Wednesday, 15 July 2015

‘Terminator: Genisys’ review

So I saw ‘Terminator: Genisys’ yesterday and I’ve been finding it difficult to get my thoughts together on it. Usually I write these reviews up pretty soon after finishing the thing in question but ‘Terminator: Genisys’ stumped me.

Now ‘Terminator: Genisys’ has already been critically ripped apart by a lot of people. The main reason I chose to ignore the critics and see the film myself was this one piece of feedback that kept repeating itself in the reviews. Nearly all of them had a version of “If you’re a fan of the Terminator franchise you will probably enjoy this film”, now this thought really confuses me. If you enjoyed Terminator 1-4 you may enjoy 5, yeah quite possibly! I appreciate that this is a soft reboot but from the trailers it is clear that this film requires knowledge of at least the first in the franchise to fully enjoy it. Therefore I find it bizarre that a criticism would be aimed at it for being a sequel? 

When the lead of your film is a man from the previous films, now pushing 70 you might consider that this film will be aimed at the fans of the franchise primarily? Obviously people are free to review what they want but if you’re reviewing a film aimed at fans of something without being one of those fans then your opinion on it may be a bit worthless.

Now don’t get me wrong, a glowing review from a fan will not be worth anything either. My point is just that a film doesn’t have to exist to please everyone and to give something a negative criticism for pleasing the loyal fans at the expense of the wider potential audience is a really strange position to take, particularly when the advertising makes it clear what you’re going to be watching in advance. Nobody paying money to see ‘Terminator: Genisys’ is going to be tricked into thinking that they’re going to see anything other than a Terminator film, complete with all the trimmings.

‘Terminator: Genisys’ is a Terminator film; to be precise it is a Terminator fan film. This is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. It is its biggest strength as the film contains everything you’d hope for in a Terminator film. It is its biggest weakness because it is a Terminator fan film directed by someone who doesn’t seem to be fan of the Terminator franchise.

‘Genisys’ contains so much fan service, it’s ridiculous. If something has appeared in the franchise before, the odds are that it will at the very least be referenced in this film. I am a fan of the franchise and I found myself having to really reach to remember obscure things the film was referencing. I can completely understand that if you didn’t have much time for this series you would absolutely hate this film. The references are not intended for anyone who doesn’t understand what’s happening. In some ways I really, really like this approach because the universe feels surprisingly real when the exposition for the cheap seats is removed so much.

The script is very respectful and referential to the material, regardless of how stupid it is and this is nice to see. ‘Terminator 3’ was a parody of the films and it’s nice to see a film take the same level of care to the world that James Cameron took with the originals. Unfortunately it was not directed by James Cameron however, but by Alan Taylor.

Now Alan Taylor is one of those directors who are hired because they are a safe pair of hands. He’s a fine director….fine, alright, he gets the job done but nothing more. Scenes happen, actors deliver lines and everything happens that was written in the script, it happens on time and to the agreed budget. Now many films have directors who view it primarily as a job and that’s fine. Movies have to be made and an industry full of Edgar Wrights would never put out any films and the very few they made would bankrupt the studios.

The Terminator franchise is unfortunately one that really needs a passionate director however; it has had the fortune of having so many before. ‘Terminator 1’ and ‘T2’ had James Cameron, enough said. ‘Terminator 3’ was a parody but an affectionate one and whatever you want to say about McG or ‘Salvation’ it would be hard to argue that he lacks passion… ‘Terminator: Genisys’ feels like it was directed by a robot.

The emotional moments are dry, the action sequences perfunctory. This is a real shame because the script has good ideas and good set pieces but they are all handled like another piece of the film to tick off as completed. When I say the script has good ideas I really mean it! The following paragraphs contains spoilers. Skip to the non-spoiler tagged if you wish to avoid them, not that I spoil it much more than the trailers did…


So the opening of the film starts in in the year 2029, during the last days of the war with Skynet. We follow Kyle Reese from a child to the point where he travels back to save Sarah. These scenes are brilliant as they really sell the idea of the friendship with John. John at one point asks for volunteers and we get a brilliant moment where he knows that Kyle will volunteer, he knows that he will die and he has to send his friend/father to his death. Before he leaves Kyle asks John how he always knows how to lead them and John has to explain to him that he is a false prophet, that everything he knows is due to the information that Sarah passed on, the information that she got from Kyle. Explaining John’s greatness in this way is really smart. Of course he is a brilliant general, he knows exactly what will happen and when. The character of John is well established as humanity’s saviour as he had to live with the knowledge of the future, including which friends he would lose while pretending to be an amazingly brave and knowledgeable person. John Conner has to do what he was always going to do, including the mistakes, he can’t risk changing anything.

Now why this is so smart is that half way through the movie John returns, he is being controlled by Skynet and he is actually everything that people thought he was without pretending, he has the knowledge and power but he is evil. Sarah puts it like this “He is not humanity’s last hope anymore, he’s Skynet’s!’ Turning John Conner, the saviour of humanity, into a fallen angel is a fantastic idea one that has amazing potential. Some of this potential is used by most of it is wasted. You have scenes where the mother of humanity's last hope is facing up to the idea her son will be evil, where his best friend/ father has to decide to kill him. These scenes really needed a strong emotional pull but they are directed as if the characters are filling out tax returns.

(Spoilers End)

Everything aside from the direction is pretty strong which just rubs further salt into the wound. The cast are good, the script strong if not a bit indulgent and the special effects outstanding. With more enthusiasm at the helm this film would have been a really fun, very indulgent but fun. ‘Terminator: Genisys’ has a lot of ideas and still manages to entertain despite the odds but I find myself longing for the film that could have been.

I really wanted to avoid saying it myself but, if you’re a fan of the Terminator Films than you will enjoy this film, it scratches that itch. If you’re not a fan of the franchise, ‘Terminator: Genisys’ is not the place to start.

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