Terminator Genisys (2015)

2016.1: Terminator Genisys (Blu-ray)

tg1We’re living in a strange time of reboots of the franchises we grew up with. Maybe its a sign of growing old (in fact I’m certain of it) but it’s strange indeed. Hollywood over the last few years has been revisiting all the expired franchises of the last few decades and attempted to put a fresh spin on them, reinvigorate them and  make fresh money off them.

When I say ‘expired franchises’ I count Star Wars among them. We’ve had reboots of Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Mad Max, and most recently Star Wars over the past few years. Yes, there are obvious financial advantages of rebooting established properties- its certainly easier to market a film that has a recognised identity.  Artistically I can see the creative bonuses of revisiting something and giving it the advantage of modern technologies. The best example – and quite possibly the most successful reboot of all of them- is the Planet of the Apes series.  The original Planet of the Apes films were fine, considering the limitations of actors under make-up playing the apes, but it’s evident that there are considerable improvements from motion capture tech and having photorealistic CGI apes onscreen that enable more sophisticated storytelling and heightened drama.

tg3Terminator Genisys received plenty of ire from fans and reviewers in how it revisited events from the first two Terminator entries, but I see little difference in that to how film-makers revisited events from the Jurassic Park movies in Jurassic World or the original Star Wars trilogy in The Force Awakens. Its fine to have a droid holding secret data being hunted by the bad guys or the good guys to blow up another planet-destroying super weapon in Force Awakens, or genetically-built dinosaurs to run amok in yet another Jurassic theme park in Jurassic World, but it’s wrong to have time-travelling terminators hunting Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys? Of course its hardly original, thats the whole point of reboots- a lack of creative originality. Most of the creativity is in establishing an excuse to go through those old tropes. Whether its fine to expect a fifth Terminator movie to make $500 million worldwide, or to measure its failure to do so as some measure of the quality of the film itself, is something else entirely. Does the fact that The Force Awakens is already  close to $1.4 billion worldwide some measure that it is the best of all the Star Wars films so far? Of course not. It just means that the public were hyped/ready/excited for a new Star Wars film but less so for a new Terminator film. The critical reevaluation of The Force Awakens will come in several months, I’m sure. Maybe Terminator Genisys will get one too.

Whether Terminator Genisys needed to cost some $155 million and therefore needed to be a huge hit to break even (and if that were even possible)  is another matter, and a question for the producers to answer. Some of these bloated budgets these days are quite irresponsible and smaller films would not necessarily be any worse for being more financially viable.

tg2To be clear, I rather enjoyed Terminator Genisys, much to my surprise. From the reviews and word-of-mouth on its release, I gathered it was yet another tired attempt to relaunch the Terminator franchise and so I didn’t bother seeing it at the cinema. Now, lower expectations often give rise to pleasant surprises and this is such a case in point having received the TG blu-ray for Christmas. I thought TG was fun. I thought it was a rather clever attempt to revisit the events of the first film and its sequel using the time-travelling mechanism central to the story. It didn’t feel overly manipulative or cynical- indeed it seemed rather honest and respectful, and it offered a new twist on old events and fresh possibilities for a ‘new’ timeline. Was it perfect? No. There were likely one too many twists and too much thrown into it, including an unnecessary physical embodiment of Skynet/Genisys which would possibly have been best left for a second film. Not all the casting choices worked, but criticising Emilia Clarke for not being Linda Hamilton is like criticising Chris Pine for not being William Shatner. Those original casting choices are like lightning that can never strike twice, and I almost pity the actor who gets to play a young Han Solo in the future Star Wars spin-off.

But I am rather keen to watch TG again. Of course its no patch on the originals but it’s far superior to T3 and Terminator Salvation. It feels rather like a ‘proper’ third Terminator film that honours the first two while spinning off into a new timeline. Perhaps the negative word-of-mouth that TG received has more to do with fan expectation than reality.  Is it even fair to expect any Terminator film to be as good or better than T2? Isn’t that just setting up unrealistic expectations that no film can really measure up to? I didn’t expect The Force Awakens to be as good as The Empire Strikes Back and certainly don’t expect Blade Runner 2 to be as good as the first.

tg4Happily, the fact that Terminator Genisys’  struggle at the box-office seems to have nixed any further film doesn’t really hurt how the central narrative of the film finishes- throughout watching the film, I feared some kind of cliffhanger or lack of proper conclusion (a failing of so many of these intended trilogies that never happen, like The Golden Compass) but TG ends fine. I appreciate the film-makers for managing that. There were obviously fresh adventures ahead, further planned movies we will never see, but that’s ok, a story has been told with a beginning, middle and fairly emphatic end (even a mid-end credits coda doesn’t harm things). The Terminator franchise may eventually get another reboot down the line (it seems one of those properties that Hollywood just can’t let die) but I do think this particular franchise is rather uniquely situated in this- I think all the sequels are separate timelines, parallel universes and all the recasting and twisted logic can be explained by that. As it is, whenever I think of the franchise in future, I’ll think of it as Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Terminator Genisys, and pretend the other two don’t exist in my own particular timeline, and be fine with that.

