Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Terminator Genisys

Welcome to Flashback Summer '15! So far in the past three months I've seen a Poltergeist remake, a Mad Max reboot, a Jurassic Park sequel and now another Terminator film in the theater. What freakin' year is it? Enough's enough, Hollywood. Sure, recycling's good for the environment, but not so good for the cineplex.

Terminator Genisys was written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, and directed by Alan Taylor.

Kalogridis wrote the screenplay for Shutter Island, which explains a lot, and Lussier wrote Dracula II, Dracula III and Drive Angry, which explains even more. Taylor is a prolific TV director, having helmed several episodes of Game Of Thrones, which probably accounts for the presence of Emilia Clarke in this film. He also directed Thor: The Dark World, which I liked quite a bit.

Terminator Genisys attempts to pump some much-needed life back into the ailing franchise by going back to the beginning— literally. The characters spend a good part of the film tromping around the well-worn territory of the first movie, completely overwriting it and all the subsequent sequels.

While I'm not sure that's a good idea, it's true that the franchise could use a shot in the arm. Every film so far has featured the same basic plot— Skynet trying to kill the Connor family and vice versa. Therein lies the problem. Skynet and the Terminators (hey, that sounds like a band name) are separated from the Connors by time. The only way Skynet can kill them is to travel back to the Connors' time, or there can be no conflict. Without that scenario there's no film.

But how many times can you go back to that very shallow well before there's nothing left but dust? How many times can the same evil computer send out robots to kill the same group of people? I've lost count of how many Terminator models Skynet's sent back in time now. I keep imagining that in 2029 there's this huge line of robots queued up, all waiting for their turn to go through the time machine.

As long as they keep using this same Skynet vs. Connors plot, the franchise is going to stagnate. It definitely needs a new direction. I applaud the filmmakers for trying something new here, but unfortunately they weren't a hundred percent successful.

This marks the fourth time Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the T-800, the role that made him a superstar, onscreen.

The first three films were all rated R. The two most recent ones are PG-13. Make of that what you will. Most fans were worried this would cause the new film to be watered down, but I didn't really notice any difference between it and the previous movies. There's more than enough violence to satisfy even the most demanding action film fanatic. They even took advantage of their one instance of the word "f*ck," which is allowed by the PG-13 rating.

The Terminator franchise must hold the record for being spread out over the most studios.
The Terminator was released by Orion Pictures 
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released by TriStar Pictures
Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines was released by Warner Bros. Pictures 
Terminator Salvation was released by Columbia Pictures 
Terminator Genisys was released by Paramount Pictures
No wonder the films vary so wildly in quality! I have no idea why this license is so slippery and no studio seems to be able to hold onto it for more than one film. Maybe Paramount, where it's currently landed, will have more luck.

FATEFUL SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Sit back, it's gonna be complicated. In 2029, John Conner (now played by Jason Clarke) is the leader of the resistance against Skynet, the computer intelligence that wants to wipe out the human race. The Resistance knocks out Skynet's main base in Colorado. Desperate, Skynet activates its backup plan— using its recently invented time displacement unit to send a T-800 Terminator unit back in time to 1984, to kill John's mother, Sara Connor, thus preventing his birth.

John and his troops find the time machine and discover Skynet's plan. Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney), John's right hand man, volunteers to go back in time to save Sarah. John warns Kyle that the Sarah Connor he'll find in 1984 will be weak and vulnerable, and quite different from the warrior legend he knows. 

As Kyle enters the machine and it's activated, he somehow "remembers" fragments of a past which can't possibly exist. He sees an alternate timeline version of himself at age twelve, warning himself of danger in 2017. Just as he's transported to the past, he sees one of the Resistance soldiers (played by Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame) reveal that he's really an advanced Terminator model, and attack John Connor. Zoicks!

The T-800 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course) arrives in 1984 LA and confronts three punks at the Observatory, just as we saw it do in the very first film. As it demands the punks' clothing, an older-looking T-800 shoots the younger model. The two grapple and the Old Terminator is overcome. Suddenly Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke) arrives and shoots the Young Terminator, deactivating it. 

Meanwhile, Kyle arrives in 1984 and breaks into a store to steal some clothing, again, just as we saw in the first film. Several police officers pursue him through the store. He takes the gun from one and asks it the year. The officer reveals himself to be a shape-shifting, liquid metal T-1000, also sent back in time by Skynet (I think?) to stop Kyle from stopping the first Terminator. Got all that? Jesus, my head's hurting.

Kyle and one of the cops, whose name is O'Brien (remember that name!) are about to be killed by the T-1000. Just then Sarah drives a van through the storefront and saves Kyle, once again uttering the inevitable line, "Come with me if you want to live." You know, you really don't have to say that in every movie, guys. We got it two or three movies ago.

