Terminator Genysis: The Review You Won’t Get Anywhere Else

terminator

DISCLAIMER: The writer of this review considers those that get mad about spoilers to be terrorists. In his view, they are holding the entire planet hostage from the use of freedom of speech. So if you don’t like spoilers, don’t read on. This is your only warning.

I love the Terminator franchise. I have since I was a little boy (born in 1981). Now that my bias is stated and in the clear, let us review the latest entry into this franchise: Terminator Genysis.

Wait…let’s back that ass up, though, for a minute, and lay out some history. First off, my outlook on films and franchises. When I watch a movie, I don’t have a simple “five stars” or “two thumbs up” scale. I don’t think that there is one set “way” that movies can be value judged as good or bad. That’s not how art works. It means something to you, or it was even made in such a way because of how it resonates with your own taste and life experiences.

For example, I consider Any Given Sunday from Oliver Stone to be the worst movie of all time. The camera is way too jittery and gives me a headache, instead of giving me a sense of onscreen intensity during a football game (which I assume was the intention). Oliver Stone is widely considered a great director, and the actors in it (including the astounding Al Pacino) are solid and do a fantastic job in the film. But frankly, I don’t give a shit about football. It doesn’t excite me in the slightest (also, I could’ve done without the locker scenes). So watching a movie about football doesn’t do shit for me, even when technically (and conventionally) it is considered a “great film”. But this is an important point: Any Given Sunday wasn’t made for me, it was made for another kind of moviegoer. So when you read reviews, bare in mind that nine times out of ten a review you’re reading on a website (or if you used to read it in the newspaper) about a movie is bullshit. Professional movie critics are totally desensitized to the idea that just perhaps the movie they’re reviewing doesn’t resonate with them. That doesn’t make it bad (since NOTHING should be made to appeal to everyone, that’s ridiculous, even though movie studios try to do just that), it just makes it different.

So here is the first point about Terminator Genysis: This movie isn’t for everyone, and that doesn’t make it bad. But we’ll talk more about that later.

The other thing I want to mention about me as a reviewer, particularly when it comes to franchises like Terminator, is that my number one concern (the main thing I look out for to gauge how much I’ll enjoy it) isn’t special effects. It isn’t acting, direction, or any of the other things that supposedly people look for. My number one concern is “franchise fidelity”. How well does it pay fan service? How well does it meld with the rest of the franchise? Are there contradictions when compared to other movies? Are there hints from a franchise’s “non-canonical” elements that were used by the writers? And that’s another important point to understand about me: I consume everything within a franchise. Books, comic books, video games, albums, you name it, if it contributes to the franchise universe that I appreciate, I want to know EVERYTHING about it. I think this sets me apart from a lot of other “movie reviewers” because there are things that they may see or hear within a film that they have no clue about its importance, or how “cool” it is that it’s in there. I don’t have that problem. I’m the “computer with tennis shoes”. The guy that’s read the book for every new movie you’re seeing previewed during the trailers. Go to a franchise film with me and you get to sit next to an encyclopedia for perhaps the first time in your life. And when movies (or anything really) pays homage to other elements of a franchise, I give that a thumbs up…big time. Again, “franchise fidelity” is important to me because generally I’m very passionate about the franchise, and so when a writer/director shows fidelity, I instantly feel like the passion that I have is respected and shared by them. What could possibly be more important in a medium–such as art–than that? And let’s be clear, Terminator has a whole lot of franchise from some big names in its history (J. Michael Straczynski and Timothy Zahn, for example).

