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Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys

It's all from the future, but just like the past, but there's more
of it, so it's comforting? Audiences, rejoice!

dir: Alan Taylor


We don’t need another hero. We don’t need to know the way home. All we want is life beyond Endless Sequels, Reboots and Thunderdome.

We probably don’t need more Terminator movies either, truth be told. It is not shameful to admit when you’ve had enough of something. It’s considered appropriate to leave at least a little bit of food on your plate when fine dining in the homes of the high and mighty, to show a modicum of self-restraint and forbearance, or at least that’s what it says in my copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette guide, which I always scrupulously follow to the letter in this as in all things.

So it’s okay if, as a nation, as a species, we say politely but firmly “No, but thank you” when more Terminator is offered to us. Audiences didn’t thrill to this at the box office, because I’m not sure that anyone understood the idea that there was any more story to tell.

Thus far, including this one, there have been five Terminator movies. Also, two seasons of a television series relating the adventures of Sarah and John Connor, with no Austrian cyborgs in sight. You could argue, from a nostalgic perspective, that since the idea and the image of the Terminator itself is so engrained in pop culture, that saying “no” is churlish because it’s so well known.

Well, Gary Coleman, Urkell and that alien Alf were well known by everyone with eyeballs at one point, and no-one’s demanding that they come back in any form.

I think a lot of people were disappointed with Terminator Salvation. It did, after all, have Sam Worthington in it. At this stage I think even Sam Worthington’s parents feel disappointed when they start watching a movie and see that Sam Worthington is in it. He wasn’t the problem with that film, or at least it had many other problems, mostly stemming from Christian Bale playing a boring variation on what is essentially the same intense Christian Bale character.

Plus it took the story we’d watched 3 times before (people in the present trying to survive an attack by robots from the Future!) and enjoyed, and completely upended the dynamic by setting the premise for the movie in what is for them the present day, being the horrible future that the first 3 movies wasted their time and our hours trying to prevent.

No one cared. We’d been told from the opening moments of James Cameron’s original film that John Connor was the leader who would save humanity from Skynet. Now we were going to see him in action as an adult against the implacable might of Skynet and its legions of shiny technological marvels.

Instead there were countless scenes of Christian Bale grumbling into a CB radio, inspiring the remnants of humanity with frankly dull and depressing rallying cries. It made no sense even in this universe, one in which robots can be made of liquid metal, because even in this day and age it’s easy for non-super computers (ie. Humans) to track down where a radio signal is coming from. If you’re trying to hide from murderous robots, maybe it’s not the best way to get your message out?

I guess it could have been worse: he could have been ‘inspiring’ humanity with some hand printed newsletters that he left under the windscreen wipers of their nonexistent cars, or just yelling at them from a street corner. Still, that flick made no sense, and was directed by someone calling themselves McG, which is just bad form right from the start.

In some ways, some very lazy ways, this new flick, Genisys, which was obviously intended to relaunch the brand and reenergise ticket and merchandising sales exists as something of a mashup of the first two movies. Is that a bad idea?

More importantly, it reintroduces the most vitally important component into the Terminator movies without which it would seem making Terminator ‘properties’ is inherently pointless: Arnie.

Arnold. The Schwarzenegger. There can be only one.

He’s been off our screens a long while. With good reason. He was governor of some insignificant place for a bunch of years, and he’s probably had dozens of surgeries to cope with increasing age and steroid abuse in his youth. And there must be some days where he just doesn't want to get out of bed, what with his lumbago and sciatica, don't get me started.

Still, I love the man so much (at least, I love seeing him in movies; the actual man away from the screen is something of a dingbat even when he’s not fathering children on the ‘help’). I have to admit I squealed when he appeared, and this was in a cinema with other humans around. I squealed like a little girl who’d just seen her favourite unicorn).

Quite rightly the makers realised without Arnie we just flatly don’t care, so back he comes to save the day.

At least at the start the flick looks like it’s giving us the moments hinted at with the beginning of the first movie, which is when Kyle Reese and an original evil Arnie terminator get sent back in time, one to protect Sarah Connor, the other to KILL her and stop John from ever being born. So though obviously the guy they have playing Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) isn’t Michael Biehn, we’re meant to be thinking or remembering the first film.

So they replicate as much of the look of the first flick as they can, with plenty of differences for our modern cinema sensibilities, at least in the beginning. They use the famous setting of the LA Observatory to replicate the scene where Original Evil Terminatah kills a bunch of punks and takes their clothes.

Or does he? Nuh uh, something very different is going on, because there’s another terminator there, and he’s a good guy (again). So Arnie Fights Arnie, and it’s as great as I ever would have imagined it could be.

But then there’s Sarah Connor, and she’s using a .50 cal sniper rifle, so she’s obviously already tough and such. But what gives? In 1984 she’s meant to still be a waitress in a cocktail bar, with a perm to match.

