Terminator Genisys Review – You Can Never Go Back, But You Sure Can Always Callback. Theoretically…

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The Terminator, as a franchise, has always been near and dear to my heart. Well, the first two movies anyways. Watching T2 is one of my earliest “falling in love” with a movie memories. I was only six when it came out in theaters, but’s it’s impact on me, to be hyperbolic, was profound.I can remember relentlessly begging my parents to rent and re-rent the movie to such an absurd degree they thought I had a problem, that I was too obsessive about it. For one reason or another they would usually acquiesce. Probably to stave off my screeching and crying, honestly. You see, folks, if you want something from someone, just look at them dead in the eyes and start tearing up. Hey, don’t look at me like that. FACT: Most people aren’t robots.

It’s been a tough go of it, being a fan of this series, and maybe the fact that it became a “series/franchise” is part of the problem. Hell, even T2 wasn’t exactly necessary, and makes an already convoluted story all the more… convoluted. But such is the nature of time travel stories. Even the good ones, movies like Looper and 12 Monkeys have to ask us to hand wave away a lot(Looper even goes so far as to have a line of dialogue about it.). You kind of just have to get a certain amount of logic go, because there will always paradoxes, and the very definition of the word “paradox” can be summed up by another word, “illogical”. Sure, these concepts have their own truth, if you will, but only in parameters that it sets for itself. You can’t really bring “the real world” into the conversation. Try as they may, these stories can never reconcile their innate nature.

We never needed sequels to the original, The Terminator, but we got them. So it’s best to let that go, and just accept that they exist; put aside you’re seething hatred and preconceptions if you choose to engage the material. Remember, you don’t have to watch these movies. To quote Sarah Connor, “Our fate is what we make it.” and all that stuff. Listen, I say this as a person who understands why people get up in arms, and I have definitely railed against the notion of continuing the series, but I’m just too curious, I guess. Who knows, maybe even one of them will be good. Wouldn’t that be a great surprise? If your preconceived notions are hanging out on the bottom floor of “Expectation Skyscraper,” there’s only one way left to go. Unless there’s a basement… Okay, okay, bad analogy!

Moving on….

I didn’t really have many thoughts about Terminator Genisys before going to see it this morning, besides that the trailers seemed to have spoiled the whole movie, I guess, but beyond that, not much. I thought the time-hopping concept had potential. It’s a way of wiping the slate clean without totally ignoring the rest of the movies. It’s pretty much the same approach that was taken with the Star Trek reboot, and allows for another set of sequels with characters we’re already familiar with. It’s a potentially interesting approach, and frees creators from what came before. I’m generally okay with it. I mean, yeah, it’s dumb, but it is what it is.

This is supposed to be the launch of a new trilogy, in fact, the second attempt at doing this. Terminator Salvation tried to do the same thing. I think one of the reasons the movie failed, just one of the the reason mind you, was that things were too unfamiliar for a lot of people; too disconnected from what we had seen before. The failure of that “potential franchise starter” is probably a good indicator as to why this new “potential franchise starter” went the direction it did.

Familiarity. At the end of the day, that’s what TG wants to evoke inside of you. It does everything it can to remind you of the first movie, and it really only becomes it’s own thing about halfway through. It’s kind of a remix of elements from the first two films. You got liquid terminators, bumbling cops, nude time travelers, vehicular chase scenes, exposed terminator hands, liquid terminator blade hands, more hands…. You get the point. It’s kind of like fan-fiction writ large, but, to be fair, isn’t anything done in these movies that doesn’t involve James Cameron fan-fiction? Actually, I’m not even certain that Cameron would be able to do anything other than something similar to fan-fiction himself(Hark! A paradox!)! He would probably be more concerned with some fucking 3D, HD, 4K, cinema changing Go-Pro than telling a good story.

The “fan-fiction” stuff is really only problematic when it delves into things like showing us conversations that set up scenes from the other movies. Do we really need to be shown what good buddies Kyle Reese and John Connor are(It’s all actually pretty homoerotic, which isn’t a problem, but the idea that these guys look like they are just a “Jon, I love you!” away from hooking up, definitely produces some unintentional laughter, in context to the film that was made. From me, at least. I’m kinda weird though.)? No, we don’t, and whenever the movie engages in unnecessary character development it plays like boring exposition. I understand that there was probably a concern towards newcomers, the teenage sect and the like, but if that was the case they don’t really go far enough. I can’t imagine some of the basic concepts of the universe this film takes place in making sense without having at least some knowledge of the older films. It’s really only a problem in the first half, though. It just felt awkward to me, but once Reese goes back in time the movie starts hurtling forward at break neck speed.

The movie has some real legs, and other than the first 30 minutes or so, I can’t say that I was really ever board. Even though there’s a lot of exposition dumping going on, it’s always done while the characters are on the move, save one scene in the middle. It’s similar to how The Terminator handled all of it’s sci-fi jargon. Like Reese pretty much laying out the whole situation to Sarah, while they are escaping a parking garage. It’s a smart approach, in my opinion, because it not only keeps the action moving, but it also helps brush over some of that paradox stuff I was talking about before.

