Sunday, July 5, 2015

Terminator: Genisys: He said he'd be back.

Terminator: Genisys (2015) Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J. K. Simmons. Directed by Alan Taylor. Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier. Produced by David Ellison, Dana Goldberg.  Run Time: 126 minutes. U.S.  Color. Science Fiction.

Is it a reboot, a remake or a sequel? No doubt when everyone saw they were making a new Terminator film they had to ask themselves that question. The short answer is “yes”, Terminator Genisys is a little of all three variables. And, yes, to answer your next question, it does help to have seen the original Terminator (1984) prior to seeing this film. Like Jurassic World, which made call backs to Jurassic Park, Terminator Genisys does the same thing with the first film in what is now a five film franchise. There are even moments where you swear you’re actually seeing footage from the original film.

The problem with continuing a storyline or retelling it after 31 years is that most of the actors wouldn’t look the same and unless the original director, James Cameron, could have foreseen this eventuality and shot extra footage at the time, the editing would have been a nightmare. While many of the characters return from the original film, only one actor does, former bodybuilder and Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but instead of the Terminator, he plays Pops, a reprogrammed version of the Terminator, like in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but only this time, he’s been around since Sarah was a little girl, actually raising her after her parents die. He’s presented as older, his human skin ages, but not obsolete. This is the role that really put Schwarzenegger on the map, he was the Governator after all, and he actually does a good job in returning to the role after 12 years, last appearing in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

The other main characters change: Sarah Connor, originally played by Linda Hamilton, is now played by Emilia Clarke; and Kyle Reese, originally played by Michael Biehn, is now played by Jai Courtney. The T-1000 from Judgement Day also returns, but instead of Robert Patrick, it is played by Byung-hun Lee. The casting seems to follow another Hollywood trend that was also apparent in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), that franchise's fifth film, go global. Courtney, who as in that Die Hard, is Australian. Emilia Clarke is British, Lee is Korean and the actor who plays John Connor, Jason Clarke, is Australian as well. I know this is done for International box-office and I’m not saying their bad actors or that it’s noticeable in the film, but you just sometimes wonder if we’re running low on American actors.

Emilia Clarke takes over the role as Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genisys.

There are a couple of exceptions, including Courtney B. Vance and J.K. Simmons, both Michigan-born as it turns out. While Vance doesn’t really have that much to do, it is interesting to see a black man shown to be the head of a global firm, Skynet. This is before we knew that it would be anything less than intrusive in all our lives. It is easy to draw parallels to several big software/hardware firms like Apple, Microsoft or even Oracle. This is driven home as the Skynet complex is really an enhanced version of Oracle’s headquarters. It should be noted that David Ellison, the film’s producer, is the son of Oracle’s Larry Ellison and the brother of Megan Ellison, who is also a film producer. Both no doubt got some financial help getting started from their billionaire father.

Simmons, who is truly a gifted actor, plays Detective O'Brien, an alcoholic detective who supposedly investigates time-travelling and terminators after supposedly running into Sarah and Kyle during Terminator. He’s not in that film, nor was his character, and despite how far-fetched his premise might sound, he does provide a great deal of humor to the movie just as he had done with his appearances in the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man trilogy. And there is a lot of humor in Terminator Genisys, which is one of the things the original sorely lacked. Not to say this is a comedy, but the film does a really good job of not taking itself too seriously, again something Terminator did.

The storyline is a time-bending version of the original film, sort of a Terminator meets bizarro world, as everything you know is wrong, including the identity of John Connor, who is referred to, but not seen in, the original film. As in the original, Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect John’s mother, Sarah, but by the time he gets back to 1984, things have changed and he has acquired a new mission, which is itself a twist on Judgment Day.

There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo-say-it-real-fast-and-with-authority science in the film that you have to accept on face value, but that was also true of most science fiction films. While I can forgive that, I have a harder time with some of the films pacing. More than once, the characters seem to be running for their lives, but take time to stop and exchange, oftentimes witty, dialogue. I know they’re trying to wedge in exposition, but when you’re fleeing for your life, you continue to flee until you’re safe.

Like the Jurassic cinematic universe, I have not seen all of the previous Terminator films. I’ve seen Terminator and Judgment Day several times and have enjoyed them both, though I think Judgment Day was a better movie. As with Jurassic, you don’t need to have seen more than the first one to get most of the references; Judgment Day would be a bonus. As far as I can tell, Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation are not required viewing. You could probably get away without having seen the original, but I would strongly recommend watching that one prior, as the film sort of assumes you have.

While I can honestly say I wasn’t really anticipating this latest edition of the franchise, I did enjoy it. Terminator: Genisys was a fun diversion, which is really all you can ask for from a summer blockbuster. No one, I’m talking to Ah-nold here, embarrassed themselves and you can’t blame him for returning to the role now that that pesky government job has ended. He does for this franchise what he couldn’t do for California: make it better.

Terminator: Genisys, like a good franchise film should, not so subtly sets up another sequel, which might be one more too many. Even though it looks like Genisys will not be a huge domestic hit, it was running third on opening weekend, it is rumored that Paramount has already greenlit the next two, so there will no doubt be more Terminator in all of our futures, like it or not.

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