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).

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Terminator Salvation (2009): When Redemption Means Death

Terminator Salvation

    We continue the “Terminator Franchise” review with “Terminator Salvation.” “Terminator Salvation” was a decent film. It had a consistent character arc and kept the theme of redemption and change going on throughout it. I also enjoyed a lot of the casting choices they made, though it wasn’t perfect and I’d still rate “The Terminator” and “T2” above this film because they were much more focused so didn’t feel long at any point. This one does drag at times and doesn’t do as much as it could have with those reflective moments.

    The film was directed by Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris and produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver.

    The story begins in the past with Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) giving Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) another chance at life after death if he donates his body to their cause. He agrees and wakes up in the future where the Terminators are fighting to annihilate humanity. John Connor (Christian Bale) is seeking Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) to protect him and the Machines are too. When Reese runs into Marcus he becomes his protector and later when Reese is captured it is Marcus who is the best bet to infiltrate Skynet when they discover that he is a Cyborg.

The Pros: The Terminators – The Terminators are great in this! There a whole variety of them from HK’s that fly, T-600s, Tanks and even the T-800 makes an appearance and nearly kills John and Marcus. They feel like a threat and it takes human ingenuity to defeat them as they can take a lot of hits and fight until they are dead. The designs and their actions were some of the best part of this film.

The Resistance – The resistance is torn between those who believe in John as a Messiah and those who think he is a false prophet (mostly those in leadership) this could have been explored more but I’m going to give them a point for the idea as no group has full unity.

Kyle Reese – Anton Yelchin is great as the teenage Kyle Reese! We see him taking care of a mute girl and that he has traps set in the city that help him kill Terminators. He also gets Marcus to care about anyone outside of himself as Reese is always protecting the mute child Star. They are the heart of this as it is their resistance that keeps others going who are also trapped and they are why John Connor attacks Skynet so he can rescue them.

Blair Williams – Blair is a pilot who saves Marcus and is saved by Marcus and it is due to her rescuing him after the Resistance plans to kill Marcus that he becomes good. She is trusting and is one of the few good people in the world as we see her never seek to kill, only to protect herself and others. Moon Bloodgood does a great job.

John Connor – Christian Bale is fantastic as John! In him we see a man wrestling with his destiny while also trying to keep his humanity as people lose theirs all around him. He is desperate and paranoid but changes when Marcus shows him that not everything is as hopeless as it seems and people risk it all as in the end Marcus risks his life for John and John ends the film talking about the long fight ahead and how there is hope.

Marcus Wright – Marcus is a blank slate for a lot of the help as he just lashes out and is angry and full of guilt. That changes when Kyle Reese and Blair remind him that he has a second chance to be a better person and he takes it and becomes a protector, even protecting the Resistance who tried to kill him and torture him. In the end he finally gives his life to save John too as he found his purpose for having a second chance at life. Sam Worthington does a good job. In the end redemption means death for him. As it turns out the entire film he’d been seeking redemption for the crimes he’d been killed for.

The Cons: The Resistance Leaders – They mostly yell and tell John Connor “no.” They are just there to show that the leaders have lost their humanity so when the Terminators find them using their own weapon against them I didn’t mind. They were just there to be a threat to John Connor and not actual characters.

Meaningless Minor Characters – John Connor’s wife Kate and his second in command Barnes are just kind of there. They are there to hate on Marcus for being a cyborg and that is about it. They could have been replaced by anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered, which is a shame as they are connected to John and I wanted to learn why and what their relationships to him meant.

Skynet and Marcus’s Free Will – Skynet tries to get Marcus to kill John and tells him he was a plant, but he was a plant with free will so it just ends up being a stupid plan. We see Dr. Kogan who was one of the early creators of Skynet apparently but I never believed she had any hold over Marcus and him being a machine without free will was never established earlier. This was a weak thing that really brought down the film and kept it from being good.

Slow at Times – There are a few action scenes that drag, especially early on when Marcus is exploring the wasteland. The film could have been half and hour shorter and that would have made it a good film as the drag would not have happened.