In a sense, this is a type of “chase movie,” as the characters are basically running from set piece to set piece, all of which are mostly decent. I mean, I was never blown away by anything that happens, but that has more to do with the full on CGI nature of the majority of the action scenes. The weightlessness of everything, the impossible physics, the rag doll like nature of the CGI characters, are just distracting, to be honest. Especially coming off of watching something like Mad Max: Fury Road. Yeah, even in that movie, intellectually, you know they’re going to persevere, but what makes it thrilling is the practical nature of what you’re watching. The action is tangible, and it creates stakes just by being real. It’s almost subconscious, we feel the danger because we can imagine what it would be like to do that stuff. It would be fucking terrifying! The action in scenes in TG made me feel like I was watching a videogame. And that’s the real problem with them, it’s the whole “watching a videogame” part. Sure, some games are a really good watch, The Last of Us comes to mind, but in this instance Call of Duty would be an apt comparison, which is reaaaallllllyyyy boring to watch people play.

All of the performances in the film are perfectly serviceable, the stand out being Arnold. He slips back into his T2  characterization, and his performance feels like a natural expansion of that character. He has a little more personality this go around, which actually makes some sense. If you remember from T2, he has a learning computer, and what are emotional responses other than learned. Feelings are innate, but reacting to those feelings are not. The more you know, you know?

The other familiar characters – Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, and John Connor – are pretty much entirely new interpretations, but considering all the new time travel business, it doesn’t feel too out of place. The actors’ portrayals are more of a character facsimile than full on impersonation. There’s a few shades of the characters you know, which is most obvious whenever the movie makes a callback to the other films, but it’s all pretty surface level. For all intents and purposes, they are completely new characters. Again, it’s a lot like Star Trek ’09 in that way. Although, I would say that movie does a better job of “connecting” the different interpretations in a more sensible way.

A lot of the character development seems unearned, and leaves the character journeys feeling pretty shallow. It’s weird, even though these are ostensibly different characters, the movie relies on your knowledge of them from the series to fill in some gaps.

It’s really not all that bad, though. Hell, I’d even go so far as to say there is some really “nice” moments in the film. Those moments are more script than performance, but everyone is generally fine. Having said that, there is some awkward humor in there. Like, Terminator 3 levels of awkward, which is also script and not performance, so there’s that. Also, the reports of Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke existing as “charisma vacuums” has been completely blown out of proportion. Yeah, no awards are gonna be given out, but, at the end of the day, it’s a Terminator movie.

TG really does feel like a pilot for a series. Yes, it does have a conclusion, of sorts, as it does wrap up the immediate story that’s being told, but there is a lot left hanging once the credits roll. It even has one of those Marvel patented after the credits stinger, to remind you that this is supposed to be a franchise, god dammit!

I was a little let down by the plot. It’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s a little too rote, in my opinion, especially given the fact that the story deals with alternate timelines and time travel. I was really hoping it would go off the rails with that stuff, and really go for broke, but it’s pretty straight forward, honestly. In a way, that’s in-line with the rest of the series, as these flicks aren’t really known for their complexity. That’s just me, though, as I’m one who is of the opinion that if you’re going to be stupid, be the most stupid, because that could, at the very least, produce something that is so incredulous it actually might be surprising. What can I say, I enjoy incredulity.

Also, just as a side note, the movie kind of dates itself in weird ways. There’s some awkward dialogue, and the term “killer app”(HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Get it?! Do you get it!? Why aren’t you laughing? Whatever, snob!) in regard to the program Genisys. I don’t know, it just stuck out like a sore thumb to me.

The biggest disappointment was what the trailer did. It pretty much gives the whole movie away, and robs the movie of anything that could be conceived as a twist or a surprise. It was a really weird move that definitely hurt my viewing experience. I was hoping that there was going to be more to it all, considering what they let loose in the in the marketing, but there wasn’t. I’m assuming the movie wasn’t tracking well that led to them making that marketing decision. Either way, it’s silly and contrived, but at least I might have gotten a laugh out of it.

This movie is getting really shit on, a lot of critics focusing on the “fan-fiction” of it all, which kind of drives me crazy. A lot of the same folks that have heaped praise all over Jurassic World, which, in my opinion, is actual terrible fan-fiction(At least TG adheres to it’s own logic. However dumb it may be.), are going out of their way to drag this flick through the mud. No, it’s not great, but it’s far from terrible. I’d say it’s the third best Terminator flick.

Terminator Genisys isn’t as bad as you’ve heard, but it isn’t really all that great either. Your enjoyment is definitely going to be predicated on where your expectations are at. Mine were pretty low, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It adheres to it’s own logic, has some nice moments, and moves so fast from action scene to action scene that it serves as a decent summer movie distraction. If you find yourself really bored and have nothing better to do, I’d say give it a go. Like I said, it ain’t Shakespeare, but I can tell you this: It’s better than Jurassic World. Yeah, a dismally low bar, but, hey, it’s the true, true!

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