2016.1: Terminator Genisys (Blu-ray)
We’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.
Terminator 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.
To 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.
Happily, 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.