And God created Terminator Genisys

Genesis. That’ll do it. Terminator 5 would remind audiences that there was a Terminator 3 and 4. If you want to attach some kind of bullshit word to the nth instalment of your long past sell by date franchise, it might as well be Genesis. It’s big and biblical and implies new beginnings, and more importantly more sequels!

“You mean a terminator retelling of the garden of Eden?” says the over exited junior studio exec. “That could work actually! Man and woman out of time in paradise… but in danger of being cast out into the nuclear wasteland?”

“No no no!” barks the cigar chomping studio exec. “I’m talking about apps and shit. That’s how the machines  get us. That’s how they do it. Don’t call it Genesis do something smart with it like Genisys or something. I don’t know, what do I pay you people for?”

And so God created Terminator Genisys, and saw it was good. Even though it wasn’t…

Legend has it, that during a fever dream whilst making his first feature film Pirahna 2: The Spawning, director James Cameron had a nightmare about a robotic silver skeleton with glowing red eyes rising out of a fire. This would be the seed for the original Terminator movie. Here is that same nightmare, over 30 years later driving a truck.

We live in a time, in which so many of the classic movies of the 80s and 90s are being revisited through sequels posing as soft reboots. Jurassic World went back to the idea of Disneyland going very wrong and Mad Max sought to bring the road warrior back to the big screen with a fresh but delightfully old school approach to automotive destruction. Both movies have gone back to the original source material in an attempt to spin out a legitimate future for their respected franchises. Star Wars Episode VII is coming out later on this year, promising a return of Luke, Han and Leia whilst emulating the film making style of the original trilogy. Next year we have a new Ghostbusters film. We may even have two new Ghostbusters films because who doesn’t love Ghostbusters?

Terminator Genisys attempts to do the same, with Arnold Schwarzenegger back as the T800 after his 8 year turn as Governor of California.

James Cameron’s original Terminator and it’s sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day are sci-fi action masterpieces. We can sit down and have a frank and open discussion over which is the better movie of course. The first movie is a simple but immaculately paced cat and mouse chase thriller involving a bonkers 80s sci-fi plot about the remnants of humanity battling killer cyborgs in the fallout of a nuclear apocalypse. The sequel is the big budget action adventure story of how one cyborg killing machine can come to understanding the value of what it means to be human.

In an ideal world, the Terminator films would have ended there but 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out to fuel Schwarzenegger’s political career and Terminator Salvation attempted to serve as a reboot to the whole future war scenario. Unfortunately, next to James Cameron’s first two movies, the terminator sequels have been largely forgettable.

Many have had low expectations going into Terminator Genisys only to find out that it isn’t half as bad as the previous Terminator sequels. This maybe true, but I’d say it is just as instantly forgettable.

Genisys essentially begins by retelling the events leading up to the original Terminator. It is the year 2029 and the earth has been subjected to a self inflicted nuclear holocaust by Skynet. Out of the ashes, the machines have risen and sought out to exterminate the remnants of humanity. Humanity’s only hope is John Connor (Jason Clarke), who leads the human resistance in battle against the machines. On the precipice of destroying Skynet for good, Connor uncovers the machine’s masterplan, to send a terminator back through time to kill Sarah Connor thereby preventing John Connor from ever being born.

As standard Connor elects Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to go back in time to 1984 to protect his mother from the terminator knowing full well, that Reese will become romantically involved with his mother and so become his father but die in protecting her mother from the cyborg. So far so Terminator. However, as soon as Reese materialises back in the 80s he realises that he is part of a new timeline. A liquid metal terminator is after him and the Sarah Connor he was to believe was a meek waitress, is a gun toting bad ass played by the dragon lady (Emilia Clarke) from Game of Thrones.

She is joined by Arnold Schwarzenegger playing yet another older Terminator called pops. Somewhere in the film’s meandering backstory, Pops became Sarah’s surrogate father, bringing her up to speed about judgement day and her unborn son John Connor. Together they have been preparing to tackle the Terminator timeline with a little more prowess. Early on into the movie, we see Arnie’s original Terminator warp back to 1984 only for pops to take him out before he can steal any clothes.