Kyle is confused— this Sarah Connor is anything but weak; she's a capable soldier who already knows about Skynet, Judgement Day and Kyle's mission to save her. She tells Kyle that everything changed when Pops, the older-looking Terminator, appeared. He came from the future to protect her from a T-1000 that was sent back to kill her in 1973. Once the T-1000 killed her parents, the T-800 became her surrogate father, training her to defeat Skynet.

The T-1000 catches up and follows them to their underground lair, where Sarah and Pops finally defeat it by dropping acid on it from the ceiling, which I have to admit was pretty cool.

Pops has built a smaller version of the time displacement unit in their hideout, and Sarah wants Kyle to travel with her to 1997 and destroy Skynet before it becomes operational. Due to his mysterious new memories, Kyle's convinced that the timeline has changed, and Skynet will now take over in 2017. After much arguing, he convinces Sarah to travel to that year. Pops stays behind in 1984 and will wait for them to reappear in 2017.

Sarah and Kyle go through the time machine and appear on a busy highway in San Francisco in 2017. They're immediately arrested and taken to a local hospital. There they learn about Genisys, Phil Collins' new band, er, I mean a new operating system everyone's talking about, due to come online in a few days. Kyle realizes that Genisys is really Skynet, and that they have to stop it. 

Suddenly John Connor, posing as some sort of Homeland Security agent. He rescues Sarah and Kyle, taking them to the underground garage. There they're met by Pops, who looks a bit older after waiting thirty three years for their 2017 arrival. Suddenly he shoots John, who is revealed to be some kind of Terminator/Human hybrid. Double zoicks!

John reveals that when the T-5000 attacked him in 2029, it infected him with nano technology or something and turned him into a T-3000. Programs! Getcher programs! Can't tell yer Terminators apart without yer programs! John has also been sent back in time (man, there must have really been a line at that time machine) to ensure Skynet, er, I mean Genisys, becomes operational. Pops and John then have a major set piece battle. John is eventually incapacitated by the world's most powerful MRI machine. Oh, and Kyle finds out John Connor is his son, and blushes when he glances at Sarah. How John can possibly exist if his parents never have sex in this altered timeline is apparently none of our concern.

Meanwhile, John manages to escape and visits Cyberdyne, where he's working under the supervision of Miles Dyson and his son Danny, generating gasps of recognition from the audience. John's convinced them to not only create the Genisys program, but to also build a prototype time displacement unit (the same one we see in 2029?).

Pops takes Sarah and Kyle to a safe house he's set up and stocked over the years. They arm themselves, planning to destroy Cyberdyne. On the way there they're attacked by John, and are arrested yet again. During their interrogation, they're freed by O'Brien, the cop who met Kyle back in 1984 (remember him?). Sarah, Kyle and Pops hijack a police copter and flee. John follows closely behind in a second copter, setting up yet another action set piece.

Pops dives out of his copter (but not before uttering his signature "I'll be back line") and through the blades of John's copter (!), causing it to crash. John climbs from the wreckage and enters the Cyberdyne complex. Inside, Genisys is becoming sentient, appearing as a hologram of a child. It rapidly grows to resemble the T-5000 we saw infect John in 2029. Why it would resemble him, I have no idea. Genisys reduces the countdown from thirteen hours to fifteen minutes. 

Sarah, Kyle and Pops also enter Cyberdyne and begin planting bombs inside. John tries to stop them. Pops grapples with John yet again, eventually pushing him into the time displacement unit. Since nothing metallic can survive the time travel process, it begins tearing them both apart. Pops is flung into some liquid metal alloy pool, and John is ripped apart. 

Sarah and Kyle detonate the bombs, destroying Cyberdyne, Genisis and whatever the hell else they were trying to do. Pops reveals he survived, and because he was immersed in the metal alloy, he's now become a T-1000. Um... cool, I guess.

Later the three travel to young Kyle Reese's home. Older Kyle violates several laws of physics by warning his younger self about Genisys, which seems like shutting the barn door after the horse has already escaped, but whatever. Sarah and Kyle become a couple, with a grimacing Pops looking on.

Of course in the mid-credits scene, we see Genisys somehow survived an explosion that could have destroyed a small island.

Thoughts:
• An observation: none of the four main actors are from America. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Austrian of course. Emilia Clarke is British, and both Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney are from Australia.

• This film stomps all over the continuity, completely wiping out a good part of The Terminator, and all of the second, third and fourth films. I have mixed feelings about that. I loved the first two films, and didn't mind the third. Deleting those is a bad thing. I absolutely hated Terminator Salvation though, so anything that wipes it out is OK in my book.

