Friday, July 17, 2015

Terminator Genisys (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Strong cast chemistry, filled with homages to the previous films and TV series, top notch special effects, continues themes of James Cameron's original films, actualises scenes and concepts that were previously cut in prior films.

The Bad: Mediocre music, stale lead characters, uses the "alternate universe" concept as a cop out, lacks any sense of tension despite the "chase" plot, 

3D Readiness: Post filming 3D conversion.

"An unknown future rolls towards us". This was a quote from the award winning classic science fiction movie TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. But if poor Sarah Connor could only look further into the future, maybe she might not be facing it with a sense of hope. In THE TERMINATOR (the first movie), we end off the ominous quote "There's a storm coming"; an insanely accurate self-prophesy about the multimedia franchise that Terminator would become. A storm of half baked sequels, cliche ridden comic books, meandering novels, and a TV series cut down in its prime. Come 2015, the latest downpour in this storm rears its noisy head: TERMINATOR GENISYS.

With TERMINATOR GENISYS, the franchise goes back to basics. You know the drill: The future war ends in victory, the defeated machines send a killer back through time, good guys send a protector, killer and protector die while young protagonist accepts destiny and prepares to fight the future. But wait, there is a twist! That twist begins with this wooden piece of man named Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the guy destined to be sent back through time to protect Sarah Connor. Courtney, looking bored and buff, lacking all sense of intensity and nuance that Michael Biehn had, tumbles into 1984 with mysterious new memories more unexpected twists. He is pursued by a shapeshifting liquid metal creature in the form of some Korean dude and is saved by......Sarah Connor and her pet robot Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I want a robot Arnold Schwarzenegger too, just not one that looks like a grandfather and grins like a moron. This is not your grandfather's Terminator. This craps all over your grandfather's Terminator. GENISYS shows us that James Cameron's first two films could have ended in a fraction of their run time. It does this by having our protagonists dispatch the terminators, who for the longest time were the epitome of "unstoppable killing machines", within this movie's first act.

Does that make this a bad movie? Not exactly. It is genuinely enjoyable, both for new fans and for followers of the franchise. For the latter, you have more references and homages to all past Terminator media, in some form or another. I admit, picking out all those homages was part of the fun of watching this. Adding to that is how this movie finally brings to the big screen scenes and concepts that were left on the cutting room floor in the past movies. Think of this as "Terminator: The Deleted Scenes". We get to see the final future battle with humanity capturing Skynet's time machine (cut from Terminator 1), we get to see two Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminators duke it out (original concept for Terminator 2), we get to see a terminator made out of cybernetic nano particles (a "gaseous" terminator which was a planned concept for T3 to continue the theme of "solid" in T1 and "liquid" in T2). And even if you never knew all this useless trivia (now you do) the spectacular special effects would leave you stunned.

Emilia Clarke and Schwarzenegger shine here. They share good chemistry between a joyless Sarah Connor resigned to her fate and an increasingly human Terminator cyborg dubbed "Pops". Kudos to the writer for continuing the strong theme of "family" that James Cameron had in his movies. Pops is the over-protective dad, Sarah is the rebellious teen daughter and Kyle Reese is the new boy who is destined to date and bed daddy's little girl. That chemistry between the cast gives their characters' relationship a good deal of weight and lends itself to some genuinely humorous scenes. The same can't be said for the wooden Jai Courtney or Jason Clarke's hammy over-the-top John Connor who looks like his face met the wrong end of a rake.

Story-wise, the whole "alternate universe" thing is such a cop-out, ripped from JJ Abram's STAR TREK. Yes it invalidates T3 and T:Salvation, but it also invalidates T1 and T2: Judgement Day. The direction by Alan Tylor is a bit of a mess here. Action gets a little hard to follow and the erratically paced plot never maintains its sense of tension. Unlike previous films, you don't really feel like our protagonists are in any real peril. In the past films, the protector is barely able to knock down the killer, and gets nearly killed each time they go one-on-one. The obsolete "old" Pops seems able to hold his own perfectly well against the new deadlier killer cyborg.(which thanks to a retarded advertising campaign, everyone knows is John Connor himself).

Where the director does nothing special with the camera, the writers at least try to continue the theme of blurring the line between man and machine. This theme is actualised in the new John Connor cyborg himself; a machine who is 100% the human it is designed to mimic. Then you have Pops. The most inhuman, rigid, machine-like cyborg who can't even mimic a proper smile. Slowly but surely, his knowledge of humanity grows right up to a simple but emotionally powerful climax where you realise that a machine, a Terminator, could finally learn to love.

I would rank this just ahead of Terminator Salvation and right behind TERMINATOR THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. It is by no means as groundbreaking as the first two movies, but it is not as insipid as the third nor does it deviate from established themes like the fourth. A director that favours spectacle over character development and a musical score that remixes Brad Fiedel's original music in the style of Steve Jablonsky makes TERMINATOR GENISYS a slight disappointment for me. Until a worthy successor to the Terminator brand comes along, I'm going back through time and I am going to watch James Cameron's Terminator 1 and 2 all over again.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B+
Story: B-
Acting: B+
Characters: B+
Music: C-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": B+

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