Terminator Genisys: Decrypted (2015)

So I think plenty of people have been wondering whether or not the new installment in the Terminator franchise is worth your time, or isn’t, because we’ve been unceremoniously burned twice (thrice if you consider The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Now personally speaking I cannot say anything definitive about Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation, or The Sarah Connor Chronicles, because I haven’t watched them yet. Although considering my feelings about this movie, I’m still quite curious about Salvation, and it will be sure to get its own review here at the Warehouse. But what I can say is this: I think Terminator Genisys is a worth-while film. I’m sure many die-hard fans will complain about this movie’s short comings a lot more zealously than I will. But I really enjoyed what I saw. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t applaud it for anything in particular. But I did enjoy it. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t break-down into detail why it doesn’t work more than it does.

For those of you just looking for another quick rating to know if it’s worth your investment, I’d give it a B-.

As far as my own rating system goes: A means it’s a damn good movie, and A+ means it’s a F#%&ing glorious movie (there aren’t too many of those, trust me).

B means it’s a fun and solid flick, but it has the potential to not be memorable. C means it barely passes as a film, and really doesn’t have a lot to impress with: you definitely will forget it in about a month. D means it’s a movie that is either really really lame, generic, and incompetently shot, or it has the ironic chance to stick with you if its “So bad, it’s good.” However F means it’s a film that is so horrifically terrible, that it just should not exist, and has no chance of entertaining anyone other than its creators. I may have only seen one of those before. You can imagine for yourselves where the other +’s and –‘s fit in.

Truth be told, it’s not a perfect ratings guide, and I have to consider a lot of criteria before I put anything into those letter camps. But this film sits at about a B- because it’s somewhat forgettable, and yet it gives me things I didn’t expect, and things that I appreciated. So let’s explore why that is.

[WARNING: Full Disclosed story and spoilers ahead. Beware.]

How the Trailer Terminated All Mystery:

First of all, the trailer practically ruined all the best parts of the film before we ever saw it.

If you want to draw in your audience, and give them a movie-going experience that they can talk about for days on Facebook, which hopefully will get other people to come to the theater to see what they saw; don’t give away all the money shots in the trailer!

As if modern trailers weren’t spoilerific enough, this trailer gave away what is quite possibly the coolest scene in the entire movie: the T-800 VS T-800, otherwise known as old Arnold VS young Arnold.

Although it was short, it was perhaps the coolest scene in the movie, because it was the one thing that old fans would have definitively thought was nostalgic and exciting, because it pits Arnold against himself: something we rarely get to see. So I have no idea why you would give that moment away in the damn trailer! It’s short sighted, shows no understand of psychology, and gives the fans what they want way before you get butts in seats.

Why should people, who might be on the fence about going, want to go see the movie now when you’ve given them what is by far the best and most memorable thing about it?

And what’s worse is they also gave away the biggest plot-critical twist in the trailer as well.

Why wouldn’t you want to save “John Connor is now evil” for the theaters rather than blow it all on tv and the internet? I’m sure it got spoiled very early on due to script pirates and big production leaks, but that shouldn’t mean the marketing team has to spoil it officially. I mean, they kept Matt Smith’s turn as Skynet under-wraps until the premiere; he didn’t even have an official credit on IMDB until the movie was released. So why ruin John Connor when Smith’s Skynet really wouldn’t have been that exciting? Smith is barely in this movie, and when he is, it’s nothing to get excited about.

The Kyle Reese Affair:

Quite a few people are currently taking issue with Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, chiefly because they feel he was either serviceable, or he was just plain boring in the role. I tend to lean towards “he was okay.”

He could have been better, but he was about what I expected for a reboot of this kind. Generically attractive face, good build, has a cookie-cutter personality of good morals and a self-sacrificing nature, and he will not fail or betray you. All good things, but it makes him a very boring “character” because he’s just too faultless. Not a whole lot to him, really.

Now if it were I, I would have cast someone like Sam Claflin in the role of Kyle, because just like how Emilia Clarke looks like a slightly more soft-faced Linda Hamilton, Sam Claflin looks like a slightly softer faced and younger Michael Biehn. Precisely what you want if you’re trying to tie this film in with the originals.