5 thoughts on “Terminator Genisys (2015)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    I agree with so much you’ve said here: it’s crazy that these things have such a long… shelf-life? Half-life? So ridiculous. The same can be said of Star Wars, and so many bands who never seem to stop going. I used to love New Order and Depeche Mode in the 80s, but seriously – they’re still going now?

    I seem to draw a line in the sand whenever a new Terminator film comes out, vowing never to watch some of the crap that’s coming out that summer. I did it when Terminator Salvation and Transformers 2 were coming out, and while I’ve never seen any of the Transformers sequels, I did watch T:S.

    Similarly, when the trailers for Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys were floating around, they both looked terrible and I made the same vow. The rotten word of mouth on JW means I’m quite likely never to watch it – I’m not even that big a fan of the original, to be honest. But I’ve crumbled again and watched T:G.

    I didn’t hate it as much as the rest of the world. But I didn’t really think it was any good at all. I thought the criticisms of Emilia Clarke were well-founded. You can’t expect lightning to strike twice, as you say; but at least the cast of, say, JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK found their own tone and made the roles their own within the context of the new films. Clarke really seemed to be flailing about here.

    I’d probably rank T:G as about as good/bad as the earlier two sequels. Perhaps slightly lower, as at least T:3 was set in a real world with consequences, and had the amazing truck chase early on; and T:S had guts to change the playing field a bit, and had the great scene with the giant robot, and a few other nifty touches. But none of them were really worth making.

    What’s interesting about how this one has been received is that it doesn’t guarantee that an identifiable brand will make people interested/show up. Especially when it’s as exhausted as Terminator [two crap sequels that promised to lead off into new adventures but didn’t, plus a cancelled TV show!]. It’s as if the world knew very well that this was coming out and just shrugged.

    Which is the correct response!

    1. Two things disturb me anout these current trends. One, we don’t get many ‘new’ event movies, so many are sequels or reboots or comicbook movies (was Avatar the last ‘new’ event movie?). Two, why should the Terminator franchise suffer such audience apathy while so many other franchises get a pass/boxoffice success? Perhaps Terminator films have been too one-note in the past, are perceived as not offering enoughof a’spin’ on what has come before. How many times can Spiderman be rebooted before the publuc cries foul? Or Superman or Batman for that matter.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        Oh, the public are crying foul over the Spiderman films – poor box office – and to some extent Superman and Batman. But they’re archetypal roles, like Jesus or Hamlet: in a way, people actually want to see different takes on the material. Just not so close together!

        But I think there’s a reason the latter Terminator sequels get such short shrift: there wasn’t really anywhere for them to go after T2. Everything was tied up so neatly.

        The reason it took so long for T3 to appear, I feel, was that there was the general consensus that some sort of new CGI effects breakthrough [like the liquid metal effects in T2] was required to give the film some novelty factor, some reason to exist. But after 10 years or so that wasn’t forthcoming so they just went ahead and made T3, which was pointless.

        Plus, there isn’t really enough meat on the bones of the ideas in the first two films to spin off into a franchise. Regardless of how good or bad 3 & 4 are, they have explored pretty much every tangent suggested in the first films. So we reach the point in T:G where there’s nothing new to do, which is why they just remix the old stuff. I think audiences sensed this way back when the redundant T:3 came out, and it’s been at the back of people’s minds ever since.

        [Also, the films are possibly kind of tied up with the legacy of James Cameron back when he was good, so a lot of people – though fewer now than before, I expect – think ‘No Cameron, No Terminator’.]

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only person who thought Genisys wasn’t actually so bad! I do think it’s a case of mismanaged expectations a lot of the time. Of course it’s not going to be as good as the first two, it’s being made under totally different circumstances. James Cameron is an auteur, making the kind of movies he wants to make, often unfettered by studio interference (or less fettered, at any rate). These belated “we’ve got the rights so let’s do something” kind of sequels are made by, at best, fans (so it’s essentially fan fiction) and, at worst, guns-for-hire (so it’s just a job). Of course the end result is a completely different kettle of fish.

    Have they definitely called off the two sequels? Last I heard they were likely to forge ahead anyway, because all the rights revert to Cameron in a few years whatever, so this is the last chance for anyone to milk the Terminator property (until he dies and whoever inherits the rights wants some easy money, anyway).

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