to liven things up with a forced joke or quip or one-liner. It is easy to get suckered in by the nostalgic factor early on. Hey! Look, it's the young Arnold Terminator arriving in 1984, and hey, look! Old Arnold Terminator is waiting for him! It is the same thing with Reese (this time played by the anti-charismatic Jai Courtney), watch him steal clothes from the shop and get confused when he is rescued by Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke). It doesn't get any better from there.

There is a severe lack of chemistry among the cast. John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese's friendship is not good, there is nothing between Sarah and Kyle, and Sarah's relationship with the old Arnie Terminator is terrible. Their idea of character development is giving the Terminator a pet name. The more I think about this, the more I do not like it.

For a franchise that had so much potential, they are good at squandering it. The problem that this, and a lot of franchise films have, is a lack of consistent creative vision or, at the very least, a creative vision with each film. Take the Alien franchise, for example, while not every film is a masterpiece, they have a certain consistency, and each film has a creative vision at the outset. Another example would be the Lord of the Rings films, the same creative team was involved with the entire series keeping a high level of consistency. All right, that may not be the best example, but you know what I am getting at. The Spider-Man trilogy had it going in the right direction until the suits messed with the third one. The Terminator franchise lost it after Cameron left following the second one. The series has been adrift at sea ever since.

To wrap this up, Terminator: Genisys is not a good movie. It is sloppy, inelegant and leaves much unexplained (not in a good way). I like how the earlier entries had a consistency within the film based on a changed future (each time a result of the preceding film's events), this one decides to mix everything up in a single bowl, outcome be damned. It was nice seeing Arnold back in the role, but I just wish it had been a better movie and not one that gets worse the further into the rearview it gets.

Too much sleight of hand nostalgia and plotting by boardroom committee and not enough character and focused storytelling. There was potential with some of the ideas they had, but they blew it.

Not Recommended. (extra half star for Arnold and JK Simmons)

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