Anyway, when it comes to the Terminator series, I like to think I live up to the reputation of being a “walking encyclopedia”. So now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s do the review. And trust me, you won’t find a review like this one anywhere else…

THE LONG AND SHORT:

I’ll do this in sections to keep me on topic. But for the first bit here, the short version of my review of Terminator Genysis: I loved it. As far as ranking the movie series as a whole, with #1 being the best:

  1. The Terminator
  2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  3. Terminator Genysis
  4. Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines
  5. Terminator Salvation

And that above list is saying something, particularly since I really enjoyed T3, and Genysis definitely creamed it. It’s about the closest thing we could get to having a feature film rendition of The Sarah Connor Chronicles (the short-lived–but excellent–Terminator TV series). Is it a movie that can just be considered objectively great by all? No. This is a movie made for people that enjoy the Terminator franchise. But on a technical level, in my opinion, it also has no flaws. The acting is great. The effects are great. The direction is great. It’s funny (even though other reviewers claimed it failed at that, and I disagree, because unlike them, I get the jokes). Schwarzenegger still delivers the goods (despite people saying he’s not a “box office draw” anymore, which is nonsense).

But let’s get into “the long” part of this review, starting with the music (an integral piece of any film).

THE MUSIC:

This is one of the first things that struck me as unique about Genysis. Lorne Balfe does a fine job of a score (he previously did excellent work in the video game industry, and was a logical choice for this film), there’s nothing striking about it, particularly. It’s not like a recent Michael Giacchino work or anything, but it does the job. What was striking, however, was during the opening credits of the film it had listed Hans Zimmer as “Executive Music Producer”. I’m sure it’s not new, but personally, I’ve never seen that title before in a movie. I can’t help but feel like they knew Balfe was an unknown quantity, and the Terminator franchise is well known for its music, so they wanted to slap a famous name on it, without them actually contributing. Maybe Hans Zimmer (an excellent composer, by the way) did contribute something, but I doubt anyone outside of the film’s production crew really knows for sure. Considering the lack of great composers these days, I’m wondering if this is going to become “a thing” in Hollywood to try and get people excited until some new blood build names for themselves.

Something that became popular a couple of decades back was having a known talent of a composer do the theme for a film, and then have a lesser known composer do the rest of the grunt work on it (think the film version of Wing Commander where David Arnold delivered a phenomenal theme, and then Kevin Kiner did the rest of the score). Maybe that’s what “Executive Music Producer” can be compared to, I don’t know. Damned odd.

But whatever, the music worked fine, no matter the story behind it (not that I’d run out and buy the soundtrack).

THE EFFECTS:

As I’ve said in previous reviews on the ZOG Blog, unless there’s some kind of screw up in the visual effects, there’s not much point in talking about this in our CGI-filled era. The effects were solid, and certainly the Terminators of various models looked fantastic. It may be worth it to mention that the “1984 version” of the T-101 (Arnold’s character) looked perfectly human and real, which can’t be said for the T-101 in Terminator Salvation (even though they did a good job with that back in 2009).

I suppose one thing to bring up here is that the film does take place in previously shown parts (and scenes) of the the Terminator franchise, particularly the first film’s 1984 Los Angeles. They nearly shot-for-shot re-enacted parts of the first film (with different actors in the same roles, of course, other than the CGI Arnold), and that was a very welcome sight. I was amazed at how well they actually re-filmed those sequences, right down to the timing. There was really little good reason to mimic those scenes so closely to the original 1984 film other than for what is clearly passion on the part of the production team. Seeing it immediately gave me an appreciation for the film.

THE ACTING:

Since a good chunk of Genysis takes place in the same exact moments as the original Terminator film (and since it’s clear they are making a new trilogy here), it wasn’t cost effective to use CGI versions of Linda Hamilton (sadly, because…damn…was she amazing) or Michael Biehn (he’s good, too). You want new actors that you can build upon. Jason Clarke does a great job as John Connor. Arnold does his usual work with aplomb, even as an older T-101. Jai Courtney does a respectable Kyle Reese.

