Friday, July 10, 2015

Revenge of the Reboots Part 1: Terminator Genisys

Remakes, retreads, and rip-offs have been common in Hollywood for decades.  2015's summer film season is in no way special in this.  I have been writing this blog for five years now and trust me, these kinds of franchise reboots are nothing new, they have given me thousands of words worth of material.  Most of which I wrote in a very angry mood. Throughout the May to July period, something special happened, no less than three major reboots to classic SciFi franchises hit theaters.  This I feel, makes for a teachable moment.  One reboot was a piece of crap, one barely passed, and one was fucking awesome.  Let's use these three films to see what lessons we can draw.

Welcome to a trilogy of reviews I call "Revenge of the Reboots".

I imagine that the genesis* of "Terminator Genisys" went something like this:  Two screenwriters drove into Hollywood on the same day, each with their own script for a planned reboot of the 1980s James Cameron time travel action franchise, Terminator.  One screenwriter had this cooky plan of rehashing the plot of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" just with Arnold Schwarzenegger raising Sarah Connor.  Another screenwriter had a completely different script imagining a reborn Skynet reappearing in 2015 using our iPhones as a new terrifying way to start Judgement Day.  Then these two screenwriters, both rushing to make their meeting with the execs, smashed their cars right into each other.  Both were tragically killed, most of their scripts were destroyed in the fire.  But the execs were able to salvage the situation, they simply took what pages survived of each document and paperclipped them together.  Then it was time to make a movie - a disjointed, confusing, riddled with plot holes movie.

Guess what?  "Terminator Genysis" is the piece of crap.  The Terminator franchise has been long suffering, with "Terminator Gynisis" marking the third attempt in the past twenty years to turn these movies into a bankable annual phenomenon.  "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" could only regurgitate "Terminator 2" only with less success.  And "Terminator Salvation" was the kind of movie so bad that if there was any justice in Hollywood, the word 'Terminator' should have been banned from film titles for a century.  Maybe our children's children would be able to undo our mistakes and atone for the sins of that travesty.  Yet here we are, just six years later, with yet another attempt.  And if the goal was simply to show that it is possible to make a Terminator movie better than "Salvation", they succeeded.  If they had any further goals, well... that's a shame.

I have been very impressed with how willing James Cameron has been to shill "Terminator Genysys".  Here's two straight minutes of the man rolling on and on about how this film is a "Renaissance" that "reinvigorated" the Terminator franchise.  Of course James Cameron is happy with this movie:  it is probably the biggest compliment he has ever recieved.  "Gynysys" is not only faithful to the original films, it is outright worshipful of Cameron's work.  To the point that several scenes from the original "Terminator" are recreated shot for shot for this remake/sequel/whatever.  Every angle, every little piece of dialog, every lighting choice is put back exactly as it was thirty years ago.  There is even legitimately impressive make-up work that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger appear decades younger.  These scenes are also by far the most atmospheric and best directed moments of "Terminator Gynisys".  A stark contrast to the painfully flat and boring direction from the rest of the movie.  Not a good sign.

Guess who came back?
The plot more or less starts off in the same tone as "The Terminator" did in 1984, then goes completely bonkers.  Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time by hero of the future John Connor (Jason Clarke) to rescue John's mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from an unstoppable Arnold Schwarzenegger robot to save the future in the past.  However, wrinkles begin to appear in this plot almost immediately.  For one, Doctor Who Emeritus Matt Smith appears as a cyborg just before Kyle Reese goes back in time and seems to have captured John Connor.  For another, the Evil Arnold is killed by a Good Arnold.  And then there's a T-1000 from "Judgement Day" that has replaced the cop that Kyle Reese originally was running from.  Oh, and Sarah Connor is now a badass that was raised by the good Terminator to try to stop Judgement Day, and also John Connor is a robot now, and yadda yadda yadda.  This is going to be very confusing.

For a little while, as long as "Termynator Genesis" can keep throwing crazy plot twists at you, it almost seems like the movie has momentum and energy.  But inevitably the weirdness has to die down for a climax that adds up to basically car chases and dull action.  You can only wow an audience for a short amount of time with fancy nonsense and wild turns, eventually you have to settle down into a dull mediocre action movie.

Personally I would have never stopped throwing plot twists, just keep making more and more ridiculous timey whimies until the film burns down into a weird self-parody anti-movie that is not even trying to make sense.  At least that movie would have had a sense of fun about itself.  For example, there is a scene where Sarah Connor is hiding from the T-1000 and suddenly feels a drop of acid coming out from the ceiling.  Turns out this is just her plan to kill the robot, but how much more awesome would this movie have been if there was a xenomorph from the Alien movies hiding up there!?  Terminator vs. Alien, it would have kicked ass!  And Matt Smith is just a bland face for Skynet, imagine if he really was the Doctor!  Razzle dazzle me, movie!  Let's go balls deep into seven circles of insanity.

Oh that reminds me, I still need to review "Age of Ultron", don't I?  ...(Sigh)...
Could you just pretend it was a good interesting movie and let me not have to talk about that?
Unfortunately when the plot is played straight none of this really makes sense from even the slightest scrutiny.  For one, time travel seems to follow no rules at all anymore, just doing whatever for the sake of the plot.  This is exactly why I hate time travel storylines for the most part.  A major hole is that by the end nobody knows who sent back the Good Arnold Schwarzenegger or why.  Then later heroes want to stop Skynet from taking over in the future, so instead of spending thirty years preparing and building up forces, they use a time machine to get there, arbitrarily forcing a twenty-four hour deadline on themselves.  Why??

