Sci-Fi Film Review 2015: "Terminator Genisys" (Directed by Alan Taylor, Starring Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, et al.)
So, what do you get when a rabid fanboy becomes equipped with a massive Hollywood budget to adapt and translate one of his favorite by-gone stories from yesteryear to the big screen? It may look a lot like "Terminator Genisys". Forget the ransid aftertaste that was leftover from the good on ideas and poor in execution fourth entry 2009's "Terminator Salvation" directed with all the finesse of a butter knife by "Charlies Angels: Full Throttle" helmer McG and turn your sights to the future. Genisys grabs you by the eye-balls and demands your corneas stay transfixed on not just the action, but the softer and more intimate moments scattered throughout this very ballsy fifth installment. Like Salvation, this film begins in the future with a stirring and fist-pumping slate of action scenes to introduce our key characters with the human resistance attempting to incapacitate Skynet once and for all. The sound of flurries of phasers going off mixed with the clatter of crashing metal mixed with aerial establishing shots of a marooned Los Angeles is really something to behold. Director Alan Taylor of "Thor: The Dark World", "The Sopranos", "Homicide: Life On The Street" and "Game of Thrones" pedigree spares absolutely no expense in crafting this bleak but sweeping world that maintains an eerie loyalty to the franchise's former chapters while utilizing the $170 million budget in excellent ways.
Guys, lets face it: We don't go into a Terminator film to see Oscar-caliber acting, do we? In much the same respect that the "Star Wars" films, "Judge Dredd" and 1990s cult favorite "Demolition Man" contains over the top scenery-chewing that really never transmits any conviction or grounded credibility, the anti-naturalistic acting and appropriately stilted dialogue are genre staples of this type of bananas, high-concept sci-fi. We go to step outside of ourselves and the world in which we perceive and to do that, a very able team of writers, directors and, especially, set designers go to great lengths to suspend our disbelief. "Terminator Genisys" is truly NOT an exception to that rule. Critics the world over have unfairly judged and condemned the acting in this film and they are making these ridiculous comparisons between two or three different generations of actors. Emilia Clarke v.Linda Hamilton, Jai Courtney v. Anton Yelchin v. Michael Biehn, Jason Clarke v. Christian Bale v. Nick Stahl. v. Eddie Furlong. To say that Jason Clarke is any less convincing or entrancing then Nick Stahl in the role of fledging savior of humanity John Connor is utterly baseless especially when this new version is meant to unite mostly newcomers into the fold. Most people that came out to see this weren't looking squarely to see Mr. Governator regurgitate lines that hearken back from prior installments for nostalgia's sake. They came to experience this saga for the breath of fresh air that it is and most of the viewer's this time out, like myself, were certainly too young or not yet born to have seen the 1984 original and its 1991 sequel in theaters in all its 35mm glory. My mind was blown and the film successfully held my attention even if at points I knew where the narrative was headed because of my repeated exposure to the prior canon.
Most members of any audience may be asking themselves: Was this movie really, at all, necessary OR is it just the constant steam-rolling effect of the studio machine at work? On one hand, it is contractual and on the other, there are many moments of sheer creative brilliance throughout this movie that seem to undoubtedly go unnoticed. Casting choices and their portrayals of very well established characters aside, the plot gets enough heft with some very intriguing set-ups and twists and some welcome *wink wink nudge nudge* humor thrown in for relief. Taylor and his screenwriters clearly have a fondness for James Cameron's monumental vision and they do their very best to not desecrate it like McG did. In McG's one defense, though, his portrait of the incinerated future world of 2019 where all of his slog of a movie takes place could be apt of reappraisal in many more years because of its astute production design and a choice idea of setting the action entirely in the future. Cameron's first two flicks gave us flash forwards and glimpses into the future along with plenty of foreboding narration to make McG's decision seem like a logical and inspirational step forward. But, he utterly bungled it with tonal inconsistencies, a very one-note yelly Christian Bale and blink and you miss it glorified cameos from stars like Common & Bryce Dallas Howard that could have been more fully realized and utilized instead of just to fill the frame and bide time for the next Roland Emmerich-like world-shattering explosion. "Terminator Salvation" was meant to literally "save" the franchise with its intention as the start of a new and bold trilogy but it couldn't withstand the barrage of critical buzzards hacking it to shreds and its underperformance in box office returns. By and large, "Genisys" makes up for what the fourth film lacked especially with its pacing and willingness to try some new things with the material even if the film is circumvented around a well-worn sci-fi plot devices: the "time reset" and parallel multiverses.
Those two plot devices seem to be all the rage now more than ever in both the TV and Film mediums. Hit shows like CW's "The Flash", in its adaptation of the much-revered "Flashpoint" comic storyline call immediate attention to it and movies like last year's super fun Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt starrer "Edge of Tomorrow" involve an alien race that has the ability to reset time and the outcome of a massive war with humankind to turn the tide of it in their favor. Other past hits, most notably Star Wars VII director JJ Abrams's fantastic show "Fringe" that he executive produced deals with multiverses and two distinct alternate timelines and its characters mixed expertly with a forensic/CSI format. So, in that regard, the new Terminator isn't shaking it up too much but it does so in just the right ways to make it watchable and entertaining though not as instantly poignant as the prior films. The movie takes a couple of convenient missteps the biggest of which include turning Skynet into a "killer app" invented by a billionaire millennial tech-genius (*cough Mark Zuckerberg cough*) and, to a lesser extent, having both older Kyle Reese and his younger self have a very tacked-on pep talk as if to hint at the surefire likelihood of a sequel. Oh, and the criminally underused "Whiplash" Oscar-nominee J.K. Simmons, clearly in need of a paycheck perhaps who has all but 15 minutes of wasted screen time as an alcoholic and bumbling detective who's been hot on the trail of Sarah Connor and her mission for thirty years. And Matt Smith of "Doctor Who" fame may as well have been uncredited in the cast list even if his all too brief turn was effectively menacing.
I realize I may be in the minority with those that liked this movie but it wouldn't be the first time. Am I just itching for 2017 to arrive for the next one to come out? Surely not. In fact, judging by the way this one ended on a satisfactory note, this should, by now, be an open and shut case to throw the book at this franchise and at last wrap it up tidily. Or we can wait for the rights to revert back to originator Cameron and see what happens. But who am I kidding, he'll have already made 20 "Avatar" sequels by then. I can dream, can't I?