And then as Reese asks a policeman (the magnificent South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun) what time it is, we get the other Terminator appearing, the liquid metal one Robert Patrick played so famously in the second Terminator movie.

The second one is still the best of the lot, let’s not fuck around. There’s never going to be a better one, is there? No, there isn’t. But it’s nice to be reminded of it, and who is more entitled than the people who now have the rights to the Terminator franchise?

It’s tempting to say that James Cameron should be making them, but, really, he disappeared up his own arse after T2, what with Titanic and that bloody flick with Sam Worthington in it with the 12-foot grown-up Smurfs.

So, if you’re keeping track, there’s the T-800s (Arnies, both good and bad), the T-1000 coming after them, and even two more: the T-3000 AND the even more advanced T-5000 (Matt Smith, who’s obviously no longer getting steady work since having played The Doctor).

How is it that all these Terminators exist, and that an elderly T-800 has been looking after Sarah since she was nine, all simultaneously? Um, well I don’t know.

Time travel is one of those inherently dicey plot devices that can kinda make anything possible and also kinda sucks the stakes out of any given story such that you don’t feel like any of it matters because it’s going to be fixed up with a magic time travel wand at the end. On the other hand I’m not looking for scrupulously meticulous explanations of how a plot adheres to its own rules (something like Looper), because that isn’t inherently interesting either.

Now in this all timelines and all possibilities have been smushed together, and I’m not really sure what the purpose was. The point at first was to keep Sarah Connor alive. Mission accomplished. The point of the second one was to keep John Connor alive (and to admire how buff and formidable Linda Hamilton / Sarah Connor had become), and possibly stop the rise of Skynet in the first place. Mission accomplished. The third movie’s point was… I forget, something or other. Something something spin-the-bottle in Mike Kripky’s basement something something inevitability.

This one’s point is to eat every possible alternative piece of cake but have all of them too. All bets are off, but everything is a reference to something else, most of the time.

At the risk of sounding like an opinionated blowhard who thinks they know about something even when they have no clue whatsoever (ie. like every opinion scattered across the tubes of the internets), as much as I ‘enjoyed’ this flick, it probably would have made more sense to go in a different direction rather than ransacking the corpses of the other movies. Each of those references, visual or otherwise, remind you of that other, better flick, or at least better put together. This eventually has the feeling of a violently pointless hodgepodge.

If there are elements that work, well, they work because I’m being awfully forgiving. Arnie has never been a decent actor but that’s never been why we ever loved him. We love him because he’s Arnie. Here he does a lot of age-appropriate cribbing, as in, the story itself requires that his cyborg body be aged to an equivalent level as his own actual body, kept together as it is with human growth hormone injections, titanium joints and pig heart valves. He, as Pops, is a delight. For some insane reason I enjoyed watching him interact with Sarah like the bizarre father-daughter dynamic the writers envisaged. However absurd it may be, I bought it. His painful attempts at humour work because they’re vintage Arnie. He has that delightful way of delivering dialogue that makes you laugh no matter how complicated or mundane it would be.

As this character I would probably laugh if he said nothing more than “EAT YOUR VEGETABLES, I MUST PICK UP THE DRY CLEANING”, because that’s what he does, at least for me. There is (some? much?) humour derived from Sarah’s attempts to make him more friendly and sociable, but he really does need to work on the terrifying smiling.

Sarah and the friendly terminator’s dynamic is fine. Sarah and Kyle Reese, or at least the lunk playing him now? Eh.

It’s meant to be somewhat ironic that in this version of the timeline, things don’t go as swimmingly for their dynamic, and I understand that, but I have to say I did find most of their interactions fairly annoying.

The plot, well, and the too many Terminators, well, it is what it is. It’s meant to get us to care about a premise (Stop Skynet! For the love of God!), but then, like every franchise furthering film, requires and delivers an ending which means everything was just a time-wasting endeavour for both the protagonists and the audience, with a few neat twists along the way.

The sneakiest twist? This is a Hollywood movie where every single one of the main actors is putting on an American accent: Kyle Reese (Aussie), Sarah (Brit), Pops (Austrian), John Connor (Aussie), liquid terminator (South Korean), Skynet itself (Brit); not a one of them is American (well, Arnie’s American, but you know what I mean. Talk about jobs Americans won’t do anymore. Apparently producers don’t like the way Americans speak English anymore, and come to the colonies for better elocution(?) I don’t get it.

There are critics saying this is the worst flick of the 2015 US summer. I don’t think it is, but then I went in with very low expectations. It is very much a clumsy flick of its time, and terribly muddled by the end, and yet awfully pedestrian in a lot of ways. But I didn’t hate it.

Still, I can really argue that it’s worth anyone’s time. Sorry Arnie, please don’t get angry with me and rip my arms off or nothing.

6 times Arnie generally always provides the best and worst moments of any flick he’s in out of 10

“I’m old, not obsolete” – yeah, you just keep telling yourself and the studio executives that, Arnie – Terminator - Genisys