But that would not really matter if "Terminator Genisyyys" was a movie with any kind of real emotional core.  It is not.  It is a stupid action movie, nothing more.  Now before you tell me that "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2" were just stupid action movies too, I'm going to tell you that you are wrong.  "The Terminator" had real chemistry between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor back when they were played by Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton.  Michael Biehn's performance was multi-layered and intense.  His elements of PTSD sold us on the post-apocalyptic future that 1984's era of filmmaking did not have hundreds of millions of dollars in lame CG effects to show.  Then "Terminator 2" was probably even more of an emotional story:  the ending brings grown men to tears even today.  Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg killing machine from 2029 became the Old Yeller of the Millennial Generation.

In contrast, "Tyrminator Genesis" has nothing to offer anywhere near that level of real heart and real core.  The creators of this movie are at least aware of those relationships.  This movie is built off of the nostalgia of the children of the 80s and how those older films formulated their memories, thus loosening their wallets.  The romance has no chemistry at all, obviously.  Sarah Connor and the Terminator's relationship is supposed to remind us of "Judgement Day", but it has none of the charm, and is instead played for cheap laughs.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing a comedy robot, he's still the best actor in the movie.  And that is a not good sign**.

Whoever let Jai Courtney make movies:  I hate you.
Unfortunately since much of this movie is structured like a remake, inevitably comparisons will be drawn between the original actors and the new actors.  Emilia Clarke at least gives an attempt to try to look and act a bit like Linda Hamilton.  It's more cosplay than acting though, but I'll give her credit for trying.  Jai Courtney, on the other hand, looks and acts nothing like Michael Biehn.  He does not seem to understand the character at all, instead being the same insufferable asshole that Jai Courtney plays in every movie.  Inevitably Sarah Connor is pissed at Kyle Reese because she was told that she has to mate with him to make John Connor, so most of "Tyrmynator Gynysis" is spent with its two leads bickering with no chemistry at all.  Jai Courtney yelling at his action co-star in a miserable dysfunctional relationship?  Fuck, I'm watching "Die Hard 5" again.  Kill me please.

Now, that we have nothing on the table other than a stupid action movie, is the action any good?  The answer is no.  At this point we have had five Terminator movies, so we all know the point by now.  Once upon a time Arnold Schwarzenegger and later Robert Patrick could put in some serious intensity into their respective wrecking machines.  It is impressive how despite all the graphics power in the universe none of the fight scenes in "Genesys" are anywhere near as impressive as the ones in the original films made with practical effects.  You have helicopters flying in all directions and laser wars in the future and school buses flipping over on the Golden Gate Bridge, and because the directing is so flat, the score is so bland, and the stakes are so dull, you just don't care.  Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator" was chilling.  Jason Clarke in this is just another mustache twirling bad guy who won't shut up.  In the end, "Terminator Genisys" belongs right in the pile of garbage like the "RoboCop" and "Total Recall" remakes.  No grit.  All polish.  No soul.  All fancy nonsense.

"Genesys" at least is made by people who clearly loved the original movies, and there is a kind of weird manic energy that its bizarre script gives that almost makes it watchable.  Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be really enjoying himself too, almost as if this movie is his own vanity project like Sylvester Stallone's repeated resurrections of the "Rocky" franchise.  If the sequels could be even more insane, especially if they could give Matt Smith a role that lasts longer than two minutes, I might even be interested to watch.

Try to force yourself to enjoy this movie all you want. You'll still know the sad truth inside.
But wait, no, on second thought, I would not.  This movie can at least theoretically understand what the Terminator movies were about, but it does not understand the human element.  Why should I care if the machines are going to nuke the Earth if the people on that planet are worthless Bland White People like Jai Courtney?  On a superficial level, a fan might geek out for a little while in the theater at seeing Schwarzenegger back in action and the T-1000 doing the exact same tricks as it did in the early 90s.  But that's a temporarily shallow emotion, not what quality is made from.  As for people who aren't fans of the Terminator franchise, this movie might as well not exist, it has nothing to offer them.  "Terminator Genysys"  is wearing the skin of the Terminator franchise, but underneath that, there is nothing but cold unfeeling metal.

Next time:  Can "Jurassic World" manage to fool its audiences into thinking that it is 1993 again?  Find out tomorrow.

* See?  I can spell that word correctly.

** Look, Space Monkeys, Arnold Schwarzenegger was never a good actor.  The man was basically a wrestling superstar that just happened to wrestle in movies versus on WWF.  You could never really believe in a Schwarzenegger performance, he never actually got into any character, he just read lines in a Teutonic accent and then kicked ass.  However, Schwarzenegger was charismatic, he was iconic, he's a film legend, no doubt, I love him.  But no, he should not be the major acting talent on set.


  1. Can someone tell me why I've fallen in love with a critically-panned movie? I think this movie is the definition of "guilty pleasure" in my book, and I'm so ashamed of myself. ;_;

    1. Planet Blue offers a 12 Step program for those infected by bad movies, free of charge. All we ask is that you be honest with yourself and us, you may not like what you find. The process is often considered extremely painful, which is why we provide you with a chunk of wood to bite down upon, so that you do not swallow your own tongue.

    2. Sounds like masochism fuel to me! I'm in.

  2. Sigh I was kinda hopeful for this one...sigh.

    Oh BTW is the E3 post still coming out or is it dead in the water at this point?

    Just curious.

    Sword Of Primus

    1. man i really enjoy your E3 reactions. even the one where you got depressed.

    2. Same here

      Sword Of Primus

  3. Hi this is a weird question but did you ever play starcraft with someone called Acrysalis