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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Movie Review: 'Terminator Genisys'

Terminator Genisys seeks a revisionist tone while slapping its hardcore fans in the face.

Review by Matt Cummings

There's a new trend in Hollywood these days: the expand-quel, either telling stories around the main plot (300: Rise of an Empire), forgetting huge chunks of its filmography (Jurassic World), or establishing their universe in an alternate reality (2009's Star Trek). The results have been less than consistent, dividing fans in an effort to pack in audiences hungry for nostalgia. And while Terminator Genisys has plenty of that, it still utterly fails to do anything new, different, or even moderately interesting.

In a dystopian future run by murderous machines, mankind is about to strike back. Led by the hero John Connor (Jason Clarke), he and friend Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) learn that their victory is short-lived, as another Terminator has been sent back in time to alter history once again. When Reese is sent back to 1984 expecting to help a fragile Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), he finds a tough war machine and her protector: the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) code-named 'Pops' who rescued her as a nine-year-old. As Connor and Reese travel forward to 2017 and the release of the OS Genisys to an unknowing world, they must battle a familiar friend who uses nanobots to reshape its seemingly indestructible Terminator physique. The results will re-write history, but will it set man and machine on the path to war once again?

To Director Alan Taylor's credit, his 1984 scenes look terrific, with a re-created Arnold looking particularly good. But everything else has a "tried before" feel, the action scenes in particular suffering under the scrutiny of its own rich cinematic history. The first two films used its R rating to great effect; here, Taylor's rote and unimaginative meanderings are PG-13, content to attract the mass audience in exchange for the visceral experience that made this series' first two films so great. Writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have structured an elaborate script that doesn't need to be so, stripping out the rules which have adhered many memorable films about time travel in favor of its own convoluted set.

The cheesy one-liners are back, all hitting with a distinctive thud, some being used over and over as if we're meant to keep laughing at their supposed brilliance. Point-to-point storytelling like this can result in something special, but here our heroes lack an emotional core while connecting those dots. Even as the countdown begins to Genisys' uploading, the action and sense of danger aren't heightened, with tons of nostalgia thrown in to keep our attention away from the truth: that more robots, confusing timelines, and more versions of Arnold actually results in less.

Say what you want about the two previous Terminator films, but at least they kept within the same universe by telling stories either leading up to or during the apocalypse and thus expanding the lore. Terminator Genisys is a hard right turn that ignores 30 years of its own history while sleeping with the worst parts of Star Trek to create Terminababble: that is wild, scientific, and meaningless exposition trying to explain this new universe. Nexus? Quantum fields? Bleh, it's all just mumbo-jumbo that confuses and betrays our understanding of how time travel in films is meant to work. There's also convenient plot devices - such as the person responsible for Pop's appearance in the first place, and Arnold's convenient 'job' while Sarah travels through time - that try to move the story along but only serve to cheapen the experience.

Clarke and Courtney have zero chemistry, making the rather cool Claire/Own relationship in Jurassic World feel downright hot. Clarke is too pretty to be tough, and Courtney's rather stolid performance proves he's incapable as a leading man. I've lamented over the years the slow cinematic death of Schwarzenegger, a once towering action figure. At 67, he looks but that, uttering stiff dialogue while his lack of a physical presence has become all-too apparent. As a team, he and Clarke perhaps fare the best, but that's not saying much. JK Simmons shows up as a cop who's been following Connor and Reese throughout his career, which might have been more interesting had it been expanded. Here, it's wedged in and serves absolutely no purpose. Jason Clarke is likeable as the hero our future needs, until he's revealed as a Terminator himself. Then, he's no better than any dull villain, along with Matt Smith who probably should have been the story's center rather than the glorified cameo he becomes.

The real Terminator here is the marketing department behind this: their decision to expose the film's reveal of Clarke as a Terminator in its trailers was simply dreadful. I'm not sure the film would have survived the onslaught of negative reviews had that not been revealed, but it's clear that the move was pure desperation.

Terminator Genisys reaffirms my belief that just because you can doesn't mean you should. Its poorly executed, half-baked plot is exactly not what the doctor ordered for a franchise that feels like it's teetering on the edge of oblivion. Unlike the epic battle it portrays in this far-flung future, I don't give this film or its ultimate prospects for survival much of a chance.

Terminator Genisys is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language and has a runtime of 126 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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