Even Anton Yelchin looked a lot more like young Michael Biehn when he was Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, while Sam Worthington’s character was closer in build and face to Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese here: which kind of gets confusing if we are to believe that any of these films are really truly all connected in some fashion. Can’t we have some consistency when it comes to casting?

Then again, I can’t quite see Sam Claflin as a part of this particular universe (if he were to have been cast as Kyle), mainly because the world that the filmmakers have built here doesn’t quite feel like the original film.

They did a brilliant job making the battle ground scenes feel a lot closer to the original battle scenes than Salvation did (Salvation was much closer to a grim and dusty future, like Mad Max meets Fallout 3): not only did they have all the battles take place in the dead of night and in a much darker atmosphere , but they also brought back the bright and colorful aesthetics of purple gun blasts and red laser defense grids, along with the softer-shaped Terminator tanks and walkers. My recent review of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon felt very similar to what I saw here, and that was fantastic choice. It truly did feel very retro.

However, action heroes in movies back in the early 80s used to be skinnier, leaner, and limber, with slightly grisly faces and scarred arms: that is, before Arnold came onto the scene in the first Terminator. Only afterwards did we get things like Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Predator, Universal Soldier, and many other films where the main stars became beefy and ripped: despite Arnold having been the villain the first time around. So Kyle Reese and John Connor from the first Terminator are far more like Snake from Solid Snake, or the actors from the Predators sequel. So to put someone more youthful looking and skinny in an battle outfit like the Resistance here wouldn’t have felt quite right with the production design, and the casting choices made for this film: in my opinion.

I also think the writing would not have favored someone like Sam Claflin, or someone else who would have given the role of Kyle more character, because generally speaking, the script is pretty weak.

It takes the typical route of updating the elements of Terminator for a modern audience by making Skynet and Cyberdyne related to our Smart Phones and our Tablets, creating an entity that is interconnected and all-powerful: all so that on one particular day in 2017, everyone in the world will be destroyed by their connected devices.

An understandable update, but an expected and fairly boring one. And ultimately I think this weak script would have been a detriment to the career and the performance quality of someone who could have played Kyle better. Strangely I don’t think it does Jai Courtney a disservice, as I’m sure he’s pretty happy and content to be playing roles like this one. And it’s not too far off from something Channing Tatum would do (he wouldn’t have done too bad here either). But someone with more charisma would not have benefited, and wouldn’t have made the film (as it is) any better I think. Therefore I can’t really see someone different in Kyle’s role with either this script, or this production design.

However, if it all could have been different, I think we’d all have been a bit happier had the current Michael Biehn hopped back in the saddle just like Arnold. Huh? How would that have been?

An Alternate Future:

I think if someone from the writing team on the new James Bond films had written the script for Genisys, we might have gotten something a little stronger, a little more complicated, and more intriguing.

Perhaps instead of making Skynet as all-powerful and entirely imminent as it was here (practically already having total control over the world’s smart device technology by way of a fully-interconnected OS system), maybe we could have had a story that was “really” about hitting Skynet before it was born: maybe by infiltrating a laboratory where one of the early prototypes for Skynet is being developed, and Skynet actually becomes a character itself.

Then, instead of being all-logical and ready to destroy all humans, it becomes a sympathetic character: who sacrifices itself for the betterment of history, because at this early junction, it perhaps understands why its later decision to kill everything is wrong, and faulty. Or perhaps Skynet initially is willing to help Sarah and Kyle stop future events, but by making contact with Sarah and Kyle, that becomes the inception of the idea for Skynet to direct its efforts towards destroying humanity, because it understands how destructive they can be. Better-yet, maybe it’s the very act of Sarah and Kyle breaking in to destroy Skynet initially that jump-starts its prime-directive to save itself in the future, and to prevent Sarah and Kyle from ever reaching it in the past.

How in the heck would that not have been the better story to tell? Because at this moment, we have no actual explanation as to “why” Skynet wants to destroy all humans.

