REVIEW: “Terminator: Genisys”

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Since its inception way back in 1984, the Terminator franchise has made a name for itself. The first film was an unexpected success but it was the first sequel, “Judgement Day” which arrived seven years later, that launched the series into the upper stratosphere of pop culture. “Terminator Salvation” came out in 2009 and unlike most I thought it was a fun and unique perspective on the series. The film wasn’t as profitable as normal leaving the direction of the franchise uncertain.

But fear not, now we have a fifth installment in the form of “Terminator: Genisys”. It offers up a new  story angle with a completely new set of people playing the same franchise characters. The only familiar face is Arnold Schwarzenegger who returns as the outdated but tough T-800 Terminator. While it does try to do several interesting things ultimately it rehashes too much from its predecessors and nearly all of its attempts at originality fall flat.

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To be honest laying out a story introduction is easier said than done. In the future John Connor (this time played by Jason Clarke) leads a big final assault on Skynet. As victory looks certain it is discovered that Skynet has sent a T-800 back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (remember the first film?). John Connor sends his most trusted man Kyle Reese (this time played by Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother but during the process the timeline is disrupted. Basically this flubs up everything from the past movies which grants the writers a new canvas to work on.

Once Kyle arrives in 1984 he is attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 Terminator. He is rescued by a young Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and her pet…err guardian Pops. Pops (Schwarzenegger) is a T-800 sent back years earlier to protect her. Follow me so far? The rest of the film features the trio setting out to destroy Skynet before it destroys humanity. Skynet is hiding under the guise of Genisys, a popular worldwide operating system nearing its global launch. Infiltrate Genisys, blow it up, save the world. But of course that is easier said than done.

The time traveling hopscotch does offer some intriguing possibilities and the tie-ins with previous films at first are pretty great. But eventually the time element grows convoluted and most of the tie-ins feel more like crutches than attempts at any meaningful continuity. The further the movie went the more disconnected I became. In the end I kept saying to myself “This doesn’t feel like a Terminator movie”. Sure it is playing in the same sandbox, but nearly everything new it offers feels generic. There are some funny moments where they capture some of the charm that first surfaced in “T2”. There just aren’t enough of them.

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And then there is the casting. Arnie is entertaining playing the cold, dry terminator (a mirror to his usual acting ability). He is given more fun things to do than anyone else and he has a blast with it. One the other end there is Emilia Clarke who never offers up a convincing Sarah Connor. Perhaps comparing her to Linda Hamilton is grossly unfair, but she doesn’t come across as genuinely tough or tenacious. Sometimes her performance is just bad. And it doesn’t help that she and Courtney have practically no chemistry. Even Jason Clarke’s scar-faced John Connor felt a bit off.

My problems with the cast could also be due to fatigue. It could be I’m just tired of seeing the same characters constantly being portrayed by new faces. The series has often addressed this issue with age gaps. But now we have had Clarke and Christian Bale as older John Connor; Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl as younger John Connor; Courtney, Michael Biehn and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese; Clarke and Hamilton as Sarah, etc. It may be an unavoidable dilemma but if so it stresses the importance of casting the right people.

“Genisys” does have a couple of cool action sequences, some good laughs, and an occasional fun nostalgic nod. And on its own it does make for decent, lightweight science fiction. The problem lies in its connection to a major popular franchise. A ‘Terminator’ film brings with it certain high expectations (from some audiences) and “Genisys” doesn’t meet them. As I said, it doesn’t feel like a ‘Terminator’ movie which in the end is a pretty bad thing.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

2.5 stars

 

The Public Movie Defender – “Terminator Salvation”

DEFENDER TERMINATOR

The idea behind The Public Movie Defender is to take up the cause of a particular movie that I believe is better than the majority of reviews it has received. These are movies which I feel are worth either a second look or at least a more open examination considering the predominantly negative opinions of them. The films chosen are ones that I like so therefore I’m taking their case and defending them before the court of negative opinion. Let the trial begin…

DEFENDANT #2 – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”

TERM SALVFor some reason I’ve had this weird and unexplainable urge to write a review about a movie that I really like but most others don’t. Is it my pointless sense of duty to defend a film largely maligned by critics and my fellow movie fans? Is it some twisted pleasure I’ll take in the heat received from my fellow movie blogging pals? Whatever the reason I’m going to make my case for “Terminator Salvation”.

This 2009 sci-fi action flick was the fourth installment in the widely popular “Terminator” series. It was also a film of many firsts for the franchise. It’s the first “Terminator” picture that didn’t star Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s the first film in the franchise that received a PG-13 rating. It’s also the first film that takes place in the post-Judgement Day future. I suppose these things played into the disdain some people felt towards this film but it has also received a variety of other criticisms. It has been called soulless, humorless, joyless, and brainless. In fact the overwhelming consensus is that “Terminator Salvation” glaringly fails to capture any of the magic of the previous three movies. Obviously I disagree.

Now let me be clear, “Terminator Salvation” is not a 5 star movie. In fact it’s the third or fourth best film in the franchise. But I still found it to be a fun, action-fueled experience and a worthy installment to the series. The time travel element is gone making the entire ‘future versus present’ dynamic that was a big part of the other movies nonexistent. I have to admit that I missed that. That was one of the coolest things about this series. But that doesn’t mean that “Terminator Salvation” can’t stand on its own merit. It’s a grittier and more militaristic story and the humor, while definitely there, is much more restrained mainly due to the more serious tone of this film.