• I enjoyed the beginning of the movie, in which the Resistance finds the time displacement unit and sends Kyle Reese back in time. We've been hearing about this event since 1984, so it was nice to finally see it happen.

• Kyle Reese goes back in time to 1984, where we see many recreations of scenes from the first film. Specifically the arrival of the Terminator, and Kyle fleeing the police and stealing clothing from a department store. 

They did a very good job with most of these scenes, even going so far as to match the camera angles. So why'd they have to recreate them? Naturally they'd have to recreate the Kyle Reese footage, since this film features a different actor, but why couldn't they have reused the original scenes of Arnold? Because a rival studio currently owns the rights to The Terminator, that's why. Stupid corporate lawyers.

• After the Terminator arrives in LA, he demands the clothing of a group of 1984 punks. The CGI Young Arnold used here is a vast improvement over the one seen in Terminator Salvation

It's relatively easy to create a CGI dinosaur or Gollum, because the audience has no frame of reference for such creatures and will more easily accept them. It's much, much harder to create a convincing CGI version of a real person like Arnold though, because we all know how he looks and acts.

One possible reason this Young Arnold is more successful— supposedly they used a body double and superimposed a CGI head over the actor. Hey, whatever works.

Note though that once again he gets his skin burned off as soon as possible. Those CGI Arnold shots ain't cheap!

• So why does the "Pops" Terminator look decades older than his mechanical kin? Sarah explains it by saying the T-800s are covered with human skin and it ages over the years, just like ours. Hence Pops' older appearance. Eh... I'm having a hard time buying that.

I can accept that the Terminators are covered in human skin in order to pass as one of us. I just figured that after a week or two the skin would die and begin to rot away. It wouldn't matter though, because by that time the Terminator would have killed its target and would self-destruct or go back to the future or whatever they do when their mission ends.

If the skin can actually age though, that opens up a huge can of worms. Real skin would need a blood supply, a heart to pump it, a circulatory system, lungs to supply oxygen, and on and on. Real skin would also likely need nutrients, so you'd need some kind of digestive system as well (and the Terminator would need to eat). It seems unlikely that all that could be sandwiched between a Terminator's skin and robotic exoskeleton. 

Not to mention the fact that when huge chunks of Pops' skin is torn away, he says it'll take years for it to regrow. Um... real skin doesn't work that way and couldn't possibly grow enough to cover an entire robotic arm. The only way any of this could work is if he's covered in some sort of synthetic skin-like substance. Whether such a material would age or not, I leave to the reader to decide.

• There are several things that seemingly must happen in every Terminator movie.
At one point a Terminator endoskeleton has to step on and crush a human skull on a future battlefield. 
Someone must utter the line, "Come with me if you want to live." 
A T-800 model must say, "I'll be back."
Someone has to say some form of, "The future is not written. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves." 
If there's a T-800 in the movie, it must get riddled with bullets and have half the skin on its face torn away at some point.
• I was glad to see the T-1000 pop up in this film. For my money that's the all-time best Terminator model, and the one that's yet to be topped. Sadly this new "nanotech" Terminator just didn't do anything for me.

• Jason Clarke is now the fifth actor to play John Connor (in the films, that is). The previous ones were Edward Furlong and Michael Edwards (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines) and Christian Bale (Terminator Salvation).

• The reveal that John Connor is now a Terminator might have been more surprising if it hadn't been shown on the goddamned movie poster.

• For months before the film premiered, the internet was abuzz with the fact that Matt Smith had a starring role. Talk about hype! He's in the film (in non-holgram form) for less than a minute.

• Once again we're told that nothing metallic or inorganic can go through the time displacement unit, which is why Kyle and Sarah have to enter it naked. Obviously this "rule" was made in the first film to prevent the Terminator from bringing back pulse rifles and such with him.

But wait— isn't the Terminator metallic? How's it able to go through the time machine? I suppose we're to accept that somehow covering his robotic skeleton with flesh fools the time machine. 

But wait again— what about the T-1000? It's metal too. Did it kill a human and slip inside its skin before it came back (and we just never saw it do so)? Same deal with the T-3000. Does simply looking like a human fool the machine? Or did the screenwriters of the various films hope we'd never think about this?

• There were a ton of shout outs to previous Terminator films in this movie. Here are a few I noticed:

Pops gives Sarah a thumbs up after she shoots the younger T-800. The T-800 gave a thumbs up as he killed himself in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Kyle Reese steals a pair of Nike Vandals, just like in the first movie. That model of shoe was discontinued long ago, and it took a huge effort on the part of the filmmakers to convince Nike to recreate them for the film.

Pop's attempt at smiling is a callback to a deleted scene from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. So they're even referencing cut footage now!