Things get even more unnecessarily complicated and harder to explain within the film review format when Connor and Reese decide to travel forward in time to 2017 where they hope to destroy Skynet once and for all again.  This time Skynet is being lauched as an OS because I don’t know if you have noticed how we’re all obsessed with apps and tablets today? Naturally, this is how Skynet gets us. Also John Connor is sent back to meet the pair in 2017 but he’s actually a terminator. I’m not sure if that is a spoiler because it was in the trailer and to be honest I’m kind of lost in explaining it to you…

The first act of Terminator Genisys cajoles you into thinking the film may actually be interesting. The opening future war and the retread through the 1980s remixes elements of T1 and T2 in a fun kind of way.

There is a conscious effort to recreate shots from Cameron’s original movie which can feel strange at some times. Remember when Schwarzenegger’s terminator first warps in to 1984? You had the cut of a gigantic robot death machine rolling over countless human skulls in the nightmare future before cutting to present day revealing the machinery of a garbage disposal truck. Lightning begins forking everywhere as the terminator warps in, the truck driver asks “what the hell” in that distinctly grotty voice of his. In Genisys it happens exactly the same but the role of that garbage truck driver has been cast to another actor who says the same line but in slightly different manner that doesn’t feel right after so many viewings of The Terminator. His delivery is a lot less grotty sounding, you don’t feel as if this is some manual labourer working the graveyard shift in the dead of night, one of the only witnesses to this time/space phenomenon that is occurring.

Throughout the first half, they are literally remaking the Terminator in terms of shots.

Then you see the terminator materialise in. Like the first movie it is the young naked Arnold Schwarzenegger, but of course it’s all digital. Bizarrely they didn’t take the lazy option of replaying the movie, they spent all this time and money into recreating the Terminator. It’s weird! As with the original he goes on to relinquish clothes from the bus stop punks. “Nice night for a walk,” and all of that. Again the punks have been completely recast and the feeling of a missing Bill Paxton is palpable. “Fuck you asshole,” indeed. Then you have the real Arnie come in as the older terminator to fight the original terminator who is taken out of the picture fairly quickly and voila! the events of the Terminator never even happened!

The same process is applied to Kyle Reese’s transportation into 1984. There’s a new version of the homeless man who provides Reese with pants. “Hey buddy, did you just see a big bright light”? There is the whole “what yeeear?” line before the liquid metal terminator from T2 turns up inexplicably to pursue Reese through the same department store from the first film. It all feels weird, but perhaps it couldn’t play out any other way.

The movie truly begins to slump, once the whole plot to travel into 2017 takes root of course. First of all you have to come to grips with the concept that Pops terminator and Sarah Connor have built a working time machine in 1984 and then you have to get your head around the new timelines they are trying to develop. It’s a highly talky scene about alternative timelines and it’s enough to send the audience cross eyed. A terminator film shouldn’t be this complicated. It’s worse than the time travelling shenanigans of Matt Smith era Doctor Who.

Matt Smith, as luck would have it, is also in Terminator Genisys.

Matthew Smith

The whole point of moving the plot towards 2017 is to make the franchise more relevant to modern audiences. Cold war nuclear war doesn’t cut it anymore, the secret collection of all data surrounding your digital life on the other hand, is a smart place to reinvent Terminator’s techo terror. It also allows Arnie to come back as an older terminator. At the grand old age of 67, the terminator must fit in with the actor’s age and adopt a more paternal role as the terminator. We saw this in T2, when he returns as the good guy to protect John Connor. In Genisys, Arnie comes across as a protective father who is quick to embarrass his adopted daughter through his robotic delivery. He constantly asks Sarah Connor if she has successfully mated with Reese yet.

Schwarzenegger is enjoyable in the role, and is the main draw for the entire movie. A recurring joke of his Terminator trying to smile to better intergrate with society is funny. However, the terminator’s growth into understanding the nuances of human behaviour was best handled in T2. It felt organic and relevant to the plot. It may have been cheesy but it worked. It was simultaneously sad and badass when he desceneded into the molten lava with a raised thumb.

As with Terminator 3, Arnie is far more deadpan in his dialogue. He’s really nailed the whole ‘act like a machine shtick’ throughout his 4 terminator movies. Sometimes his commitment feels too strong, as if he’s on autopilot. There is no real levity or charm in his performance, at least the kind of which T2 had in abundance. Schwarzenegger has been a great physical actor, both in terms of action and… comedy, but with Genisys – it’s a fine line between playing a convincing robot and then just speaking in a monotone the whole time.