So the story goes like this, It’s 2018. Skynet has been activated and Judgement Day has wiped out a massive number of earth’s population. Christian Bale plays the third version of John Connor. This time he’s a key member of the human race’s resistance against the machines. Small pockets of the resistance are scattered everywhere including in the ruins of Los Angeles where Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) struggles to survive. Kyle and a young girl named Star (Jadagrace Perry) call themselves the L.A. branch of the resistance but they’re mainly just kids in hiding. They latch onto a mysterious stranger named Marcus (Sam Worthington) who knows nothing about the war with the machines.

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After hearing a radio message from John Connor, the three set out to find the resistance headquarters – Kyle in hopes of joining the fight and Marcus in hopes of finding answers. But things don’t workout that well and Kyle and Star and captured during an attack by the machines. Marcus makes his way to the resistance base with the help of downed pilot Blair (Moon Bloodgood) but his story takes a crazy turn after John Connor and company find out exactly who he is. This whole twist may not be all that surprising but I really liked what it added to the story and to Marcus’ character. There are some interesting moral questions that are tossed around and some tricky decisions that the characters have to make.

But those things are small pieces in a bigger puzzle put together by director McG (I roll my eyes every time I say his name). This is first and foremost a sci-fi action picture and McG frames some pretty spectacular action sequences. The special effects can be pretty stunning such as during an attack by a giant machine on a small group of survivors hiding at a gas station. It and the wild chase that follows was fantastic. McG also tries to throw in several little things to connect the movie to the previous ones. I admit that they can feel a little forced such as when the cool Guns n’ Roses tune “You Could Be Mine” from T2 pops up. But I also have to admit I responded to the nostalgic bits regardless of how cheap they may have felt. And when a certain familiar CGI face pops up later in the film, I still let out a child-like squeal.

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I also like the performances. There’s nothing award worthy from any of the performers but they all feel grounded in the world we see. Bale is as solid as always although he is asked to do a little more shouting than I would have liked. I also liked Yelchin as a young Kyle Reese. He certainly doesn’t look anything like Michael Biehn from the first “Terminator” flick but did Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl resemble at all? But I really liked Sam Worthington here. This is the first film I saw him in and here he’s one tough cookie. I know he hasn’t shown a bit of range since and his acting chops are in question, but I thought he was a perfect fit for this part.

“Terminator Salvation” is a very different movie in the Terminator catalog. It’s not about the future invading our present. It’s about the war the other three movies were trying to prevent. That jolt alone was too much for some people to take. I also understand the absence of Schwarzenegger is a big deal. I mean these were his movies. But for me, those things don’t make this a bad film. The humor is toned down because the times are bad but the action and special effects are mighty good. It has its share of conveniences and head-scratching moments but doesn’t every movie in this franchise? I liked “Terminator Salvation” and while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I think it has a place in the series.

VERDICT : “TERMINATOR SALVATION” – 4 STARS

THE THROWDOWN : Stallone vs. Schwarzenegger

Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects, pit them against each other, and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and more. I’ll make a case for each and then see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

*Last week Christian Bale (74%) manhandled Michael Keaton (26%) in a Batman battle to the death.*

This week it’s an action movie face-off between the two biggest names of the 80’s. The 80’s and early 90’s were the glory days of the action genre and no one was bigger than Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Forget the critical acclaim, the stuffy Academy Awards, and the overrated importance of good acting. These guys were all about biceps, blood, and bullets. Before they teamed up in the recent “The Expendables” movies, these two had a huge box office rivalry that lasted several years. Now it’s time to settle the big question. Which of these action movie icons is truly the best? Their guns are loaded, their knives are sharpened, and their muscles are flexed. But it’s your votes that will decide the outcome.

STALLONE vs. SCHWARZENEGGER

At 66-years old, Sly Stallone is still kicking bad guy’s butts on the big screen. But then again, he’s been doing it for almost 40 years. His career really took off in 1976 with “Rocky”. But it was “First Blood” and “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” that laid the foundation for what would become an amazing action movie career. He would go on to clean up a psycho cult in “Cobra”, team up with Kurt Russell in “Tango & Cash”, hang from mountain cliffs in “Cliffhanger”, battle baddies in the future with “Demolition Man” and “Judge Dredd”, and rescue survivors trapped in a collapsed tunnel in “Daylight”. He’s also made several more “Rocky” pictures and two more “Rambo” films. He has several new projects ahead but he’ll always be remembered for his incredible run that helped make the action genre so popular.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may have more memorable scenes and memorable one-liners than anyone in cinema history. He also has an action movie resume that’s as impressive as any you will see. This one-time Austrian bodybuilder made a name for himself in the early 80’s with his “Conan” films. But his career really took off when he traded his sword for a gun in the sci-fi classic “The Terminator”. He then cemented his one-man-army status in “Commando” and “Raw Deal”. He would battle an alien threat in the spectacular military sci-fi film “Predator”. He also ventured into the future with “The Running Man” and “Total Recall” before making what is one of the best sequels of all time, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. He mad several more action films including “True Lies” and another successful “Terminator” flick. This 65-year old has no plans on slowing down and you’ll see him plenty in 2013.

So there’s a case for both. Now you decide who’s the winner. The action movie genre wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of these two icons. So vote now. Who’s the heavier hitter, Arnie or Sly? You decide!