Terminator: Genisys (2015)
So Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Ahnoldt Schwarzenegger are sitting in Planet Hollywood, ruminating on their fading careers, and comparing future plans. ‘You know what?’ says Willis, ‘my agent tells me that musical composer bio-pics are going to be the next big thing in 2016. I’m developing a script with me possibly playing Beethoven’. Stallone pipes up ‘Hey, that sounds like a good idea’, he mumbles ‘I’ve always admired Mozart, I think I’ll speak to some of my screenwriting chums.’ Ahnoldt smirks, lights a cigar and chomping through the tendrils of smoke leans back in his chair and defiantly intones ‘I’ll be Bach’……..Pathetic eh? A rather clumsy joke, trading on Ahnoldt’s diminishing screen persona and his most recognisable trademark quip, and as you can probably see this coming from a country mile the perfect metaphor for the woefully incompetent and excitement exhausted Terminator: Genisys. Six years on from the meekly received Salvation we SF blockbuster fans were reassured that the new franchise holders were heading in the right direction, staging events during the pre-skynet nuclear conflagration period with a freshly rebooted concept and cast, with the reassuring presence of the widely admired Megan Ellison’s Annapurna pictures serving as conceptual producers with an intent to incept a new trilogy. These musings were obliterated by that trailer which dropped late last year, interjecting howls of consternation across the community, as it pretty much gave away the entire plot including major turns and surprises, betraying an utter contempt for its audience and a severe lack of confidence in its designs. After the committee crafted Jurassic World I didn’t think we would be abused with a worse blockbuster this summer but as usual I was wrong, so very very wrong, as this isn’t just worse than Terminator III it’s probably the worst Terminator film full stop, beyond here there be mild spoilers, but nothing more than the trailer hasn’t already vomited.
Sarah Conner, so memorably played by a kick-ass Linda Hamilton has been recast in the younger, more zeitgeist savy model of Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones superstardom, dovetailing nicely with that klaxon alarm sounding ‘Genisys‘ sobriquet which immediately smacked of some yoof orientated marketing moron from the studio promotional arm insisting that this will make the film ‘maximise market penetration in new social paradigms, detonating media alignment models among our core 18 – 24 market sector demographic’. To be fair she does look the part but doesn’t display the same doomed gravitas as Hamilton, making an exciting entrance to save a dazed Kyle Reece (shrug inducing non-entity Jai Courtney) whom has just been sent back to save Sarah from the clutches of the mechanoid assassin after the films fit for purpose opening set-piece salvo of the heroic final assault on the Skynet mainframe in 2029. She is careering through LA circa 1984 with her self-programmed T-800 protector in tow, the once imposing Ahnoldt now fraught with the corrosive dual impact of hairline crows feet and forehead wrinkles , cropped by a titanium mane which is unconvincingly handwaved away as although the metallic parts still operate his covering tissue degenerates with a normal hu-man lifecycle. When he isn’t pontificating with some of the worst exposition seen this side of a Nolan film, including insights and observations he couldn’t possibly comprehend given the films fragile internal logic, the trio lurch from one poorly staged and paced combat sequence to another, this time being hunted by the not in the slightest mandarin market influenced casting of Lee Byung-hun as another one man T-1000 liquid metal massacre machine. For some bizarrely conceptualised reason Sarah and Kyle shatter the previous timelines and canon of the series by deciding to time-jump to 2017 and prevent the activation of the Genisys programme, a global OS designed to link together all operating systems and hardware which has been developed by the shadowy Cyberdine Systems Corporation. Also in the matrix mix is Jason Clarke, increasingly popular after convincing turns in both Zero Dark Thirty and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in the messiah appointed role as John Conner, son to Kyle and Sarah, and future saviour of the human race in the 21st century – his involvement in the incoherent and increasingly asinine plot is best left suffocating under a spoiler cloud.
