Terminator: Genisys

Film * Alan Taylor * More Like The App-ocalypse * 2015

Synopsis

Well, that was unexpected. Understand, I had every intention of hating this movie. I don’t like that it exists, which is a bad way to enter into a movie. I have my reasons, of course. Those reasons are called The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Those are two of my favorite movies – stories – of all time. Those films were formative in a way that’s actually kind of disturbing, considering what they’re about. Those films were also the only stories that needed to be told in this universe. Terminator is a franchise that has no business being a franchise. I didn’t hate Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines as much as some fans, but it’s still hard to argue that it’s a necessary installment. To its credit, the third film at least told a story true in spirt to the two that matter. I liked the ending quite a bit, but whatever. I have no desire to ever speak of Terminator: Salvation ever again. That pointless, screaming nightmare of a film poisoned the franchise – which again has no reason to be a franchise – to the point where Genisys came out and I’m like, nah I’m good.

Yet here I am, for the sake of completion. Also, what could it hurt? I’m not one of these people who think that something new can somehow damage something old. Salvation didn’t make T2 any worse, you know? It doesn’t invalidate that which already exists. So I went into Genisys expecting it to be awful, because Salvation was just so off-the-rails terrible. And then… it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t great. There’s still no real reason for Genisys to exist, and it has an incredibly stupid name. Yet there is so much weirdness happening that I was engaged for pretty much the whole thing. It helps that there’s a decent cast this time around. Strike that, the cast wasn’t Salvation’s main problem. It helps that the filmmakers have a better understanding of the first two films, who these characters are supposed to be, and what is supposed to be at stake.

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No one will ever be as badass as Linda Hamilton. Not even the Mother of Dragons.

The first weird thing about this movie is that I can’t tell if it’s a reboot or not. At first, it definitely seems like that’s the direction we’re going. Instead of beginning with the brief prologue of The Terminator, we actually get the scene in which John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time. The war is essentially won, but Skynet is able to send a Terminator back to kill Sarah Connor and thus secure victory for itself. So far, so reboot. Then Kyle gets back to 1984, and there’s a bunch of really weird shot-for-shot scenes that harmonize with the original. Like, it’s kind of eerie because they use hologram technology or something for young Arnold, but the other actors are from this new thing. Yet the whole reboot thing gets tossed out the window, because Sarah is here and is already a badass, and now there’s all kinds of time travel absurdity and the rest of the film is like a mash-up of elements from the first two movies.

So, Genisys can’t really be called a reboot since familiarity with the previous films is kind of necessary. Maybe not vital, as enough is explained about the world for newcomers, but you’re not going to understand what the hell is going on if you’re not down with the first two films. If, like me, you love and revere those films, then you can see the attempts at connecting with them. I suspect this is hit-or-miss depending on the person. For myself, I appreciated the effort put into these connections. Yeah, the lazy use of catch phrases is here, because of course it is. Yet beyond this, there is an understanding of character and tone here. John Connor is supposed to be charismatic and dynamic. He’s sarcastic yet genuine, and he’s a leader but he doesn’t have to yell and growl about it all the time. Sarah Connor is more grim and determined, but she too has a kinder basic nature. Kyle Reese is a bit of a goober, but I appreciate this film’s move to make him a little less so than the original. As for the plot, it’s a convoluted time travel situation that I can’t really get into without spoiling everything.

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‘Pops,’ seen here reminiscing about how much better life was in ’92.

Discussion

Okay, so I’m going to spoil everything now. The premise of Terminator: Genisys is that Skynet was able to distort the timeline and thus ensure its victory in the past. As soon as Kyle is sent back, Skynet triggers a terminator to murk John. He is then assimilated into a new type of terminator. Which is like, okay, it’s a sequel so we have to up the stakes somehow. Seriously, within the first half-hour of the movie Kyle, Sarah, and ‘Pops’ destroy both a T-800 and a goddamn T-1000 like it ain’t no thing. Which, honestly, is kind of an insult to past-John, Sarah, and Kyle. It took them an entire movie to take care of just one of those things and here it’s like whatever. Anyway, while everyone is trying to figure out this weird alternate timeline, Sarah’s new protector-terminator, is building a homebrew time machine. This Arnold, who is back, and who actually does a decent job. Oh, and they have a pretty good explanation about why he’s old now which I appreciate. It turns out that Sarah and Kyle have to leave 1984, because in this alternate timeline where John is compromised requires them to go to 2017 San Francisco to save the day.

Time travel. Always a pain in the ass when it comes to narratives.

So the kids show up in 2017 San Francisco, and they pop out in the middle of the freeway and get arrested. I think more than anything, this change of setting is the biggest disappointment. Los Angeles is at the heart of the first two movies in a way that I’ve rarely seen in any film. The setting is critically important to what those movies were doing, that it’s impossible to separate it from the story. And I get the thought behind moving Genisys to San Francisco. The subtitle of the film comes from the guise that Skynet uses to access humanity’s network, after all. Genisys is some kind of mega-app which is supposed to link everything together. This, of course, includes military networks and whatnot. San Francisco is naturally where most of the tech-leaders live so it’s a natural move. But it’s not vital to the movie in the way L.A. was to those first two films.

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This version of John Connor is far and away better than the one who growled his way through the movie we don’t speak of, but still, Connor ain’t wearing no suit.

Oh, and as for the whole app thing, this aspect of the plot is actually kind of flimsy and lame and doesn’t make much sense. I do like that Miles Dyson’s kid invents it, though. He doesn’t really have a role in the story, but I appreciate the nod. Still, how is an app supposed to introduce Skynet into the world? Like, we already did this more elegantly in T3. Skynet is just software, but not specific software. Self-awareness isn’t downloaded, it just happens.

Then John Connor shows up, and at first we’re like whaaaat? But then it turns out he’s a crazy new model of terminator that is comprised of robot-cells and retains the memories and basic personality of the person being assimilated. So it’s John Connor, but a John Connor under the complete control of Skynet. So now Sarah and Kyle have to basically kill their son in order to save the future, because the whole thing goes like this: the future isn’t set, there no fate but what we make for ourselves oh shit, Dyson, Miles Dyson, she’s gonna blow him away! *Slap!* Sorry, I just reverted back to T2 for a sec there. Anyway, the rest of the movie is just a bunch of action set-pieces and lots of things explode. I don’t want to dismiss them, they’re all pretty cool and not just noise for the sake of noise.

That kind of sums up this experience, I think. It’s kind of cool, it’s a fun thing to watch, but it lacks the heft and weight of the first two movies. Genisys doesn’t have much to say, at least not on the level of The Terminator and especially Judgement Day (I refer to you the bazillion words I wrote about that one, if you’re curious). That’s fine, I don’t really need it to because hey, those films exist already. Also, I know the world doesn’t need another Terminator movie, but we’re almost certainly getting one. Not because this film did particularly well domestically – it did not recoup its budget – but it did gangbusters internationally, so here we are. And if they bring back this group of actors and give them a reason to do a thing, hey, why not?

The rest of the series: The Terminator; Judgement Day; Rise of the Machines; Salvation

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