Terminator Genisys (2015): Terminator Referynce With a Great Missed Story

Terminator-Genisys-poster-final

    “Terminator Genisys” had the potential to be the best of the story, wholly original and able to stand on it’s own, without referencing any of the past “Terminator” films. Sadly I’d be expecting too much from the studios and writers for that to become a reality and because the film tries to be all the Good Terminator films it fails to stand wholly on it’s own. It isn’t the worst of the “Terminator Franchise” by any means and it is enjoyable in it’s own right, but it falls short because it lacked the confidence to continue on threads that weren’t dependent on past films.

    The film was directed by Alan Taylor, written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier and produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg.

    The story involves John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading the final assault on Skynet headquarters in the Post-Apocalyptic future of 2029. He suceeds but not before Skynet sends back the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to terminate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). He decides to send back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in order to protect her. When he returns to 1984 he finds a Terminator has already been sent back to protect Sarah and the timeline has changed. It is up to them to stop Skynet before it comes online as the Timeline is in flux and the future has changed.

The Pros:  The Action – The action is really good in this. From the battle to reach Skynet’s Time Machine and shut down the core, to Pops against The Terminator and Pops, Reese and Sarah against the T-1000 and later on the fights against John Connor as the T-3000. Each fight was really well done and a pleasure to watch.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are the best they’ve been. When the original Terminator travels back in time he looks nearly like how Arnold looked as he did in 1984. The Terminators also look great too having a dangerous and sleek look to them.

The Final Assault on Skynet – This is the story that I wish the movie had been. I wish we could have witnessed the consequences of the war like we did in “Salvation” and how it had shaped John Connor into someone who was willing to take any risks to defeat the machines and to live. In the end the decision to send Kyle Reese back is made as Skynet’s Avatar attacks and turns John Connor into a Terminator. It’s really cool and if that had been the film with the resistance dealing with the consequences of that it would have been perfect and possibly the best in the series.

J.K. Simmons – Plays a cop who is saved by Reese and pays them back later when the T-3000 is trying to kill them all. His character is wonderful as the one who has seen the robots but no one believes him. I liked the character and it was a nice touch that was different from the other films. Detective O’Brien is a great character.

Arnold Scharzenegger – Arnold is the best part of this film. We see him save Sarah Connor at the beginning and that he has developed an affection for her. It is the most range I have seen Arnold do and he truly is great at this role (Minus “Terminator 3”).

Pops – Pops is the protector and Guardian of Sarah Connor and saved her as a child. We see that his goal is to protect her and stop Skynet (like the one sent back in “T2”) and to this end he trains and prepares her for the arrival of Kyle Reese and “The Terminator.” When the Terminator arrives together they kill it and later he gets upgraded when he falls into the liquid good of the T-1000s in the final battle against the T-3000. He develops an affection for Kyle Reese and a sense of humor too.

The Terminator/T-800/Pops – This role is small but Arnold is great at looking and acting threatening, beating down Pops and nearly killing him if not for Sarah Connor’s sniper shot. It was a great though his defeat kind of defeated the purpose of Skynet’s last ditch effort to save itself…though the writers kind of ignore that when they throw in the T-1000 in the same timeline and later the T-3000. He is called Pops by Sarah.

Jason Clarke – Jason Clarke is carrying this movie with Arnold and lends a lot of humanity to the role of John Connor as someone trying to make a difference and survive in a cruel world where humans are going extinct. This leads to some tough decisions that come back to bite him later. Clarke is great as the threatening T-3000 too.

John Connor – John Connor is a man on the brink who has lost so much and forced his soldiers to make tough choices. This has cost him a lot and at the end when he is victorious his one moment of joy costs him his conscience as he is turned into a Terminator and no doubt turned on his own men he was protecting.

T-3000 – The T-3000 is a Nano Terminator and is one of the best of them as he can mimic almost perfectly and has all the knowledge of Skynet and John Connor. It takes everything to defeat him including Skynet’s last resort Time Traveling Machine to finally end the threat.

Okay: The Ending – Pops gets upgraded and everyone is in 2017. It was way too happy for me as we see Sarah and John begin to hook up, Pops respect Reese and Reese talk to his younger self and give him hope for the future. If they have sequels planned I have no idea how they will pull it off. There are no evidence of Terminators and everything feels done now without opening more cans of worms in the Timeline(s). Also, somehow the Skynet system core survived? I guess it fits the theme of survival of the story but we shouldn’t need an after credits scene to know that it does. That’s a bit too important to leave until after the credits.

The Cons: Kyle Reese – Jai Courtney can’t act. He is super generic and dull as a character and either has a blank expression or annoyed expression (sadly like Emilia Clarke in this film too) and the focus on him just brings down the plot. I didn’t care about his character because he didn’t feel real. He felt like a plot device and not like an actual human being.

Sarah Connor – Emilia Clarke like Jai Courtney is terrible in this. She is flustered most of the time and she feels shoe horned in. We don’t see her arc to become a badass she just is that way because of Pops. She also doesn’t have much of an arc. She learns to love and not fear I guess but always loved Pops anyway so the arc is irrelevant and a poor attempt to hook her up with Reese for plot reasons.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese Romance – These two have no chemistry. Any times where there was supposed to be sexual tension felt contrived and tacked on and it felt like Emilia and Jai were just going through the motions.

Plot Holes – Who sent Pops back? How was the T-1000 around in 1984? How was  T-1000 sent back to kill Sarah Connor as a child? Are Time Machines around everywhere in the future? Are the Terminators from other Timelines? The plot is a mess if you think too hard on it, so major con.

Too Many Time Machines – See the plot holes above. Even Pops is able to build a Time Machine….which runs counter to the fact that in “Terminator 2” they were designed to only kill and couldn’t think on a deeper level. Now everyone has a Time Machine so story has no consequence. Everybody lives!

   This was a film that would have worked if we stayed in the future, or ended with Kyle Reese being sent back. From there the story would have been complete without having to explain the Old Terminator and hiding the fact that the writers don’t know who sent him back. We could have still had a good Terminator, the good Terminator could have protected John Connor after being reprogrammed and it having to kill John Connor after Skynet possess him, instead we get the entire timeline rebooted with Skynet pretty much destroyed and Reese and Pops alive. We get a story with no consequences with gaping plot holes, though I won’t deny the ride is enjoyable and Jason Clarke and Arnold are top of their game in their roles.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Would have been the best if we had just stuck to the future and consequences of the war on Skynet and filling in the blanks for “Terminator” and “T2,” without creating more plot holes in the Timeline (and creating more Timelines).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014): How the Trauma of the Past Can Devour the Future

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” was so close to being the perfect film in the franchise…and after proceeded to destroy that in the last third of the movie with how it handled two of it’s characters. I’ll go into the details of this in the assessment.

First the premise, the premise is that 10 years of passed since the Simian Flu has wiped out most of the human population. The opening actually has the news reports and shows the spread of the virus and decimation of populations. We pick up  with the apes from the last film who have built a civilization in the Redwoods and think humanity is gone, until some survivors appear trying to reach the dam for energy for their city when one of them panics and shoots one of the apes. From here the story unfolds as Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clark) try to build trust…while Koba (Toby Kebbell) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) (both victims of trauma in different ways) have none. From here the story unfolds.

Spoilers ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Inspiration from “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” this movie takes inspiration from Conquest with certain roles traded out. We have Malcolm in the place of McDonald as the human trying to build trust, there is Dreyfus as the Governor Kolp, Koba as General Aldo and in both Caesar has a son and faces the threat from within (Koba) and without (Dreyfus). We see the apes outside of Caesar learning to trust as well with Maurice in the role of Virgil. The story also ends in a battle that sets up the future of “The Planet of the Apes.”

The Special Effects – Are top of the game again. We see details in the facial scans of people playing the apes and the battles sequences are beautiful…though at times a bit too video game like.

Caesar – Andy Serkis is back and his character has grown. We see Caesar the leader who is a bit of a Xenophobe towards humans until Malcolm puts himself at risk in order to show that humans can be trusted…and why the humans need the dam for energy. You see moments where the trust is broken when of his men hides a gun when Caesar’s condition was no weapons…and how it comes back when Caesar realizes apes are the same as humans…that there are good and bad of both. He has great moments with his son Blue Eyes and his wife (and when Malcolm’s wife saves his wife from illness). As well as when he is back in his old home hiding and finds a video of Will (James Franco) and him as a child. It is a tender moment and powerful when he owns up to the fact that in the end it was the apes who started the war and that humanity will not trust them because of it.

Maurice – Maurice, the orangutan from the last movie returns and is teaching the young how to read and the the laws (Ape shall not kill ape). We see him connect with Alexander, Malcolm’s son and Malcolm teaches him how to read. He is also Caesar’s core ally and speaks the most actively against violence, even to the point of defending Alexander.