Director Alan Taylor has an astonishing pedigree when it comes to some of the most admired TV series of recent history – Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, Dead wood, The West Wing and others have all entertained his interrogating viewfinder. He also directed the latest Thor picture and the results were similarly homogenized and hierarchical – there is no individual flair or particular stylistic flourish, it is direction by committee to the prepared algorithm of Hollywood coding – 5 CLS; 10 CGI set-piece, 20; Mechanical Exposition; 30 character beat; 40 GOTO 10. You can almost visualize the screenwriters feverish attempts to up the ante with a berserk brainstorming session, reasoning that the second film had a motorbike chase so we will have a helicopter chase, an aerial agility that should also best the carnage strewn truck chase in the third instalment. The second film has a now iconic set-piece in the LA storm-drain environment so hey we’ll shift pyrotechnics to the iconic Golden Gate bridge, the latter being one of the most pedestrian action set-pieces I’ve witnessed for quite some time, with pesky distractions such as spatial logic or visual coherence liquidated with extreme prejudice. To be fair I didn’t hate this movie for the first half hour or so, it wasn’t good but it wasn’t particularly bad either, and frankly there is a lot of genre charm to coast on by simply seeing Ahnoldt back in his iconic role again. If I’m being really charitable there is also a couple of smirk inducing laughs in certain stages of the picture, but once it settles into its second act and the entire franchise history and time travelling techniques are obliterated it’s a model of repeated skull shuddering stupidity, without even the distracting charms of big CGI rendered explosions and mechanized melee to obscure the critical compromise on the CPU narrative.
Ahnoldt’s return to the screen has been a mostly lacklustre affair hasn’t it? He has fronted a series of deeply mediocre action flicks such as The Last Stand, Sabotage and Escape Plan alongside the testosterone orgies of The Expendables pictures, and although I haven’t seen Maggie yet it gives me no pleasure to report that anyone hoping for a return to his trademark carnage strewn quipping will be sorely disappointed. It’s a minor spoiler but we quickly find out that he was sent back to protect Sarah in this timeline when she was 9 years old, but it is never explained or reasoned who did this or why, just one glaring example of a lazy and incoherent script which fails to capitalise on its franchise pedigree or the intrinsic possibilities of the time travelling fulcrum – more on that below. I think it might be time that Ahnoldt was put out to pasture or perhaps taken out behind the chicken coup and quietly and respectfully put-down, unless that recently announced new Conan picture amounts to much. The film also suffers from the charisma void of Jai Courtney whom is another of these production line leading men in the mould of Sam Worthington, Garrett Hedlund or the now departed Paul Walker, there is just no personality or purchase with these automations, at least Michael Biehn had some measure of frantic exhaustion in the original picture. The film is replete with dialogue callbacks and displacement of speeches from earlier modems in the franchise, it’s a pointless and perfunctory exercise which strikes me as a pathetic grasp for some sort of fanboy seduction, and only serves to remind you that one’s time could be spent several million times more constructively by going back to re-watch the Cameron movies which are still distinguished as minor masterpieces of their genres.
You can’t help but get slightly aroused when the lights go down and the remorseless DA-DUM DUM DA DUM thunders through the auditorium, so it’s really just so frustrating to see such a promising franchise brought so low. I’m not the first geek to muse that to fully reboot the universe then they needed to go back to the source, to revisit the 1984 original and somehow incorporate those timeframes and kinetics with a new take on the established classic. Genisys starts in a similar arena which could have diverted into some fascinatingly fertile territory, fully implementing the CGI capacity to merge elements from The Terminator with a parallel action timeline in some brain scrambling yet incredible melange of action pyrotechnics, a full mobilisation of the Mobius strip time hopping mechanics which distinguishes the IP from its tent-pole peers. Alas these ambitions are beyond the scribes Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier imaginations, responsible as they are for such instant classics as Tomb Raider, The Lone Ranger, Dracula II, Dracula III: The Ascension and My Bloody Valentine 3D, and the failure must rest on their shoulders as all this films problems emerge from its inferior intellectual infrastructure. Still, what do we critics know eh, demanding some sort of creativity or thought diverted to the blockbuster production line, the first half of this year alone has seen not one, not two but three of the highest grossing pictures of all time, and even without the 3D uplift we all know that a certain December space-opera release could assault even Avatar’s crown. As the movie thankfully closes and a thoroughly insulting now ubiquitous mid-credit sting sets up the next picture only one scene springs to mind, of Hamilton’s rousing final screed from the 1984 original when it comes to the future prospects of this rusting and rutting exoskeleton – ‘you’re terminated, fucker‘…..