The real question on everyone’s mind, though, was how would Emilia Clarke do as Sarah Connor (especially after Lena Headey did such amazing work in the aforementioned Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show)? Honestly, I think she was great. She definitely plays the fine line between being the quirky pre-arrival-of-Terminators Sarah Connor of the original film, and the hard-edged Sarah Connor that everyone learned to grow and love (I REALLY loved) in T2. Sometimes I thought she sounded a little “too young”, and perhaps a little too sassy in the role, but this is a Sarah Connor of a new timeline that was raised with the idea of Judgement Day (when Skynet takes over) being a reality, so I think her acting as a carbon-copy of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor (which Lena Headey wonderfully provided) wouldn’t have made sense. So overall, Emilia did well, and I think she looked sexy as Hell wearing triple-black clothing throughout the film.

Which reminds me, I really hope there is going to be a “Director’s Cut” or “unrated” version of this film upon home video release, as Linda Hamilton was largely required to “show skin” in the original Terminator, and I would genuinely enjoy seeing nudity return to the Terminator franchise with Emilia and the others doing the same. I understand the arguments against nudity in films, but I think nudity adds a visceral sense of reality and seriousness to films that the original Terminator film definitely benefited from (and this new trilogy would, as well, in my opinion).

But let’s get to the story of this whole thing, and then we can get into the unique fun stuff that I like to think I provide in my reviews.

THE STORY:

First thing to understand about the story in Genysis, is that as I’ve already mentioned, this movie is definitely setting up a new movie trilogy for the Terminator franchise. In doing so, it pretty much wipes clean and ignores the events of T3 and Terminator Salvation as parts of the Terminator canon (much like Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns ignored Superman III and Superman IV as being parts of the canon, and tried to restart a trilogy). The Terminator and T2 still count, but as far as Genysis is concerned, forget everything else now.

As a side note, one of the benefits of an ever-evolving time-travel franchise like Terminator is that you can still enjoy all of those novels, comics, TV shows, and video games that came before, because “canonically” they still exist in alternate timelines. It’s a headache and a blessing at the same time in these kind of franchises, but in the end I find it endearing.

Back to the story. Genysis initially retreads the first film almost scene-for-scene, even though it opens with an exciting battle sequence in the Skynet-controlled future of 2029. Kyle Reese is then sent back in time by his own (unknown to him) son, John Connor, to save John’s mother Sarah Connor. The difference being that this time Sarah Connor is already aware of Skynet and the future in 1984, and she has been waiting for Kyle Reese to arrive. Sarah is also joined by another T-800 (T-101 model, to be exact), that has been raising her since she was 9. Schwarzenegger’s main part in the film is playing this older T-101 that Sarah lovingly calls “Pops” (the explanation that the Terminator’s organic skin is designed to age is an obvious–though still clever and very believable–way to explain the much older actor). Who sent Pops and why (other than the directive to protect Sarah Connor at all costs) is left as a mystery in the film, and personally that’s fine with me since this film had a lot to explain already, and any other plot twists might have burdened the very well-paced story.

Let me break in with this, too. This Terminator film had a lot of story to it, as compared to other films in the series (particularly T3) being “action-explosion-action-story-explosion-action”, which was a nice change of pace, in my opinion.

Within that story is the fact that Kyle sees, just before he goes back to 1984, that a Terminator gets his hands on John Connor in 2029. This becomes the major plot point, as John Connor himself joins them in the main “year” that the film takes place in: 2017. Yes, the Judgement Day of 1997 in T2 had been averted (and the Judgement Day in T3 is completely ignored), and so now in 2017, Cyberdyne Systems is about to release a very Google-esque service that will interconnect your entire life across devices, and this project is called Genysis (which you find out early on is actually ubervillain Skynet). John Connor’s appearance in the past comes with the realization that he is now working for Skynet, and has become a “T-5000” that operates much like a T-1000, but instead of liquid metal he seems to be made of those metal shavings you’re used to seeing get collected to a magnet when you were a kid (if you did cool science things when you were a kid, that is). John Connor being the villain in this film isn’t a surprise (it was shown in the trailers for Genysis), but I do feel it’s never really “real”. You don’t get the sense at all that this is John Connor that’s being fought. Yes, the acting is fine, and you have clear understanding that it is John Connor, but I guess I always expected John Connor to be a little more “badass”, and that never really shows here. It doesn’t take away from the rest of the film, really, but it’s certainly an area that I feel the crew dropped the ball on.

