Thursday, 2 July 2015

Terminator Genisys

*** WARNING! ***

Terminator Genisys, it turns out, is a lot more fun to write about than it is to watch. Having already squeezed out a review for Virgin Movies and offloaded only a small percentage of my thoughts, I had to come here to dump the rest in order to rid myself of the toxic demons gestating menacingly in my brainholes. It's not that Genisys is irredeemably bad, or even unwatchable, but it is so colossally misguided and poorly executed that one really needs to vent one's spleen about its legion of shortcomings. So here goes.

By now you're probably aware of the film's premise, which involves a retelling of the first part of The Terminator, but with the twist that the T-800 and Kyle Reese somehow find themselves in an alternate 1984 where Sarah Connor has ditched the Davy Crockett hat-hair and has been shacked up with another T-800 for the past ten years. Terminator Genisys' attempts to recreate the 1984 scenes vary from convincing (the young CG Arnie is ace) to upsetting (the replacement of Bill Paxton as one of the young punks is unavoidably awful), but the simple fact that we're in alt '84 at all is baffling. We don't worry too much at this point, because surely an explanation is incoming, right? Well, don't hold your breath. Apparently this new timeline was caused by an event that happens just before Reese goes back in time, but why that happened on this occasion and not in any of the previous Terminator films is never explained.
Clue: it has something to do with Matt Smith's character,
of whom this image is laughably unrepresentative

Also unexplained is the presence of this "guardian" T-800, who seems to come from a future that - as far as I could tell - never happened, never will happen and never has will be going to have happened. You patiently sit and wait for the exposition scenes that clear this kind of thing up, but they never come. They think they do, but in fact they're just strings of made-up words used to escape from nonsensical corners into which the writers have painted themselves: the explanation for Kyle Reese's impossible memories of two separate timelines, for example, involves Arnie babbling on about "Nexus points" in time, whatever they are. "Hahaha", the characters say, "he's off again with his technowaffle, let's just ignore him and pretend he made sense", and off they blunder into the next narrative dead end. This happens a lot.

One of the reasons Terminator Genisys isn't a complete dead loss is that director Alan Taylor, in his only sensible decision throughout the entire process, moves the action on before you have time to worry about the temporal logistics of it all. The problem is that he invariably moves on to the next stupid thing in the script, like the pointless appearance of a T-1000 (whose gloopy VFX are now nearly quarter of a century beyond being impressive), or a bus inexplicably flipping over on the Golden Gate Bridge (because there haven't been enough action scenes set on the Golden Gate Bridge) or, in one of the film's biggest mistakes, the big twist: that John Connor has come back in time too and is now a human / Terminator hybrid made of magic soot who absolutely will not stop until James Cameron's legacy is dead.
In every previous Terminator film, the survival of John Connor has been the one constant that held the nonsense together. Only with him safe could the future war with the machines ever be won, so we invested in him, we rooted for his mother so he could be born and we rooted for him, even when he was played by Nick Stahl. Here, in the blink of an eye, he is virtually killed off and made a villain just for the sake of a plot twist. So thanks guys, everything we cared about in the first three films was for nothing. Also his transformation renders him a bit thick: he spends a lot of time and effort trying to kill his own mother before he's been born, which seems somewhat self-defeating to me. He briefly struggles with the idea that neither he nor she can kill each other, but that seems a little hollow considering he's just tried to flip her bus off the Golden Gate Bridge.

But enough about the script; let's move on to what we might generously describe as the actors. Arnold Schwarzenegger (clinging desperately on to this role in an attempt to forget every other film he's done since Terminator 3) shows up, puts on the metallic make up and pulls some funny faces. "I'm old, not obsolete", the T-800 keeps repeating like a forgetful grandparent. Negative. There is nothing fun about Terminators any more and they're certainly no longer scary; if one barged into your bedroom in the middle of the night you'd take a selfie with it and go back to sleep. You probably wouldn't even get round to uploading the photo to Facebook.

Emilia Clarke plays a one-note Sarah Connor as well as the character is written, which is not very. She is a wiser Sarah but skews younger, as if nobody ever told her the toll the events of the films took on the character. At one point she delivers a kiss-off line so unbelievably awful and nonsensical that you can actually hear Arnold Schwarzenegger cringing. Her namesake Jason Clarke, as John Connor, is as dull here as he was in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. There are scenes where he attempts Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker levels of villainy, and it is embarrassing to watch. Please stop putting him in huge blockbusters, he seems startled by the explosions and effects.

But the absolute nadir of talent on display in Terminator Genisys is the black hole that is Jai Courtney, a charisma vacuum with all the emotional reach of a potato, who has been ruining films with his echo chamber of skills for too long now. Courtney's Kyle Reese is a cruel joke on Michael Biehn: he is as buff as the first T-800 when the character is supposed to be starving and desperate, and lacks the basic ability to evoke sympathy or empathy in the audience with either his entirely forgettable face or his monotonous voice. He could easily have been cast as an emotionless robot from the future except that he's not charming enough. Watch him scream "BECAUSE HE'S A KILLER!!" somewhere in the middle of this film and see if you can resist the urge to travel back in time yourself and persuade a younger Courtney not to take up acting and perhaps utilise his natural abilities in the world of living statues.
Not sure if this is him or his action figure

What's tragic about this cast is that their characters could have enjoyed the kind of fascinating dysfunctional surrogate family dynamic - this time featuring girlfriend, boyfriend, disapproving father and wayward son - that the first two films handled perfectly, but any potential is lost in the spaghetti of plot and the murky greyness of the film's colour palette. Only JK Simmons escapes with his reputation intact, generating a few laughs and providing the odd basic plot function before being unceremoniously dumped once he's served his purpose.

Genisys is, apparently, the first of three more Terminator films, much as Salvation was six years ago. That film did not turn out to be any kind of (*winces*) salvation for the series, and we must hope that this one is not the (ugh) genisys (sorry) of a new trilogy either. It has its moments - perhaps two that I can think of - but it represents everything wrong with Hollywood's refusal to let old franchises die. Let's just erase it from our timeline and, for once, not worry about starting again. It's old and obsolete, and, like me right now, can't even come up with a clever ending.

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