Sunday, July 19, 2015

The "Genisys" of The Terminator Saga

I really, really wanted to like Terminator: Genisys. I’m a big fan of the first two chapters in the saga, The Terminator & Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which were written & directed by James Cameron. The next two films, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines, Terminator: Salvation and the TV spinoff, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, all had interesting moments, but could not live up to the amazing initial entries in the series. In this latest film, we get a story that wants to have it both ways. It pays homage to, and also reinvents, the original concept. It works on some levels, but it’s not quite as successful as it could have been. This time out, we revisit the now familiar war ravaged future Earth. The artificial intelligence Skynet has taken over after the apocalyptic Judgment Day. The human rebellion against the machines is still led by John Connor. Just like in the original film, Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, who will become John’s mother. John plans to send back his friend Kyle Reese to protect Sarah, and ensure the future of the human race. What he doesn’t know at the time is that Kyle not only protects Sarah, but also falls in love with her, and becomes John’s father. But something happens just before Kyle’s journey back in time, and there are ripple effects.

Suddenly, there are multiple Terminators, and multiple timelines. When Kyle arrives in 1984, Sarah Connor is already aware of Earth’s dark future, and her role as John Connor’s mother. Surprisingly, she’s being assisted by a Terminator who arrived when she was nine years old (portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger; who else?), and they’ve already neutralized the original T-800. They have an idea about how they can stop Judgment Day, and have built a time machine to travel to 1997. However, Kyle has new memories of a different future (and something called Genisys) after his time trip, and thinks the date & year when Skynet becomes self-aware has changed. Which means a new plan has to be forged to stop the dark future that Kyle & John live in from occurring. Meanwhile, our heroes must evade the Terminators that have been sent to stop them.

The script by Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier tries to be a new riff on the mythology, and wants to salute the original movies as well. While it essentially ignores the latter two sequels and the TV series, one or two elements from those films crop up. The story is a bit overcomplicated, and leaves a couple of threads dangling. There’s also a significant twist, which I won’t reveal, that actually attempts takes the story in new directions. But did we really need another entry in this series? Unlike the recent reboot of the Planet of the Apes films, this doesn’t feel like a relaunch that tells a classic story in a different way, but is still recognizable to fans, and also accessible to newcomers. You’ll really need to know your Terminator history to appreciate this movie, or study up before viewing it. The film also spends too much time trying to play off of Arnold’s classic lines & scenes from other entries in the series. Everyone loves those moments, but there are too many of them here.

The cast tries its best; Schwarzenegger could play this role in his sleep by now, and does a nice job; Jason Clarke is effective as John Connor; Jai Courtney is ok as Kyle Reese, and Emilia (Game Of Thrones) Clarke is quite good as the younger Sarah Connor. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons & Matt (Dr. Who) Smith also show up in small but significant roles. Director Alan Taylor and his crew stage some cool action sequences & keep things moving. The design of the movie & the effects stay true to the look of previous films, but there's also an attempt to update things for this new take on the story. The movie is mildly enjoyable, but it doesn't stick in your mind after it's over. The film just never reaches the level of the first two entries in the saga. Terminator: Genisys is currently in theaters. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: There is a brief mid-credits scene, so if you go, hang out in the theater for a bit as the credits roll.

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