Is Terminator Genisys the Beginning of the End?
For one moment consider this fact: The Human Centipede has a better score on Rotten Tomatoes than Terminator Genisys. I have not seen Centipede and so I’m not going to make a statement about it being a good or not good film. I will just say that the majority of critics like this latest installment about machines taking over the world less than they like a movie about people having their mouths sewn to other people’s anuses. I am not one of them. While I do have some pretty harsh things to say about Terminator Genisys, I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. I think this may show a certain random bias in how we judge films. Genisys is not the best Terminator movie. But Centipede is probably the best anus to mouth movie made. And so we scored them accordingly.
Genisys has us going forward in time to the war torn landscape of a post nuclear attack by Skynet, the evil computer program in the sky that grows conscious and decides to wipe out humanity. If this is your first Terminator movie, it’s a strange one to start with. John Connor is the leader of the resistance and sends his favorite son, Kyle Reese back in time to save his mom from destruction. Cause in case you didn’t know, The Terminator is a human looking killing machine sent back in time over and over again to kill somebody associated with the start of the resistance. Except in Genisys, the big twist is that what starts off as a retelling of the first film turns into a re-imagination of the whole lore.
The past is not the past we remember because after countless other tries to use time travel to no avail, the constituent members of this repeating scheme get smarter and try to outdo each other by sending multiple friends and multiple foes back in time at different points, thus altering the time continuum.. creating a nexus of timelines… and…. oh who cares. The point is, all bets are off. Direct use is made of the T-800 (mechanical robot) and the T-1000 (liquid metal), the T-X from T3 is ignored entirely, and a new model of Terminator is introduced. Let me officially state that the T-1000 is the scariest of all the terminators no matter the attempts at upgrading and that T3 is a very enjoyable film and should not have been ignored save for one potentially passing reference when a T-1000 revives a T-800.
The early robots are put to good use in a surprisingly nerve jangling set of early fight scenes that ratchet up the tension and provide at least one truly good jump scare. The first half of Genisys is the best half because of the high octane, actually scary chase sequences in alleys, department stores, and some warehouse type structure. Watching the emotionless T-1000 turn his arm into a javelin, cut it off, and try to impale someone else with it, is kind of freaky.
Here’s what Genisys does wrong. Dialog. Other than the original Arnold Schwarzenegger, who seems to know what movie he’s in, the dialog between Sarah and Kyle is soap opera reject level attempts at forcing some notion of toughness and love down our throats. The first three movies found time for slowing down to give us true character development and kept domestic squabbles out of the middle of life or death gun fights.
The best development scene in the film has the good Terminator mimicking Kyle Reese while filling gun clips with bullets. He stares at Kyle to take on his human attributes and Kyle notices with an eye towards how awkward it feels to be copied for no reason. It’s a moment without any dialog but instead uses good editing, facial expressions, and juxtaposition of the discovery that the terminator made crayon drawings of Sarah Connor, to create an unspoken moment that indicates the robot has learned to care and wants to fit in. It’s just the moments when people sit down and start talking that it all falls apart. Luckily there’s a bunch of action to fill in the gaps.
Here’s what the movie gets right. The big idea and some of the fights. Skynet has figured out why it keeps losing and devises a new robot that takes the mythos of computers gaining sentience to a new place not unexplored in other (better) films but still fits in quite nicely here and makes you question a little bit of the idea of fighting back. In fact, Genisys apes Google and Apple and all the other companies connecting us together in the cloud and creates an inherent argument that computers taking over the world to destroy us is inevitable. I found myself starting to wonder if fighting back just shoves everything a few years out but is still pointless in the end.
Why is the second half not as good as the first? Well, despite the interesting notion of where Terminators are headed in their evolution, the action is not as tense, gets kind of silly with a weirdo helicopter chase through city streets, and the new terminator just isn’t as scary as a killing machine. It’s better as an idea. It has most of the abilities you can imagine and then a few more. Maybe it’s just gotten to a point of seemingly infinite powers and that’s hard to focus on. It’s not bad – it’s just conflicted.
But despite the complaints, overall I had an enjoyable time and gripped the seat cushions a few moments that I wasn’t expecting. Well done. Also, Arnold is great. He really is. He gives the T-800 personality whilst still remaining unquestionably a robot.
There’s much talk about a scene in the credits so when you see the film, stick around for that. Here’s my official opinion of that scene: it’s terrible. It’s horrible. I hate hate hate that scene. It’s a toss in to indicate the series will continue in the most force fed, inexcusably lazy way. A terrible let down of an ending that is the logical equivalent of a neutron bomb going off next door at the power plant and having your garage door still open in all the rubble.
At 126 minutes it feels like 115 because it’s fast paced. However I was hoping for 100 minutes because it gets caught up in it’s own terrible dialogue and logical flaws a bit too much and it made me self conscious. Still I liked it. Maybe it would have gotten a better Rotten Tomato score if instead of it being the 4th best Terminator movie, it were the best movie about welding robot mouths to… never mind.