Blue Eyes – Blue eyes is great. We see him as a follower of Koba initially, until Koba’s heal turn where everyone is a threat who isn’t a loyalist…after that Blue Eyes realizes his father was right all along and helps restore him to power once he learns he is alive.

The Apes – The ape civilization is the highlight of this film. We see complex interactions between them and how they honor each other or show the other has dominance by reaching out their hand with head bowed. They also have a hierarchy based on those closest to Caesar (the ones mentioned from the last film).

Dreyfus – Gary Oldman owns this role. He is complicated and is willing to give Malcolm time to find a peaceful solution, though at the same time he trains his men in case of war. He reminds me a lot of Caesar before Caesar learns that apes are no different from men. We see a man who is a veteran who has experienced trauma and lost his family to the Simian Flu and is doing all he can to keep it together (he breaks down once power is back and he realizes everything he’s lost). He pulls a George Taylor at the end blowing himself up to try and destroy the apes in the building they are on…and you get why he does what he does at each point. He never attacks, only defends. He is an antagonist since at the end he doesn’t trust Malcolm…but he also had no reason to and Malcolm comes off as super naive through most of the film.

The Message – The message was actually real, and great. It clearly showed how trauma can change people and cause distrust and bring out the worst in ourselves. We saw that before Koba jumped the shark to go completely evil and we see that through the eyes of Dreyfus and the other apes. The apes are changed by the trauma of believing themselves under attack and it makes them tools of Koba or in humanity’s case…tools of Dreyfus.

Okay: Koba – Koba could have been a great villain. He had reasons to hate the humans (he was the Bonobo who was experimented on in the last film). We see his distrust here and when he finds humans in the city training with guns. But he loses all credibility when he begins killing his own and arresting those who disagree with him after his assassination attempt on Caesar (which makes sense since Caesar nearly beats him to death). Third act he is arresting those who disagree and when Caesar is back he owns up to nothing…he is just a sociopath and the whole point of trauma ruining good people get’s thrown out the door. He could have been the best baddie…but even Aldo felt guilt.

Malcolm’s family – His new partner Elli and his son Alexander are interesting, just not strong characters. His kid is a blank slate who has some good moments with Maurice but is just there to motivate Malcolm…and his wife Elli heals Caesar’s wife and goes from distrust to trust…but we never see why…beyond Caesar’s baby connecting with them all.

Humanity – After everything shown in the three videos leading up to this movie…I wish we’d gotten more of that. We don’t see how complicated things are in the city or how it works. All we know is Dreyfus and Malcolm created it…it isn’t bad, but there isn’t much there. Would have liked to see more of the post apocalyptic society.

Cons: Koba’s transformation – I get him snapping after being nearly beaten to death by Caesar (can’t trust apes now), but he doesn’t even play lip service to Caesar except at the beginning. Not only does he become an outright villain (locking up Caesar’s friends, killing Ash…Rocket’s son) it is never explained. He has no guilt after us seeing a thinking and feeling person who had been through so much trauma. I hated that. He could have turned against Caesar if they had made some of Dreyfus’s men attack in retaliation for some of them being killed by Koba after Koba takes vengeance for Ash being injured originally. The third act really falls apart.

The Third Act – Malcolm still trusts the apes after they destroy his home and imprison people in cages…he protects Caesar even though he knows they are attacking his city under Koba and he holds Dreyfus hostage for having the gall to fight back.

Malcolm – From holding his friends hostage, to never fighting the apes or thinking fighting back is an option…this guy wins the award for most naive protagonist. Talking is one thing, when they’re attacking you…you kind of have to defend yourself. He doesn’t get it until Caesar tells him at the end. “Peace over. Apes started war, humans will not forgive.” To word it one way. He could have been great if he’d felt like the apes had to offer him something. Trust goes both ways…and I don’t just mean letting him get power for the humans in the city in order for them to live.

The Final Fight – This felt excessive and unneeded. People saw that Caesar was alive, by surviving the attempt on his life and revealing Koba to be the one behind it should have got the others behind him. Instead they have a long fight in the Gen-Sys tower that leads to it eventually collapsing after Dreyfus blows it up. What a waste, less is more guys.

This movie was not the strongest or the best of the “Planet of the Apes” Franchise. It was good, but not great. I would recommend it anyone who likes the series though and it looking for an interesting film to see this summer.

Final score for this film is 8.3 / 10. Had so much potential that was wasted in the final act.