All we’re told is that it feels threatened by humanity, and for its own survival, it wipes out 3 billion people with an all-out nuclear strike. But by not creating a junction in time where we have that “Ah ha” moment—showing that the very act of trying to destroy Skynet in the past is what causes it to want to destroy Sarah Connor from the future—it doesn’t allow for a sequel to take place afterwards. Because now we Terminator Genisys, which ends with Sarah and Kyle, and the “good” Terminator (T-800), driving off into the mountains at sunset, content with their success that Cyberdyne and Skynet are virtually dead.

They blew it the hell up. End of story.

So by all intents and purposes, unlike the first two films, they have seemingly succeeded in stopping Judgment Day and the take-over of the machines. So I have NO idea how the filmmakers are going to reasonably yank another sequel out of this franchise now that the characters have no more lingering threats over their heads. But I’m sure they’ll find a contrived way to do it.

Weak on the Action:

Beyond the story weaknesses, and as it has probably been pointed out by many critics now, the action sequences are not as spectacular or well-choreographed as the original two films. This is not surprising, but very unfortunate.

For one, they don’t last as long, and two, they don’t do enough cool things.

Not enough stuff crashes or blows up. Not enough twists and turns are made when the characters are piloting or driving vehicles through the city or the outlying streets. And not enough interesting weapons are used against equally interesting or very difficult foes. Evil John Connor might be nearly indestructible, but compared to the T-1000, he’s far less creative in what he can do or affect. The action scenes just seem rather “middle of the road.” Not much to write home about. Once again, perhaps if someone from the production of Skyfall had lent their creative talents to this, it not only would have improved the general plot line, but it would have improved the action choreography and scene planning as well. The set pieces are just very lame by comparison.

To lay it all out: in 1984 we have the initial fight scene between both the young and the old T-800. And we have a chase scene involving a T-1000, Kyle, Sarah, and the “good” T-800 (nick-named Pops). Then we have a follow-up chase in a secret bunker before the bad T-800 and the T-1000 are destroyed. Then we jump to 2017 and have a shoot-out with robo-John Connor, after which we wait a while at a different secret safe-house bunker before we have another car chase with a school-bus atop the Golden-gate Bridge. Next we have a chase with helicopters between Sarah and robo-John. And finally everything culminates in a lengthy climactic fight between the T-800 and robo-John Connor in the Cyberdyne labs.

As far as my own tastes go, the action scenes were a little less hectic than I’ve seen with other films. The action doesn’t nearly cut around as much as I thought, and we don’t get nearly as confused as to where things are, or who’s fighting who. Then again, maybe I just didn’t notice any camera or editing issues because the action scenes were kind of slow by comparison to other films. They take their time and don’t really give me anything to feel too concerned about.

Action scenes are supposed to have tension, they need to have fear for the well-being of the characters built into every punch and every gun-shot. And above all, at least one action scene would do well to critically wound a plot-critical main character, in order to throw the audience off balance: allowing the audience to doubt whether or not a (perhaps favorite) character will make it out alive or not. This helps build further tension for the climax of the film, and helps to keep the audience (sometimes literally) on the edge of their seats. It’s a very strong and satisfying feeling when it happens.

As it is, though, I was left unsatisfied for the most part with what action stunts and “thrilling” scenes I was given. Ironically, I found myself far more entertained and intrigued by the many different conversations and dialogue scenes between Kyle and Sarah, Sarah and the T-800, Kyle and John, and robo-John and everyone else, than I was with any of the actions scenes. So I don’t know if that’s a point towards the dialogue, or an point against the action. Then again, maybe the dialogue scenes are still bad, but they’re not as bad as they could be, and then the action scenes are even worse than that.

Parallel Universes:

Moving along, we obviously repeat a few different elements between T-2 and Genisys.

Both films have action scenes involving helicopters, and both have scenes involving heavy vehicles and heavy artillery. They both have T-1000s, as well as a new breed of Cyberdyne robotic technology with the T-1000, and John-Connor’s nano-metalic upgrade. Both films involve a “good” T-800. And both films have an ass-kicking Sarah Connor.

