Friday, July 03, 2015

He's Bahck

Last night, I went to see the new movie Terminator Genisys. Part sequel, part reboot, the movie plays fast and loose with time as it revisits and then expands the established Terminator mythos. Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation being so forgettable, I'm not sure I can confidently declare whether this new film is the worst of the franchise. But it's certainly in that company. And in any case, there's very little this film does that one of the preceding four didn't do better.

One thing for certain this movie doesn't do well is tell a story that makes much sense. One of the most subtly appealing aspects of the Terminator movies (particularly the first two) is how much they mined from something so simple. The heroes are trying to stop a killer robot that wants to kill them. Sure, the time travel aspect makes for a bit of a wrinkle, but that's it in a nutshell. By contrast, Terminator Genisys is sort of trying to tell the stories of all four previous movies, and mixing in its own new plot threads too.

Time goes in the blender with this movie. An entire alternate timeline is spawned (and it's never explained how, if it could have gone this way, it didn't go this way the first time around). There are scenes set in five different years and two different timelines. There are multiple time machines, multiple time travelers (some arriving from points never identified), and multiple strategically dubious uses of time jumping. (If you have a time machine and you're trying to stop an apocalypse, is showing up less than 48 hours before said apocalypse really your best bet?) Look to Arnold Schwarzenegger as a metaphor for the movie itself: both use lots of words like "quantum" and "theoretically," and clearly have no idea what they're talking about.

The... I guess I'll call it up side... is that it's all so knotted up and inscrutable that you give up trying to make sense of it pretty early on. That makes it possible to at least partially enjoy the handful of charms the movie has on its side. Emilia Clarke makes a pretty good Sarah Connor. While she doesn't seem nearly as confident handling weapons as Linda Hamilton did in the second film, she gives a solid performance with both strong and vulnerable moments. Jai Courtney is also decent as Kyle Reese, good with the action and the everyman humor. Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons (as you should be legally required to call him now) is frankly a bit wasted in a goofy comic relief role, but he squeezes every last drop of juice out of his precious minutes on screen.

And stuff blows up real good. There's an over-reliance on CG, and consequently some set pieces don't work as well as others. For example, there's a helicopter chase that's kind of crazy-awesome in scope, and yet it doesn't thrill as much as the much simpler helicopter work in Terminator 2, because it doesn't look real. On the other hand, there's some very well-done city destruction in the opening minutes. And the much talked about "old Arnold fights young Arnold" scene was quite a bit more convincing than I expected it to be. There are also plenty of good morphing gags involving liquid Terminators and new nanite-ish Terminators (which are somehow supposed to be better than liquid Terminators, but I'm not convinced).

The truth is, you're much better off just staying home and watching the first two (excellent) Terminator films. But if you do decide to go... well, it's not great, but it's not a total loss. I give Terminator Genisys a C-. (But an F on spelling "genesis.")

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