Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Movie Review: "Terminator Genisys" (2015)

© Paramount Pictures

The long list of things that I hated and loved about Terminator Genysis results in a very muddled appreciation for this return to the franchise. It is, occasionally, unadulterated fun. It's also a huge mess. Completely bypassing the droll world established in 2009's Terminator Salvation—or at the very least, glossing over it—we instead are handed all the things all at once that we loved about the original: a young Sarah Connor (played by Daenarys herself, Emilia Clarke) meeting time traveler, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in 1984 and battling an onslaught of robot assassins that come with being them. It's apparent that the filmmakers recognized what went wrong with T3 and Salvation, and hoped no one would notice they're never acknowledged. Surprisingly, where Genisys shines is in everything related to Schwarzenegger—where it suffers is in everything related to everyone else.

The year is 2029, and a mangled John Connor (Jason Clarke) is moments away from leading the resistance to victory over Skynet and its legion of robots. His mission is to get to the time travel device, Skynet's last hope to save themselves. With that trusty T-800 already on its way, Connor enlists Kyle Reese to make the journey to protect his mother, Sarah. All of this edges very close to being a full-on remake with alternate perspectives thrown in to give it that new car smell, but then something happens and the timeline that we'd come to love shifts.

Now it's not a remake, but a feverish attempt at a reboot, as the past that Kyle is returning to changes mid-jump, and it's not the one he'd been warned to expect. Sarah's already in battle mode and doesn't have time to worry about all this "getting pregnant" business. She's already prepared for how to deal with the T-800 and T-1000 (sent simultaneously, I might add, but by who??) on her heels, and this is all quite delightful to watch. With her trusty, re-programmed and aging T-800 by her side (Arnold Schwarzenegger being ah-mah-zing), the mission to stop the apocalypse before it begins is still on. I'd have been happy if we'd spent 2 hours doing first movie callbacks, but alas, the plot pressed on, leading us to the franchise's first time jump—into the future.

This is when my eyes squinted uneasily. I'm a sucker for time travel movies and odd time-loop paradoxes, but as the film unraveled, I tried desperately to piece together everything that they laid out. The importance of 2017, a young Kyle Reese, an evil version of the operating system from Her. More than one time travel faux pas makes its way into the seams of this thing, and I found myself cringing in dismay all while I peered on optimistically. On the surface, Genisys did its best to answer all your questions the moment that "Uh..." entered your head. Momentarily sated, you will undoubtedly revisit the concepts again and again, distracted by all the wordy mumbo-jumbo and the fact that the characters are scratching their heads right along with you.

Despite all the ads and trailers that had clear and enraging spoilers about plot twists, the movie does takes a few unexpected turns. The story line—and the timeline—become super intricate, but what starts out as intrigue devolves into chaos. Entertaining chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Whether this was on purpose or not remains to be seen, but it's hard not to think that the filmmakers were purposefully obtuse in hopes of leaving some reveals for the inevitable sequels. It's possible that none of this would have bothered me if it weren't for the fact that our heroes had the darndest time navigating this treacherous plot themselves.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is a bit too soft around the edges. At least, this version of Sarah Connor. Hardened from a life raised by "Pop," as she affectionately calls the T-800 sent to rescue her when she was nine years old, Clarke convincingly wields her weapons and makes snarky remarks, but she's not the jaded person we know her to become. Maybe this was an attempt to make her more likable, relatable, but I didn't believe it. A child raised to become a warrior would be a much older soul trapped in a young girl's body, not the bright eyed, soft skinned beauty Clarke portrays. She looks like the Sarah Connor that Kyle Reese expected to go back and rescue in 1984, not the one who ends up rescuing him. She also struggles to maintain her American accent, which was, unfortunately, pretty distracting. It sounded like a Mila Kunis impersonation. Jai Courtney is just a replica of the every-man that Sam Worthington played in Salvation (and everything else), and he's as forgetful as he is broad-shouldered.

Schwarzenegger is the true star here, and he pulls it off without the merest bit of exhaustion. He's as interesting as a character-less character could hope to be, and he slips back into this role with ease. It is to the filmmakers' credit that they put him so front and center. He's the only character that successfully reminds us we're watching a Terminator flick, and he does everything in his power to honor it all. Any of his lines that might fall flat could easily be blamed on the bevy of writers who hand-jammed this thing together. Even then, every moment was clearly done out of love and affection for the film that inspired it, and that is what lands this on the side of success. Because honestly, it could have been leaps and bounds worse that it was.

While the convoluted story might leave you in a bit of a haze, it does have its memorable moments, enough that anyone could, and should, give Genisys two hours on a lazy Saturday night.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars

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