Plot Armor – Kyle Reese is captured by Skynet at one point, I guess they didn’t kill him because they wanted John…but if they had just killed him John wouldn’t exist anymore. This was an issue I had as if Kyle was going to be captured it should have been at the end, the machines had him for days and did not kill him.

Gratuitous Nudity – At one point it is raining and Blair takes off her shirt. Marcus looks and that is the entire scene except him saving her from a rape later. Really? It is just poor storytelling and gratuitous sexualizing of a pretty cool character.

   This was an enjoyable film and for any fan of this franchise this has the heart an soul that “Terminator 3” never had. It still has issues such as Skynet and the Resistance leaders not being fully fleshed or feeling like real characters, and Blair’s gratuitous naked shot was annoying and is far too common in films…but the main characters work. I cared about what happened to Kyle Reese and John Connor and even managed to care about Marcus Wright so has sacrifice at the end to save John Connor actually meant something. When I return to this series it will be for “Genisys” and later a rating of the films from Worst to Best. So far it has been a good adventure.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): A Reflective Action Film on Destiny, The Soul and Choice

Terminator 2 poster

    “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is a favorite film. All the issues I had with the “The Terminator” in it feeling a bit rushed, raw and lacking character development of character outside Reese and Sarah is corrected in this one. There are still some one-dimensional antagonists, but we get more heroes and our heroes are more complicated. No one is perfect in this film and for that reason it is able to explore powerful themes related to choice, the soul and destiny really well.

    The film was directed by James Cameron who also produced and wrote the film. It was also co-written by William Wisher.

    The story is about Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who is an institute after she is captured between the last films as she tries to escape to train her son John Connor (Edward Furlong) to lead the resistance against Skynet. A T-1000 Robert Patrick) is sent back to kill her son but Future John Connor sends back a Model 101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect him and to stop the T-1000. From here things get complicated as John and Model 101 help Sarah break out of the institute and she looks towards destroying Skynet’s creator Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) to prevent the future ruled by the Terminators from occurring.

The Pros: The Story – The story is really good. From us seeing the dark future that Model 101 and the T-1000 came from, to Sarah Connor being trapped and John Connor being alone and how all their forms of resisting their programming or authority bring them together to try and bring about a future where humanity is saved. This attempt to fight destiny and find hope is really powerful.

The Narration – Sarah Connor narrates the story and mentions the events from the first film as well as talking about the events of this film. She ends on a hopeful note too as we see the events of the film remind her what she is fighting for beyond training John for a desolate future.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography is beautiful in this, from the action scenes where the T-1000 is usually in a large vehicle or stronger vehicle facing off against Model 101, Sarah and John to Sarah’s vision of the apocalyptic future where her and a playground and the city burn. It captures the desolation and the full strength of what they are up against in the inevitable march to the future. Adam Greenberg did a fantastic job.

The Characters – Most of the characters are wonderful in this. The Connors are complex, Model 101 is complex as it becomes more human and the T-1000 is just a fantastic enemy.

John Connor – Edward Furlong is a great child actor. In this we see him as both a rebel and punk but also someone who cares about human life as he orders Model 101 not to kill people. His arc is him truly seeing the value in others and stopping the Terminator 101 and his Mom from crossing the line and losing their souls in the process as they are bent to achieve their means by any ends initially. He is the soul of the group that way and his imperfection (he is a thief, doesn’t respect his foster parents or his mom for a lot of the film) that at the core he is good.

Miles Dyson – Joe Morton is great as the scientist who invented Skynet. He is a father and and one of the few African American scientists from this era in cinema. His arc is redemption equels death as after Model 101 reveals is is a Cyborg he works with the Model, Sarah and John to destroy the future tech from the first film he was using to jump start the future and the computer where all his work is to prevent the future he would have created. He is a great guy and we see he loves both his work and his family but family takes priority once he understands what his work will create. In the end he is killed by a SWAT team but not before he gives Sarah, the Model 101 and John more time. I really liked his character and how complex he was.