So anyway, it’s up to Kyle, Sarah, and Pops to try and stop John Connor from launching Genysis/Skynet. Action sequences ensue, yada yada, Kyle and Sarah finally start to love each other after an initial phase of disgust and annoyance with each other, yada yada. Movie ends with the heroes (pretty much) saving the day, though the finality of any of the “deaths” in this movie is to be questioned. Kyle, Sarah, and Pops ride off into the sunset.

One of the interesting plot points here is that John Connor (working with Cyberdyne, including Myles Dyson’s son) really hastens the development of technologies Skynet itself originally perfected. There’s a whole vat of T-1000’s that the character of Pops is eventually upgraded to. I thought that last bit of Pops’ is upgrade was very clever. This will allow either a young CGI’d Schwarzenegger to appear in future films, or it will just simply allow for a new actor to take his place (perhaps even another female Terminator/Terminatrix, which I really enjoyed from T3). This was one of the smartest moves in the film, and the series in general, and the movie crew deserves big props for the ingenuity.

And speaking of Pops, many critics have said that this film tries to be funny and that it fails at it. I disagree. The character of Pops is very funny, without being cliche, and is also able to deliver on some sadness. It’s amazing that the most emotionless character in the series is the one that produces the best reactions out of the viewer, but not really a surprise since we are talking about Schwarzenegger here.

The story certainly ends with room for a whole series of films here, and again, as I understand it, the studios have already greenlit these, and Genysis is doing very well overseas. So it’s likely. I can’t wait for them (as they have even apparently set dates for their release). I can see the Terminator films not earning massive budgets for each new release, but the Resident Evil film series has yet to receive big budgets either, and those movies continue to release with very inventive ideas that I enjoy, and do well enough in the box office to keep going (it’d be amazing if Paul W.S. Anderson took over the Terminator franchise, actually, I need to start a writing campaign for that). But now let’s get to some of the more unique and fun stuff of this review.

A MOVIE-GOING TRICK:

You’re going to want to sit through the credits on this one. About halfway through the end credits of Genysis, a bonus scene is played showing that Skynet survived (what a shock). Normally you can expect one of these bonus scenes in a film because the movie crew has made a very elaborate end credits animation for the “big names” involved in the film, but Genysis didn’t have that elaborate sequence, it just looked like very normal credits. Now, I saw this movie in 3D (and the 3D was done pretty well, actually), and the thing that I noticed is that the credits before the Skynet bonus scene were in 3D, and the credits after the scene were not.

So if you’re not sure that there will be a bonus scene during a movie’s end credits, see if the credits are in 3D, and if they are, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet there’s going to be a bonus scene. If the credits are only in 2D, you can’t really know, but it’s also likely that there isn’t one.

WHAT I WISH WAS IN THE MOVIE:

I wish T3 wasn’t abandoned. It was such a good film. It’s also a film that had the guts to end the movie with humanity “losing”. Genysis would have done well to have a “bad ending”, but it just didn’t take the chance. It still kind of did with the end credits bonus scene, but not to the degree that T3 pulled off.

I also would have thought this to be a great opportunity to play up the notion from the RoboCop Versus The Terminator comics that the technology that created RoboCop aided in the creation of Skynet. They wouldn’t have had to mention RoboCop by name (SEE: the bullshit that is copyright), but maybe just saying something like, “Recent robotic developments at the Detroit Police Department”, could have really brought a lot of the “extended universe” of the Terminator franchise to come to fore. RoboCop Versus The Terminator is a much beloved story (and video game), and it would’ve been awesome to see it given recognition.

I also wouldn’t have minded a cameo of the Terminatrix from T3, as well. It was a GREAT idea, and definitely could have worked into the Genysis storyline.