They also both manage to (once again) make Arnold’s “good” T-800 a very likable, funny, and even sympathetic character: by putting him in a unique father-figure position with Sarah Connor, whereas in T-2 he was almost like a big-brother to the young John Connor. And besides Emilia Clarke’s Sarah, Arnold is the best actor and best character in Genisys: so thankfully no complaints there. He fits right back in. Arnold never feels like he’s faking it or just playing a parody of himself. And he thankfully has even improved some in his portrayal of this robotic creature. So I’m glad that Arnold has basically embraced his pop-culture persona as it is these days, and he is happy to be known forever-after as The Terminator.

I imagine (though it may be sad) on his epitaph it will no doubt say “I always came back, but not this time.”

Tell Me About the Future:

There are a few interesting things that were finally explained to us about the Terminator universe in this new installment.

When someone travels through time by way of the Cyberdyne machines, the electrical field that is generated elevates all matter inside of it, and sort of isolates it within space in a ball of energy. This is why when Kyle Reese came back through time both in The Terminator, and here in Genisys, he falls hard on his side because he had been suspended in mid-air; whereas a Terminator has an incredibly heavy steel alloy skeleton, causing it to not lift off of the ground when the electrical field is created. So it can come through in a confident kneeling position.

Although I think the filmmakers completely forgot this fact when they story-boarded the final confrontation between robo-John and the good T-800, because both of them (despite the machine not being completed or structurally safe) are flying around inside of it at the end, seemingly weightless.

The machine also did not have its time-traveling circuits added or fully functional, so no one traveled through time, certainly not John. So it essentially is just a big electrical generator that when activated will over-heat and blow sky-high. This is how Kyle and Sarah destroy Cyberdyne and Skynet.

Something else that they thankfully did explain and didn’t forget to keep consistent was why things have to go through the time-machine with no clothes, tools, or weapons. Essentially all clothing will fry and burn off, whereas organic matter will remain intact. But you can’t bring any metallic or plastic items with you either because they will react much like putting tin-foil or metal inside of a microwave. However, the Terminators can survive in this way because they have no nerve endings and no sensors that would get disrupted by their skeletons electrifying inside the time-chamber. Though why their skin doesn’t burn off because of this, I have no idea.

Confusing Limitations:

Something I’ve wanted to bring up and discuss for years are the limitations of the T-1000.

For all intents and purposes, the T-1000 is a liquid metal machine that can morph its metallic structure into anything, including synthetic skin, clothing, and objects attached to its person. It can even morph its own limbs and body into all sorts of weapons (mostly pointy ones), and detach parts of itself to wield things other than arm-mounted spikes.

So then why is it that the T-1000 in both T-2 and Genisys had to pick up someone else’s ballistic weapons in order to shoot at the hero characters? Why can’t they just morph their own bodies into weapons, and then retrieve the liquid metal bullets once their done and have to clean up?

I would think if they’re sophisticated enough to mimic the outer appearance of a human figure, with all of its facets and unique characteristics, then they should also have the built-in knowledge to recreate working weapons other than just pointy things. Or is that just not part of their programing?

They know how to handle and shoot guns, but they can’t turn into one? That’s pretty lame if you ask me.

In fact, THAT would have been a fantastic way to change things up for this sequel when Sarah and Kyle had to go up against this new T-1000, because unlike the original Terminator 2 and its T-1000, we have far less limitations on our CGI technology today. So instead of just giving him slicing and dicing capabilities for the sake of simplicity and effective visuals, now we can make the idea of a liquid metal Terminator that much more creative.

I mean, wouldn’t it have been really clever if a T-1000 could morph itself entirely into an anti-tank gun, or something else large and destructive? Or why couldn’t a T-1000 turn into a motorcycle? Then we could have a scene where someone looks out their car window and sees a motorcycle driving itself, flying up off of a truck with a ramp on the back, after which it would transform into its human form, and start punching into a car wind-shield.

Or… wait, did that actually happen already in T-2. I haven’t seen that movie in a while, so I’m a little hazy on the exact details. I apologize if I somehow forgot that that scene already existed.