The T-1000's entire appearance is one giant shout out to Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Virtually everything he does is identical. He looks like a cop, he forms hooks and knives with his hands, he gets shot multiple times in the chest and gets a hole blown through his head. Even his "death by acid" is similar to his meltdown in the foundry.

The T-1000 shares the T-X's ability to control other machines (as seen in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines).

Sarah and Kyle appear in 2017 in the middle of a highway, just as they did in The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series.

John Connor's vulnerability to magnetism is similar to that of the T-X in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.

Sarah has a boombox much like the one young John Conner's friend Tim had in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This has to be an homage, given that the boombox gets more screen time than Matt Smith.

When John Connor crashes his truck, he calmly walks out of the flaming wreck exactly as the T-1000 did in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Pops crashes through the window of a police car and calmly tells the driver to "Get out." The T-1000 did the same thing (but in a helicopter) in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

The school bus flip on the Golden Gate Bridge may be an homage to the crane truck in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, which performed a similar stunt.

Pops loses his left arm, just like the T-800 did in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Young Kyle Reese owns a motorcycle very similar to the one Young John Connor rode in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Kyle also has a German Shepard that looks a lot like John's dog Max from the same film.

• The T-3000 John Connor works at Cyberdyne, where he's apparently guiding them into building the Genisys operating system, as well as a prototype time displacement unit.

John's bosses are Miles Dyson and his son Danny, who we met in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I guess since Sarah Connor never tried to kill Miles in this timeline, he's still all gung-ho about creating an artificial intelligence.

• Speaking of Genisys, I'm confused as to why it seems to be such a huge deal and why everyone seems to be so excited about it. With the exception of Windows 95, I don't remember ever seeing anyone get that enthusiastic over an operating system.

Plus, even though they call it an operating system, it looks more like an app. One that links your phone, tablet, computer, bank account and anything else you've got. Um... don't we already have those? In droves? Aren't we already able to synch all our devices? Isn't this function already built in to our our phones and everything? I don't get the hype. It's like celebrating the fact that Microsoft is releasing Windows 12.

• That Skynet is a genius. In order to protect itself and ensure its existence, it concocts a brilliant plan— it changes its name to Genisys! Best of all, it works!

• Many critics are crying foul at the way this film makes sweeping, drastic changes to the timeline, but the characters remain unaltered even though they should undergo radical alterations or even cease to exist.

It's a legitimate gripe, but... eh. It's not like this is the first film in the series to do so. Pretty much all of the sequels have done this, and no one got upset about it then. Even Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the best of the series in my opinion, is guilty of cheating. At the end of the film when they're in the foundry, Sarah and John Connor drop the original T-800's arm and brain chip into the molten iron, which prevents Skynet from being invented. Immediately after that the friendly T-800 should have disappeared, and Sarah should have found herself back at her waitress job. John should have been wiped out altogether, as Kyle Reese would never have come back in time to father him.

None of that happened though, and no one seemed to care. So I'm not sure why everyone's panties are in a bunch about it now.

In the end, the best way to deal with these numerous paradoxes is to follow Basil Exposition's advice in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: "I suggest you don't worry about those things and just enjoy yourself. (To audience) That goes for you all, too." 

• The only way all this history-altering can work is if the characters aren't traveling back and forth through time, but are jumping into different timelines altogether. That's the only way John Connor can possibly still exist after Sarah and Kyle fail to hook up. If you think of it that way, it makes a bit more sense.

In fact the screenwriters have pretty much confirmed this theory. They claim that the T-5000 that infects John Connor is actually from an alternate timeline. It even says that "I came a very long way to stop you." According to them, this T-5000 saw Skynet destroyed in several other timelines, cut bait and jumped over to this one to kill John Connor.

Unfortunately the alternate timeline theory carries its own set of problems. Kyle Reese lives in the hellish Timeline-A. He goes back to 1984-A to protect Sarah Connor and sire John. But when they fail to get together, that action creates Timeline-B. So now everyone Kyle left behind in Timeline-A is screwed. The Skynet he stopped isn't his Skynet, if that makes any sense. Skynet-A is still very much alive and well back in Kyle's original timeline. It's a victory, but not a very satisfying one.

• One big question that's left unanswered: Who sent Pops back to 1973 to save and train young Sarah Connor? Welp, that's obviously a question for the sequel, as Paramount hopes to start up a new trilogy.

• At the end of the film Kyle gives his younger self a message, warning him that "Genisys is Skynet." What's the point? Haven't they (seemingly) destroyed it? Is Kyle just hedging his bets?

Terminator Genisys is Paramount's attempt to invigorate the stagnant franchise by erasing all the previous films and starting over. It's definitely better than the execrable Terminator Salvation, but not quite as good as Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. I give it a B-.

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