THE UPSIDE with Shane Whitbread: TERMINATOR 5 – CRITICISM IN CIRCLES

I fucking love The Terminator. The way people talk about Star Wars is the way I talk about the Terminator. I wore out my VHS copy of it as a kid, and I can recite it word for word. It’s still one of my favourite movies ever. It’s a minimal film (the little movie that could); and even though it looks dated and was done on a shoestring budget, it still works. It’s one of the few B-movies (because that’s all it really is) that really crossed over into mainstream culture and launched a successful franchise.

The Terminator VHS Cover 1I’m about to commit a sin here: I have a love/hate relationship with the Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I don’t think it’s that great of a movie. It’s fine. Linda Hamilton’s acting and dialog is fucking horrendous, it has aged terribly and reeks of a man writing new age bullshit dialog for a woman. It’s like a Lamaze class on VHS from the ’90s crossed with Ripley from Alien (not Aliens, which is guilty of the same cringe worthy script-writing as T2). Beyond that, T2 is a functional action film with some good ideas and neat visuals. Not much else.

The third Terminator is all right. The last 10 minutes are fucking great. I know people shit all over the ending, but I totally love the down beat it ends on, the overwhelming sensation of hopelessness. It reminds me of how I feel every morning while I’m drinking coffee.

Terminator-The-Sarah-Connor-Chronicles-Season-1Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, however, is possibly the best Sci-Fi television series ever made. Can’t reconcile that with my hate for Firefly? I’ll get around to explaining why it’s just that fucking awesome someday –probably soon, because I’m due for my yearly re-watch of the series.

Terminator: Salvation fucking stunk. If you’ve seen it, you know it sucks. If you haven’t seen it, just fucking don’t. Watch the TV show instead. Hell, watch the TV show anyway.

So, Genisys . It’s actually a pretty good Terminator movie. I’ll be the first to admit that the plot’s a fucking mess. There are plenty of continuity errors, weird logic jumps, cringe-worthy dialog galore, and bullshit explanations. The entire thing felt like it needed two more rewrites, as it bounces all over the place, time-wise. It makes sense, kinda, but a little more tweaking could have fleshed it out. Funnily enough though, I’m able to kind of overlook all that. They make the smart decision to put a scene halfway through saying no one really understands how time and parallel universes works. It reminds me of the fantastic diner scene in Looper, where the main characters basically instruct the audience not to worry about the concepts and just enjoy the ride. It helps move the movie along without bogging it down in theoretical temporal mechanics.

TerminatorGlauProblem is, the Looper explanation falls really, really flat here. Not X-Men: Days of Future Past flat, where nothing makes sense and it’s just a bastardization of a classic story, but in a “This makes no sense in the Terminator universe” way. But I’m able to overlook it because it’s an original, non-adapted story to which I’m not particularly attached (Days of Future Past is one of my favourite superhero stories of all time). It’s simple, because it’s a fucking Terminator movie, and time travel has never really made sense in the films anyway (the TV series actually tried to make sense of it, but I’m saving that for later).

The action pieces are fucking awesome. The film opens with human troops storming Skynet, which fans have clamored for forever, and finally got. It’s impressive and straightforward, all laser fire and shit blowing up. The robot designs work, and there’s a combat scene halfway through that is also smartly and impressively done. You may have noticed that I’m being vague. Sue me.

arnold_schwarzenegger_67992The special effects are top-notch, and only a few things really stood out as feeling really fake. Surprisingly, the borrowed footage from The Terminator looks really good and is a nice nod to the franchise. It feels like incorporating the footage from 1984 seamlessly was a labour of love, with lots of time and money invested in getting that vibe right.

Acting-wise, it’s a mixed bag. Arnold is Arnold and the casting of Emilia Clarke can best be described as interesting. You can tell she spent a long time studying Linda Hamilton (which is a bonus), but that makes her line delivery really stiff. That can probably be attributed more to the script than her talent. I also haven’t seen anything else she’s in, so I have no frame of reference (don’t tell me to watch Game of Thrones, I tried, it’s fucking garbage). Jason Clarke, however, is the best John Connor since Edward Furlong.

 Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese stinks. He’s fucking awful and poorly cast, too muscular and too good looking. Michael Beihn, who played Reese in The Terminator, works as coming from a dystopian future: he’s a scrawny, completely disheveled dude, living in a post-apocalyptic war zone low on food and sunlight. Explain to me where you get your hands on the steroids and chicken breasts to maintain a bodybuilder’s physique after the end of civilization. It’s not like you can just pop down to a GNC for creatine and protein shakes.

The film’s biggest weakness is how it fails to address Rise of the Machines and Salvation. It pretends they just straight up don’t exist, and moves judgement day back to 1997 in the opening scene, which serves as a Cliffs Notes explanation of the Terminator universe. This is terrible plotting. Even worse, it borrows huge plot points from both films and the TV show and uses them in a prominent way, making for a lot of awkward dialog and exchanges. The story feels dotted by selective memory blocks, and fails within the temporal mechanics framework. This could have easily been fixed, but the producers instead took the lazy way out, avoiding a script re-write that addresses the third and fourth movies because they think we have already forgotten them. It’s so modern fucking Hollywood: talk down to long-time fans of the franchise –and the general audience– because the viewers are vacuous money-spenders, with little memory or attention span.

terminator_genisys_poster3Terminator: Genisys is a flawed, but fun movie. It’s crap, sure; but it’s inoffensive crap, and certainly a step up from the last entry into the Terminator Universe. So if you’re a hardcore fan, or just looking for something to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon in an air-conditioned theatre, check it out.

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Fuck that, I can’t end this review with that kind of wishy-washy bullshit. I honestly have no idea what I think of this movie. I enjoyed it way more than I should have and I fully know it sucks. It’s a goddamn mess of good ideas that are all half-baked, half-realized, and go nowhere. Its idea of time and space is fucked. Kyle Reese has the personality of a cardboard box. It’s a bad movie, and I want to throw it under the bus; but i just can’t because I think this is the best we can expect from a Terminator film in 2015. – SHANE