A Welcomed Blast from the Past:

Very much unlike the young version of Jeff Bridges from TRON: Legacy, and even Arnold’s CGI double in Terminator Salvation, this youthful T-800 featured in Genisys is leaps and bounds the best onscreen de-aged digital double I have ever seen yet for an actor who can no longer pull off his younger self, or can no longer play the part period.

In some shots, it even looks like it could be a real human mouth talking, but with a digitally composited Arnold Schwarzenegger face placed on top of it. Once the fight scene between both T-800s gets going, though, the CGI is far more noticeable, but the youthful effect is still very solid. And especially unlike young Jeff Bridges, or the countless motion-capture films that have been made since The Polar Express, the photo-realistic CGI does not look rubbery or lucid.

Very often, fully CG people tend to have unrealistically mapped and articulated musculature. Their mouths and faces just sort of slosh around on the skulls unhindered, stretching far beyond their bounds. And their mouth movements often look more like free-flowing liquid rather than carefully chosen mouth positions based on intelligent mental signals, which allow the mouth muscles to move. This is primarily what makes one of these CG double look “uncanny” and “creepy,” along with less than perfect eye-ball models or lighting reflections. But those problems are not at all as prevalent here, if they really are at all.

As far as I’m concerned, the filmmakers succeeded beyond expectations in this particular aspect of the production.

Their other visual effects, on the other hand, were much weaker, especially their digital fire: which often looked like runny lava than it did crackling embers. But that’s not something I really have much else to say about. It just stood out as a bit rough to me. And often times different effects in modern films are farmed out to totally separate effects houses, sometimes multiple. So I suspect that while the digital Arnold was handled by a very capable effects house, the fire and smoke elements were handled by a different company with slightly lower standards.

Dead Weight and Extra Baggage:

So as far as the villains, antagonists or obstacles go, we have the “bad” T-800, a T-1000, the robotisized John Connor, and Matt Smith’s personified Skynet.

Now with Skynet, it was portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter in Terminator Salvation, which I think was a very good choice. Quite often the self-preserving central computer system in evil robot take-over films has been female. It was female in I-Robot, in Resident Evil, and in video-game series like Portal and System Shock. We’ve also seen plenty of talking computer systems on space-ships that are female, like the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek The Next Generation, Nell in Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, even the Doctor’s TARDIS was once personified as a female figure.

But I think this has been the case both to give the computer system sort of a motherly persona when it comes to all of its robotic children whom it watches over, but also perhaps because its creators simply wanted to design something pleasant to converse with.

In Genisys however, Skynet has now been personified as a male figure, portrayed by the 11th Doctor himself (Doctor WHO), Matt Smith: who is sporting an Americanized accent this time around, much like Helena did for Salvation. Which I don’t quite understand? Why can’t Skynet be British sounding? Are American engineers just biased towards making everything sound American inside America? Matt Smith sounds so unlike himself trying to feign that accent, even if it is a good one. He also sounds most menacing when he can use his own voice, as evidenced when he played a dark version of himself in a Doctor Who episode from season 7 of “New Who.”

But besides that minor issue, the bigger issue is that Matt Smith is barely in this movie, meaning that Skynet is barely in this movie. And on a side note, I don’t remember him ever shooting this gun either. What a rip-off that was.

As if Skynet has ever really been a physical part of the previous films, the 2nd time we’ve actually gotten to converse with it, it’s barely there. It practically does nothing other than captures and transforms John Connor into a robot off-screen. Then once Kyle and Sarah confront it by the tail end of the film, it doesn’t even try to defend itself with lasers or gun turrets or nerve gas. And there are no Terminators to send after them either. It just tries to lock Kyle and Sarah in a small room, unsuccessfully I might add, and then does absolutely nothing further until Kyle and Sarah succeed in blowing the place to bits.

Skynet is dead, and what a waste of an awesome actor.

I also think we dispensed with the T-800 far too quickly, because he appears extremely early on in the film. It’s one of the first battles that occur in the movie outside of the post-apocalyptic future, and Sarah shoots it in the heart with a sniper-riffle.