Elsewhere, the rest of the cast is standard. Emilia Clarke channels her inner Daenerys into a fiesty version punk rock version of Sarah Connor. Her casting feels like a no-brainer, but the fact is – she’s nowhere near as good as Linda Hamilton. I kept remembering how her version of Connor practically became the terminator in T2. The way she strided over the lawn to kill Miles Dyson was terrifying, more so than Arnie’s original bad guy terminator. The role of Sarah Connor in Genisys just doesn’t have the same edge.

But she does like the Ramones. What? No mum, I will not clean my room!

Similarly Jai Courtney falls flat as Kyle Reese and cannot hold a candle to Michael Biehn from the original movie. Biehn had a broodiness, a certain wild animalistic nature. You believed his character had spent his life scurrying around in the dirt of the nuclear apocalypse enacting guerilla warfare against the machines. You felt how the future had a tortuous effect on his character and you respected how he makes the ultimate sacrifice to go back in time and protect Sarah Connor against a superior foe. Jai Courtney by comparison is just a generic well developed manly man. In terms of physicality he looks more like a terminator than Schwarzenegger sometimes! There is no real substance there, none of the angst or quiet sensitivity that Beihn had. I can’t help but feel Anton Yeltchin did a better job as Reese in Terminator Salvation.

Inevitably Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese must fall in love, because without the relationship between the two, there is no John Connor to save humanity post judgement day. By this stage of course, the timeline has gotten so convoluted you’re unsure what is actually happening and what is necessary to the plot.

I could go on. Jason Clarke is a dependable actor, he’s been solid in Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes but the script fails him once it is established that he has been turned into a terminator. JK Simmons is also in the movie in a smaller and vaguely more comedic role which feels a little too soon after his tour de force in Whiplash. Matt Smith is also in this movie as something of a pivotal character, I’m not too sure. Kinsey from Mad Men is also in this movie!

Literally what are all these people doing in this movie! Was being in Terminator 5 such an attractive proposition after Terminator 3 and 4?

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

The first two Terminator films have always carried a certain seal of quality in terms of action. You think back to the police station shoot out in the original movie, or the various chase sequences in T2. All practical effects performed with a well oiled stunt team. Indeed, I always laugh at that one slow motion shot of Arnie jumping his bike into the LA storm drain in T2, because it is quite obviously a stunt man dressed in the black sunglasses rather than Schwarzenegger himself.

Genisys, has a lot of action in it. At one point they flip a yellow school bus on the Golden Gate Bridge, it is basically the same stunt from The Dark Knight, when the Bat Pod flips Joker’s truck. The majority of action sequences are also completely digitally rendered.

One minor action sequence involves the party escaping from a skyscraper on a helicopter. The craft falls sideways off the roof and plummets down only to correct itself and fly upwards just before it hits the ground. It is all CG of course, perhaps the only way the film makers could orchestrate this kind of shot, but there is no sense of tangibility or drama in the stunt. You’re not there in the moment with the characters in the falling helicopter. The first two terminator had that element of tangibility, the action looked real, it had drama and a high risk of danger. Nothing is really that way in Terminator Genisys though.

Another good year for the bridge.

In the end, all through Genisys, you are reminded of how much better the writing, drama and action was handled by James Cameron in the first two Terminator films. Genisys just cannot compare, it can only pretend, by remixing their best elements and concepts. In some ways it just feels cheap. Coupled with a needlessly complicated time travel plot ravaged with gaping plot holes and gaps in logic, it’s hard to recommend Genisys to even the most ardent Terminator fan.

It all feels like needlessly complicated fan fiction that somebody cobbled together in some forum in the 90s, the kind of domain with repeating low res background images and lots of small flashing animated gifs. In a previous blog post, I talked about how Jurassic World was similary an elaborate piece of fan fiction, but at the same time the movie had it’s heart in the right place which is what won me over. Genisys is just too convoluted for it’s own good.

I almost wish the US would change it’s constitution, so that Schwarzenegger would be allowed to run for president. At least he wouldn’t be making any more Terminator films.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *