“Terminator Genisys” is the cinematic equivalent of a bad cover band

Is it possible to feel absolutely nothing during a movie? Movies are designed to make you feel things by their very nature. You are supposed to laugh. You are supposed to cry. You are supposed to be scared. You are supposed to be astonished. Even terrible movies like Miami Connection make you feel SOMETHING.

(In this particular scene, you are meant to feel embarrassment.)

Terminator Genisys may be the first movie of the year (and maybe since the last GI:JOE flick) in which I felt nothing. I just started at the screen, throwing the occasional sarcastic comment or joke to my friend. There was never a point that I actually was invested in anything going on. It’s almost impressive.

Sure, there were parts that made me mad (more on that later) but for large stretches of its over 2-hour run time, I felt empty during Terminator Genisys. There were certainly moments where the movie TOLD me to feel things but to no avail.

Let me preface by saying that I don’t particularly like to bad mouth movies. At least in the written form. I never want to come off as a bully or mean spirited. BUT given that my opinion matters very little to anyone involved in this particular production so that alleviates some of the guilt I feel. Just know that I think just about everyone involved in this is talented. It’s just a shame that all of their hard work turned out a mediocre product.

 

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The plot:

“When John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline. Now, Sgt. Reese finds himself in a new and unfamiliar version of the past, where he is faced with unlikely allies, including the Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger), dangerous new enemies, and an unexpected new mission: To reset the future…” – IMDb.com

The review:

I am a massive fan of the first two movies. The first film is a masterpiece, on just about every single level. It expresses complex ideas and exciting set pieces with minimal budget and minimal story. The second did what all good sequels do and expanded on the first by bringing new elements to the table (I’d even go so far as to say it is different genre of movie as well) while staying true to the universe established beforehand. It’s a lot more cheesy and schmaltzy than the first film, but I believe that was writer/director James Cameron’s intention. He wanted to make a movie that appealed to mass audiences while not talking down to them and it succeeded. It also wraps up the series in a nice little bow. As Sarah Conner concludes, “The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” I don’t want to go into this topic too much (as I could rant about it for an embarrassingly long period) but it’s because of this ending that I find each Terminator sequel since T2 more and more infuriating. They posit the idea that Judgement Day is inevitable. Remember the whole notion of “the future is unwritten?” Well, fuck that because there is money to be made! I know the future is fucked, but I rather like ending on a somewhat hopeful note. None of the sequels after T2 provide that.

I can tell the filmmakers behind Genisys are at least fans of these movies (both Rise of the Machines and Salvation are completely ignored here) as the amount of detail paid to recreating shots from the first Terminator film is just about the only truly impressive thing about this turd. The shots of a young Arnold brought back through the magic of CGI are actually kind of mind-blowing. Unfortunately everything just feels off. As I said in the title, watching this movie is like listening to a cover band. You know the songs, but they doesn’t sound right. Someone is trying desperately to recapture the magic someone else already bottled. It’s by no means an impossible task to accomplish but it certainly isn’t easy either. James Cameron himself has done it before, but Alan Taylor  is no James Cameron.

I sort of appreciated at least the minor attempt at shaking things up. The writers/studio opted for the same approach J.J. Abrams and company took in rebooting/restarting the Star Trek films. When in doubt, alternate time lines! That way you can cast young, sexy people as well as repeat…er…I mean “re- imagine” classic moments from earlier films without pissing any fans of the original off. It’s fool-proof, right?

Credit to Abrams and co, they at least did a pretty competent job at rebooting Star Trek by at least making an entertaining movie. Sure, they did away with the intergalactic diplomacy and pursuit of science in favor of bombastic, high-flying, super-shooting space antics but you aren’t going to get a slow, nuanced Star Trek movie these days. Also, they didn’t tap the well too much in the first film… before they ultimately did that in Into Darkness. Urgh…

Not only does Genisys follow the sins of Into Darkness, it fucking reinvents the game of simply stealing elements from its own mythos. (I have a big, overriding fear that Neil Blomkamp is going to do something similar when he “re-imagines” the Alien franchise in the near future.)

Similar to Jurassic World, this entire movie feels like a big budget fan film. Unlike Jurassic World however, Genisys feels as if it was made by people that lacked the basic understanding of what makes the good movies work. Instead it fits right in line with the latter two sequels that lack any sort of charm or memorability that made the first two iconic. At least I felt anger during those two. I was just apathetic during this. Sure, Jurassic World mined our good will of the first movie but at least new elements were introduced. Of all the summer reboots however Mad Max:Fury Road still remains supreme if only for the sheer fact that George Miller (the creator of the franchise) stepped back into the directing chair.

It’s gotten to the point where the series is cannibalizing itself. The two major emotional beats are directly lifted from the first two films.

1) It attempts to make us care about the paternal relationship between Sarah Conner and “Pops” much like T2  did with John Conner and the T-800 and fails. There was more emotion in the single thumb up the T-800 gives to John as his dropped into the lava than the entirety of this movie.

2)The romance between Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner which was a major plot point in the first film is brought back….and fails. They even posit a somewhat interesting idea (that doesn’t land or is ever brought up again) about Kyle and Sarah only getting together because they have to. Now that John Conner is evil, (not a spoiler as it was revealed in the fucking trailer) do they even need to be together? Well they end up together so this movie went ahead and dropped the only remotely interesting idea it had.

Yet another issue arises when the movie takes the Prometheus  method to presenting questions and leaving the answers for potential sequels. For example: we never learn who sent back Pops. It’s brought up, but quickly abandoned. That’s a pretty big plot point that is simply dropped in order to bait for a sequel. In Guardians of the Galaxy, we don’t learn who Peter Quill’s father is. It’s simply set up and left to be resolved for a later movie. That works because Peter’s heritage isn’t a major factor in the movie. I wasn’t left feeling unsatisfied because that plot point was a smaller part of a bigger picture.

That’s one of the many egregious plot holes that litter this movie that I only take issue with because they keep going back to them. Apparently Skynet just exists outside of time now? Which makes any sort of tension impossible. (A countdown to when Skynet is activated is presented but quickly done away with as it is revealed that the clock can randomly jump ahead in time as the program is evolving faster? I don’t really remember as I had completely checked out by this point.) As long as their is money to be made, Skynet will never die.

Here’s my pitch: send a Terminator back really far. Like the Wild West or the American Revolution to kill a great, great ancestor of John Conner. Then you at least of have the spin of a technology disconnect. Sure, it’s fucking stupid but it at least seems somewhat entertaining in my head.

Normally I don’t let time travel plot holes spoil the experience as long as the movie has a heart. I love movies like Back to the Future and Looper  but they are just as guilty of manipulating the plot to fit certain cinematic troupes. Looper actually has a pretty ingenious simple scene that addresses this:

Genysis does the exact opposite. ENTIRE FUCKING SCENES are dedicated to explaining what is happening in terms of the time-line. It’s needlessly complicated for no reason whatsoever as it opens to floodgates to more nitpicking and confusion. Terminator NEED to be simple, not fucking physics lessons. Otherwise you have a movie that is the equivalent of a man opening his chest and telling you where to stick the knife. I don’t like to nitpick, but when you are openly challenging me to, I have no choice!

The cast is almost uniformly bad with some exceptions just being wasted. Emilia Clarke, who is normally killing it on a weekly basis as the Mother of Dragons over at Game of Thrones, is just terrible and bland as Sarah Conner here. It’s not even a matter of living up to Linda Hamilton. (Which I doubt anyone would ever be able to realistically.) She’s just wrong for this part and it simply reeks as stunt casting. Coincidentally Clarke’s GoT co-star Lena Headey did a much better job as Conner in the short lived TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.

Move over, Mother of Dragons.

Move over, Mother of Dragons.

 In the original film, Sarah Conner is a scared, helpless woman that only narrowly defeats the Terminator. In the second, she becomes a badass of the highest caliber. It’s one of my favorite character arcs in all of cinema. Clarke comes off as a whiny teenager, not the baddass she is purported to be. And it is such a shame given the level acting I know she is able to bring given past examples.

And Jai Courtney. My non-existant god, where do I begin with Jai Courtney?

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Nothing against the guy personally, but he has been the utter definition of white bread in the past few movies I’ve seen him in. He just may be the next Sam Worthington in that he gets all these high level parts but is completely forgettable in them. Here, he brings next to 0 charisma or memorability to the rebooted Kyle Reese. In the original film, Kyle Reese is not the super buff super solider that he is presented as here. He is desperate, skinny and ultimately ill-equipped to take on the killing machine that he must protect Sarah from. Jai Courtney gives us nothing even close to that. There is no tension regarding whether he will fail or not. He was actually pretty good in Jack Reacher so here’s hoping he finds some sort of niche or part that plays to his strengths because the good-looking hero isn’t going to get him much further.

Recent Oscar winner JK Simmons also shows up for a thankless role that provides the movie with a smidgen of spark if only for a few minutes.

Can I also complain about how the ‘Cops’ theme is played? Because the fucking ‘Cops’ theme gets played in a movie made in 2015.

I hardly ever do this but I also want to stretch out some of my criticism to the marketing department on this movie. I don’t know if it was ultimately them or the studio who elected to include all of the major twists in the film in the trailers. Who ever did it dropped the ball as it eliminated any sort of tension this movie was trying to build. (Maybe it was a warning for how bad the movie is.) It represents a larger problem I have with general movie marketing these days in general. I completely understand the need to show off the most catchy imagery in order to get asses in the seats, but I (and a believe a majority of people so I doubt this notion is controversial) prefer to be teased. I don’t want to go into a movie knowing the twists. I go in for the ride. Take this teaser for Spectre:

I get the gist of the story, but I am intrigued enough in that I want more. A trailer needs to leave you wanting more, not giving you everything.

I am in a rare position in which I have next to no positive things to say about this movie. Schwarzengger was easily the best part of the movie. (Isn’t saying much given he is playing an emotionless machine.) He is and never has been a great actor, but he has a charm and charisma that has carried him through a pretty impressive career. He is utterly watchable in just about everything I’ve seen him in and the same goes for this. The downside is that a great portion of his dialogue are the mandatory exposition dumps.

The action pieces were serviceable as were the visual effects but they were ultimately at the service of nothing. It all amounts to white noise when I don’t fucking feel anything about what’s going on in front of me. This movie is more soulless than the goddamn Terminator!

I really, really, REALLY want this series to die or at the very least bring something different to the table. Unless the studio brings someone completely out of the box like a Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson to take it in DRASTICALLY different direction (No, I don’t believe this would ever happen in a 100,000,000,000,000,000 years, but I will continue to dream about it know that I’ve thought about it.) this franchise is OFFICIALLY milked dry. Hell, it was milked dry by the time this came along. At least Salvation brought something new to the table. It failed in doing anything remotely memorable but at least it kind of swung for the fences.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Pixar’s latest flick Inside Out. (I did not write a review for it as I was/still am going through some not-so-fun-personal bullshit and just wasn’t up to it.) This is a movie that makes you fucking feel everything. I mean a majority of the characters are the living embodiment of emotions for goodness sake! Now I openly admit it isn’t altogether fair to draw comparisons between Genisys and an actual movie. I just wanted to highlight the jump between a film that accomplished exactly what it set out to do and a movie that accomplished nothing…except maybe make some money which it also apparently failed to do.

This movie didn’t make me angry or sad. It made me feel nothing, and to me that is a whole lot worse.

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One thought on ““Terminator Genisys” is the cinematic equivalent of a bad cover band

  1. Pingback: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ becomes a franchise high by playing safe | Sharks with Laserbeams

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