Model 101/The T-800 – Arnold’s range is shown in this film as we see his Terminator learn how to care about others. This process starts when he lets John take out the chip that Skynet placed that blocks him from remembering and keeps him stupid and a weapon.  He follows this freedom by not killing and fights to the end against the T-1000 helping Sarah finally defeat it. This model learns how to joke and reminded me a lot of Data as it is one of the more human cyborgs in Cinema. In the end it sacrifices itself so that it’s parts will not be used to create Skynet. It is then it tells John it understands why humans cry. It is a touching scene and Arnold does a wonderful job in this role as the Cyborg who discovers it has a “Soul.”

The T-1000 – Robert Patrick is a wonderful threat in this as the liquid metal shape-shifting Terminator who destroys John’s Foster Parents and most of the threats it comes up against. It nearly kills John and is about to kill Sarah before it is stopped. It is a Terminator driven by some sort of emotion as we see rage or pain when it dropped into the vat of metal and that no matter how many times it is hit, it continued to fight. It took the form of a cop, which allowed for great symbolism too as it represented the authority of Skynet over humanity in the future that it came from and hoped to create.

Sarah Connor – Linda Hamilton has really grown as an actress since the last film. She was good in the last film but in this we see her dealing with the trauma she went through and how the future haunts her given her loss of Reese (who she has visions of) and of how what she knows leads to her isolation and imprisonment. This doesn’t stop her from escaping on her own and trying to prevent the future, even if it means killing another. She is really to kill Dyson until they convince him of what the future holds and he stands by them ready to stop it. We see her come to care about the Model 101 through her love for her son and at the end that in her despair she finally has hope as she was part of the reason the Model 101 learned to value human life and feel.

The Final Fight – The Final fight is really great. From the T-1000 chasing them in a helicopter and giant truck, to Model 101 and Dyson against the cops and finally the fight in the factory with the hot metal where the T-1000 has injured all of them and it takes Sarah and the Model 101 to take him out together.

Choice and Resistance – One of the main themes of this movie is the power of choice and resistance. From Model 101 choosing to protect beyond John and from it realizing the value of life and from Sarah sparing Dyson’s life and seeing that she has lost sight of the big picture too. Throughout these choices you have Skynet and through Skynet the T-1000 and even the cops upholding corrupt authority and ending life on multiple occasions. The cops always shoot to kill and Dyson dies because of it. Where none of the heroes kill and are usually always in a smaller vehicle or out numbered by their foes. From this is born the resistance and the choice to fight it.

Themes of Corrupt Authority Needing to be Fought – Corrupt authority and the need to fight it is also a theme. From the cops working for the organization that created Skynet, from Skynet sending the T-1000 back and it taking the form of a cop that kills on multiple occasions you have unchecked authority just like Skynet is in the future where human choice is taken away and all that exists is the authority.

Destiny, Can the Future be Changed? – The question remains open on weather the future was changed or not, as we never see what happened to the arm of Model 101 even though the T-800 chip and arm from the last film were destroyed as was most of the body of the Model 101. Did anything our heroes do change a thing? Did Dyson dying and destroying his work prevent someone else from eventually creating it? These are the questions that remain open and whether the future is set in stone and things are destined to happen or whether our actions truly change the future.

The Ending  – The ending is hopeful as John and Sarah are on the road again both changed by events and Sarah who had only the fight and her love of John to keep her going now has has hope since even if a Terminator can learn to value human life, that why can’t humanity? It is a great question and point and ending on the open road was a great symbol of the future and how it is unknown.

The Cons: The Psychiatrist – I never got that he truly cared about Sarah as even when she was on good behavior he still would not let her see her son. To this end he was the one-dimensional antagonist that seems to appear in every James Cameron film. Wasn’t impressed especially since Sarah Connor’s vision of the future could rightfully be seen as delusional but his lack of compassion did not help his perspective.

This film is a classic for a reason and worth multiple watches. It is an action movie that thinks and poses important questions that it tries to wrestle with while giving us complex characters who have arcs and presenting these arcs along with the powerful themes of choice, resistance and tackling the question of destiny. It is also beautifully filmed and truly one of the best films that James Cameron has created.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Terminator (1984): A Good Thriller With a Decent Heroine Arc

The  Terminator Poster

    We begin the “Terminator Franchise Retrospect” with “The Terminator.” The last time I saw this film was back in High School and I really enjoyed it. On a second viewing it is still good, but I wouldn’t call it truly great. It has a few things working against it both in the looks of the future and in how some character exploration occurs…the main three characters are done really well though.

      The film was directed by James Cameron who also wrote the screenplay along with Gale Anne Hurd, who also produced it.

     The story involves a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent to the past to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to John Connor, the revolutionary who is turning the tide in the war against the machines in 2029. John Connor sends by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother as Sarah Connor tries to make sense of it and survive against the powerful threat.

The Pros: The Premise – A.I. taking over the future and turning on humanity isn’t a new idea but it is presented really cool in this. We see advanced tech. that the Terminators possess versus the rebels who are just holding onto their lives. In this way the time travel plot to prevent or save this future is given power since we know the stakes from the idea.

The Opening – The premise of A.I. (Skynet) taking over in the future and the rebels fighting back and being enough of a threat for Time Travel to be a weapon to end the movement before it starts was really cool. I was drawn in immediately.

The T-800 – The Terminator is a great  threat and Arnold Schwarzenegger does a good job of making him feel like a threat. You see it try to blend in but also it’s complete disregard for life and single driven purpose to destroy Sarah Connor. Even after it’s organics are destroyed the robot fights on and is only stopped after it is torn in half and Sarah Connor crushes it.

Kyle Reese – Michael Biehn does a great job as Reese. His Kyle Reese is a man who grew up during the apocalypse and was given hope by John Connor as he grew up in a labor camp before he was finally saved. From here he became friends with Connor and we learn later becomes John’s father when he and Sarah Connor fall in love as they face off against the threat that is so much more powerful than either of them.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor’s arc is the arc that drives the series. She is the one in denial over what is going on and over the future but after she is saved by Kyle and saves him on multiple occasions she comes around and after the T-800 kills Reese she vows to live and prepare her son for the coming apocalypse. She goes from someone who was passive and a pushover to someone ready to fight and risk everything for a future where humanity has a fighting chance. It’s a pretty solid arc. Linda Hamilton does a great job.

Okay/Pro: The Action – The action is kind of hit and miss, there are times it is really good like when the T-800 raids the police station and slaughters everyone, and other times where it drags like when they think they’ve defeated it and the robot skeleton is revealed. This part was so chaotic it was hard to know what was going on until the very end when Sarah finally ends it.

Okay: The Script – It is an 80’s action film so there are a lot of catch phrases and one liners so that got a bit annoying after a while, Arnold’s delivery helped but by the end I was laughing over some of the one liners because it took away from the action and made the film feel stilted.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack was either really good rock n’roll or synthetic sci. fi. sounding music that didn’t always work. For this reason I cannot put the soundtrack as a pro but I won’t put it as a con either.

The Cons: The Police Department – The Police Chief is useless and the police are too as they target Reese and are unprepared for the Terminator at all. They put up a fight at least but they felt expendable, so a waste of characters.

Certain Future Scenes – There were some scenes where the rebels were fighting the Terminators where I didn’t know fully what was going on. I think that they made it too dark and didn’t really keep it focused all the time, which was a detriment as when things were clear it was really cool, especially Skynet’s Tanks and Planes.

   This film is a classic and it is well worth checking out if you have never watched it before. Arnold is great as the threatening T-800 and Linda Hamilton is wonderful as Sarah Connor. A lot of the issues can be tied to this being one of James Cameron’s earlier works so him being raw as a director and that it was just him and Gale Anne Hurd working on it, which means there weren’t eyes to flesh out the ideas and writing fully, given that it was just them. I still really like the premise though and can understand why this world turned into a Franchise.

Final Score: 8 / 10