One thing that they did do right in Genysis was the return of the laser rifles. Terminator Salvation really failed in that everyone pretty much used bullets, and it could’ve been a much “cooler” film if those pink lasers were firing all over the place. Genysis delivers on this front, fortunately. It’s depiction of 2029 Los Angeles is very…neon 80’s.

These few ideas could be implemented in future entries in the franchise, I just would have liked to see it in Genysis since it was essentially a reboot of the series.

MEDIA TIE-INS:

This really did surprise me. Other than an “Art of Terminator Genysis” book and a mobile game, there are pretty much no media tie-ins for Genysis. No prequel book, no comic book adaptation (that I’m aware of), not even a novelization of the film (that I’m aware of)…nothing. This is really disappointing. I’ll grant you, I think the idea of movies being “multimedia extravaganzas” is/was incredibly overdone, but this movie really had the potential for some great bonus content in the form of other media mediums. The Terminator franchise alone is a great platform for multimedia/mass media vehicles like books, comics, and full-blown video games (if you’ve never played The Terminator 2029 for DOS from 1992, you’ve really missed out, seriously). I’m not sure what the decision making process was around this, but I think they missed a golden opportunity. Perhaps like the movie Independence Day, they can make up for it later (which had a great prequel novel come out years later called ID4: Silent Zone). Hell, even Young Adult Novels (as much as I despise them) of Sarah Connor growing up with a Terminator could’ve been huge (and welcome).

THE CONSPIRACIES:

So I’m going to lay out a couple of “conspiratorial” ideas here. These are just for fun, I’m not saying I believe them, I’m just sharing with you some info.

  1. John Connor, as the T-5000, keeps saying that “he’s not man, and he’s not machine”. He also makes references to that fact that Sarah, Kyle, and Pops don’t understand what Skynet is trying to do, and John even makes reference to some new realization that Skynet has as to why it could never beat the humans. While this can all be seen as story fluff, I think some would see it as the movie beginning to push what is known as the “Transhumanist Agenda”, which is the notion that there are “elites” in our real world that are trying to become like gods through transhumanism, or what they call “perfectibilists” (which is the perfect melding of Man and machine). This “pushing of a Transhumanist Agenda” can (potentially) be seen in many recent films (including Ex Machina), and I can really see why people feel this way. Of course the viability that this new Terminator film is part of a conspiracy relies upon you believing that there is a “global elite” in control of things. To the average reader of this review, I recognize this sounds crazy, and in many ways I think it is, too, but I just thought I’d toss this out there in case you encounter it on the internet. At the same time, don’t be shocked if the real world conspiracy theory I describe becomes a major part of the story in the upcoming sequels to this movie.
  2. The way this movie has been getting panned critically doesn’t really surprise me, but part of the reason I think it happens is that the Terminator franchise itself unsettles modern people, because it all just smacks of being a little too possible. With the Genysis software in the new film, it is definitely making a commentary on the danger of our interconnected/mobile world that we live in, and I think anytime someone questions that, the bulk of people (especially people who make a living off of blogging on the internet) get triggered into a little fit of rage that somehow what they’re doing and using could be dangerous. Personally, I think a lot of the expressed distaste for this film comes from that. It’s a shame, too, because the real beauty of science fiction is that it can be a commentary on our present day, and the Terminator films have always done a solid job of that, and are more necessary now than they have ever been, in my opinion. Again, hopefully the bad reviews won’t stop or alter the clear plan the creators have for this new trilogy.

CONCLUSION:

With all of that said, I think Terminator Genysis is a good science fiction film that delivers pretty good “fan service”, and actually has a lot to say, and has a lot of fun saying it. I think it renews proper excitement about the Terminator franchise, even though there are still tremendous comics (and even a new TV show) being developed. However, Genysis also proves that this franchise’s home is on the big screen, delivering big action, with some big possibilities.

If you’re not a Terminator fan, it’s probably not going to convert you, and it’s probably not worth your time. And that’s fine if you’re not a fan.

But I am. So bring on the next two movies!

Carpe lucem!

 

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