Understandably we spend far more time running away from the T-1000, essentially giving us a recap of the gambit of enemies from the earliest Terminator all the way to the newest iteration. But I think in doing that all in order, it diminishes the impact that the original Terminator had when we first saw it on screen in 1984, and reduces it to a joke, whereas the T-1000 is given much more screen time. And even then, it isn’t used to further creative fashion (as I explained earlier), even though we have far fewer limitations on what we can make it do with digital effects.

But the worst offense when it comes to unnecessary add-ons or underused additions is the conspiracy-theorist cop, named O’Brian, played by Oscar-Winner, J.K. Simmons.

He may not necessarily be forgettable or entirely pointless, but the fact that his character is so quickly introduced, and then we as an audience are expected to remember him and accept him as a new plot-driving character, is ridiculous. He feels so out of place amongst the sea of other things that are happening at almost break-neck speed here. And I know I said that the action scenes were slow, but that’s by comparison to better action scenes. Overall, this film zips by very fast and there is almost no time to relax. So to also try and squeeze in an aged cop who remembers meeting Kyle and Sarah when the T-1000 attacked back in the 1980s, who then also helps the two escape twice from the police and National Security, is just a hard pill to swallow.

O’Brian also amazingly finds a way to wiggle himself into multiple parts of the film, so much so that you expect to see him again by the end of the movie. Except that once he helps Kyle and Sarah out of a jam the 2nd time, and brings Sarah together with the 10 year-old Kyle Reese, his character never shows up again, not even for a reaction shot once Cyberdyne and Skynet are destroyed. So why did we introduce his character if we weren’t going to give him an end to his character ark? What are we supposed to take away from his existence in this film? What is he supposed to take away from the things he has seen and the people he has met? Is he supposed to be the new thing that creates the eventual Skynet in the farther future? What?

Lastly there’s one other minor note about Skynet and this thing called Genisys that bugged me a little: we don’t get an aftermath news report commenting on the fact that Genisys, and all of its servers have been blown up. Nothing. Nothing at all.

No sound bites or radio broad-casts. No images taken from the following days of clean-up crews coming in to assess the damage. Nothing about what Cyberdyne’s directors think about the complete destruction of all of their work. Not even a montage of tweets and facebook feeds about people talking about the end of Genisys, even though it was the one thing almost everybody in the world was almost ready to adopt into their lives. It was going to connect EVERYTHING. And you’re telling me that the aftermath of that complete and total shutdown was not important enough for us to see? I know it probably wouldn’t have added anything to the story, unless you made it add something. You could have even given it a sequel beg moment where one of the Cyberdyne directors vows to rebuild his work from the wreckage or something. I don’t know.

My point is it just never felt like Genisys was as big or important as it should have been, as we were never shown an advertisement for it, how it works, what it really does. Because as far as I’m concnered the entire world already is interconnected. Almost anything can literally be hacked from anything and anywhere else in the world. All Genisys is supposed to be is a globally interweaved operating system that autonomously tracks your life and syncks up all of the things that you use that have a computerized brain inside of them. And just like War Games, Avengers Age of Ultron, and Summer Wars, this is what gives the evil all-powerful A.I. computer program the ability to nuke the planet by accessing launch codes and bomb silos.

Great idea guys. You were so irritated by the lack of connectivity between your computer, your phone, your bathroom, and your car, that you just had to invent a way to link everything together in one system, and then… add on nuclear launch base systems and military hardware into that as well. Smart move.

So even the freaking thing that the film is named after doesn’t make much of an impact on the story other than the fact that most audiences will sort of know what Genisys is and what it stands for.

Final Thoughts:

Despite all of the negative things that I’ve said, I really don’t think you’ll leave the theater feeling cheated. It certainly isn’t the sequel we’d like, nor are most, but it’s a sequel you can enjoy watching and having fun with with the many little moments it does bring in once in a while that make an impact on your, either though nostalgic familiarity, or through new revelations about the world of Terminator that you didn’t know before.

Once again, I give this movie a B-, and my hope is that we either don’t get another sequel to this, or that the next sequel will do its very best to not try and pull a sequel plot out of the blue, even though it doesn’t look like a sequel is “theoretically” possible.

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