Monday, July 6, 2015

Terminator Genisys Review

Duh duh, duh, duh duh! Duh duh, duh, duh duh!

The Terminator franchise is one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises that I know of. People love it almost as much as they love Star Wars and Star Trek, even though it really only had two good movies. Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are so universally beloved, that they allow people to forget that Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation existed. And yet, it's been nearly 25 years since we've had a new Terminator film that was legitimately good on all merits, and some would argue that even after the release of Terminator Genisys there has still yet to be another good Terminator movie. Personally, I don't understand why, but this movie is a solid entry into the franchise.

In the not to distant future, humanity is nearly extinct thanks due a malevolent computer known as Skynet. Skynet has created machines known as Terminators to hunt down humans and destroy them, thinking that humanity is a threat to its existence. Ergo, humanity decides to fight back. John Connor leads the resistance against Skynet, but it's still a long fight. In order for Skynet to finally kill John Connor and end the resistance, it sends a Terminator back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, before he can be born. In retaliation, John sends his best soldier and friend, Kyle Reese, to head back in time and stop the Terminator and save Sarah Connor. However, when he gets there, he realizes that the Terminator is already dead, Sarah Connor knows who Kyle Reese is and what Skynet is, and she has a Terminator looking after her as they make plans to time travel into the future and stop Judgment Day from ever happening.

So if you couldn't already tell from that intro, things are very odd in the Terminator universe. The movie is supposed to be a reboot, but it also functions as a sequel and even a prequel at times. The best way to describe what happens is that someone messed with the timeline and created an alternate past for the series, essentially allowing the series to update itself and not be a shot for shot remake (although the first few minutes when Kyle gets sent back to the 1980's are shot for shot). To be fair, the overall mystery of why the timeline has changed was irrelevant to me, but to see the ripple effects of what's happened to the world now that everything we thought we knew was wrong. As a hook to get us engaged, it's very successful.

So if the world has changed, how exactly did it change? Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as "Pops", the Terminator that raised Sarah Connor. It's interesting to see Arnold back in the part, but it felt like he hasn't even left. He's still as cold, awesome, and as funny as he was before. This is probably the funniest he's ever been in a Terminator movie, and he adds some much needed levity to the movie. Not only that, he just gels so well with the other characters. He's intimidating, but he develops great relationships between Sarah and Kyle, each of them unique and appropriate for their characters.

The rest of the Terminators leave much to be desired though. While the T-800 (Young Arnold) and the T-1000 (Liquid Metal) are still awesome and cool to watch, it's the new Terminator that severely underwhelms. This Terminator is essentially made of magnets and magnetism. Imagine if moon sand came in Terminator shapes, and that'd be a pretty accurate image of this Terminator. What makes me shake my head at this are two majors points. First, he's not scary. The T-1000 is terrifying and looks simply menacing. He can turn into liquid metal and wreck some serious s***. This guy just has stronger defense and a weird magnetic propulsion attack. Plus he can be beaten by punching him with magnets. The T-1000 won't go down that easily, I can tell you that much.

Second, someone decided to make the magnet Terminator talk... and talk... and talk... and talk. This guy never shuts up about being an agent of Skynet and trying to convince John and Sarah to become one with Skynet, and that together they can rule the galaxy as father and son, and it's just not scary. You know what made the T-1000 and the T-800 in the original movies terrifying. They didn't talk a lot. They only talked when needed to, because speech implies that something is developed enough to be reasoned with. If something is capable of speech, then that means that they have a personality and you can create a connection with them. Terminators, by definition, have no humanity. They're machines that are sent to kill. They can't be reasoned with and will kill you unless you kill them. Making them talk gives them a personality, and the less humanity a villain has, the scarier they can be.

It's a shame that I can't talk too much about the plot, even though the marketing of this film has been handled by idiots. It's precarious because the trailers decided to leak nearly every major twist in the story, and yet even though most people know the twists and the revelations, I can't talk about them. Naturally, I shouldn't talk about them in the first place given how new the movie is, but it's still annoying that most people know what happens in the movie just because they've seen the trailers. And even if they were interested in seeing the results of these twists, there's not much really to say. The initial twist regarding Kyle's alternate timeline is openly discussed in the film's marketing and is really the best plot point of the whole movie. It's very interesting to see, contemplate, and iron out the practicalities of it all, but once the movie gets into action mode, then the plot takes a back seat and the mysteries fade away.

Thankfully, the action is solid, if only hampered by some pretty poor special effects. The action scenes are tight, interesting, and nothing beats two Terminators fighting it out and a Terminator turning his arms into swords that he throws at people. It's awesome! And you know what, as soon as Kyle Reese hits 1984, the movie is phenomenal. There's great action, good plot twists, and we get not one, not two, but three separate Terminator fights in just twenty minutes. If the entire movie was like that, then I would be head over heels for this movie. And you know what? I kinda still am head over heels for this movie.

I don't understand all of the critical negativity this film is getting, and I don't even understand half of their complaints. Schwarzenegger is too goofy? I never thought so at all. The franchise is way past its prime? Maybe, but you can say the same thing for most other major Hollywood reboots as well. The use of multiple timelines was too confusing? Didn't seem to stop Back to the Future or previous Terminator movies from using them. These criticisms are obviously on a person by person basis, but I just can't see them in this movie. This isn't being blinded by nostalgia either, because I'm not a die hard fan of the franchise. I just know a good movie when I see it.

This might not be a return to form for the Terminator franchise, but at least Genisys is trying to be a good movie. It has effort, care, and genuine passion pored into it. It pays attention to the lore, gives the audience what they're looking for in a Terminator movie, and then respects the audience enough to make sure they have a good time. I had fun watching this movie. And hell, even if Terminator Genisys was a steaming pile of crap, at least it isn't Terminator Salvation!


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