Movies

Peter Suderman Reviews Terminator Genisys

Another empty nostalgia piece.

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Like Kurt Loder (and most other critics), I didn't think much of Terminator Genisys, which is mostly a disappointing nostalgia piece.

Here's the opening to my review:

"Old — but not obsolete" is the knowing mantra that Arnold Schwarzenegger repeats throughout "Terminator: Genisys." Wrinkled and gray-haired, with a drooping face that seems designed for a spryer, thinner metal endoskeleton, Mr. Schwarzenegger, the no-longer-quite-so-muscle-bound action star, certainly looks the former. He plays the role with knowing, elderly charm; his gears may grind a little more, and his thinning flesh may expose his metallic insides more often, but robotic age becomes him.

Indeed, he seems to be enjoying his robo-dotage. Yet he also seems slightly out of place in this lackluster sequel, like an old man taking the grandkids to the video arcade. Yes, this hulking robotic brute is still the role he was born to play, but, more than ever, it seems like the role he was born too long ago to play.

The movie means to emphasize his senior stature while insisting that this ever-longer-in-the-tooth killer robot still hasn't lost its mettle; Mr. Schwarzenegger's unnamed android warrior is introduced in a scene that pits him against a buck-naked version of his younger self. Tellingly, though, he loses, saved at the last minute by one of the movie's younger stars.

Just as tellingly, Mr. Schwarzenegger's digitally recreated younger self is the movie's best and freshest special effect. The rest of this disappointing movie clearly yearns to recall the thrills of the franchise's groundbreaking first two films — and just as clearly fails. Contrary to Mr. Schwarzenegger's repeated mantra, what this bland and lifeless attempt at a franchise reboot really proves is that the series is long past the end of its useful life.

Like Mr. Schwarzenegger, this venerable 1980s franchise is now well past its prime, replaced by newer and flashier enterprises. Killer robots are old news now; if you have an iPhone, you know that Skynet has already taken over.

Fittingly, the movie reimagines the murderous sentient software — now called Genisys — as a kind of mobile OS-meets-social network. As one character explains, it ensures that "everything in my life is uploaded and online, 24-7." Welcome to the apocalypse, as brought to you by Facebook.

Read the whole review

As I say in the piece, the multiple attempts to reboot or extend the franchise suggestjust how much goodwill there is towards the first two entries in the series.

Paramount Pictures

The first half of the film takes viewers on a brief tour of the first Terminator, recreating and restaging key scenes from James Cameron's 1984 low-budget classic, this time with the inclusion of a T-1000, the villain from Cameron's 1991 follow-up, Terminator 2. The particulars are complicated and never fully make sense, but as a metaphor for the movie's relationship to its predecessors, it's perfectly clear: The movie spends its first hour essentially fighting the first two films. 

There's a similar sort of fan service at work in Jurassic World, which includes constant references to Steven Spielberg's 1993 original. Jurassic World is, I think, a somewhat better movie than Genisys, but it's still an attempt to coast on audience appreciation for the original. 

There seems to be an awful lot of nostalgia for films of that era—the 1980s and early 1990s—floating around Hollywood right now. In addition to this summer's Jurassic Park and Terminator updates, there are sequels, with the original stars, to Top Gun and Blade Runner in the works. The last few years have seen sequels to the Alien franchise, Die Hard, and Rambo, as well as the Expendables franchise, which channels a non-series specific form of 80s action nostalgia. The forthcoming Star Wars sequel arguably fits in this category too; yes, the first one hit theaters in the 1970s, but it remained a major phenomenon throughout the following decade.

To some extent this is just a result of the fact that Hollywood's current generation of top creators came of age during the 1980s and early 1990s, and these were the movies they grew up on. But I also think it suggests a deeper nostalgia for the big films of that era, more than a few of which were memorable and gripping in ways that today's frantic, CGI-heavy action blockbusters just aren't. 

Maybe it's just today's middle-aged mavens pining for their youth, but I think there's a little more to it than that. The films from that era, even the ones that were initially considered too noisy and too flashy, now seem remarkably cool and calm in comparison to today's blockbusters. They're slower and more methodical, and even in the biggest budget pictures, computer-generated effects are used sparingly if at all. It was a golden age for blockbusters. 

Ultimately, I think those old methods are what a lot of Hollywood's nostalgia are missing; movies like Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys resurrect characters and concepts from an earlier era, but not the style or craft that made those characters and concepts great. 

The best Terminator 2 sequel never aired in theaters. Instead, it was T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, part of a James Cameron-directed 3-D movie/stunt show at Universal Studios. Watch a fun clip from the making-of documentary below:

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  1. Terminator Gynecologist

    “Come with me if you want a pelvic!”

    1. “I’ll be back.”

  2. NO SPOILERS.

    1. Toward the end of the movie they pan down and you see Skynet has a penis. That’s right. IT WASN’T FEMALE IT WAS MALE THE WHOLE TIME.

      1. Skynet is Samus Aran?

        1. No, Skynet is the Motherbrain with gender identity issues.

      2. *masturbates furiously*

  3. Let’s not forget Jem and the Holograms, re-imagined as Sex and the City: The College Years When We Had A Band.

    Nut-punching my childhood needs to stop.

    1. Nut-punching my childhood needs to stop.

      Star Wars this December!

    2. Jem and the Holograms: Hey 20-something women who are not actually old enough to have watched the original cartoon! Re-live your childhood as indie-folk-pop singer Jem tries to make it on her own in Hollywood without any enemies except the Hollywood machine! Did you think Josie and the Pussycats was a terrible movie? Well, think again! Jem will redefine the cartoon to movie genre!

  4. Now we just need what, 3 more re-animated reviews from Reason?

  5. …and even in the biggest budget pictures, computer-generated effects are used sparingly if at all.

    This showed that Lucas wasn’t a genius filmmaker, he just benefited in the original three Star Warses from a lack of developed CGI. Once he got his dickskinners on powerful enough equipment to crank out computer-generated pixels, he proceeded to ruin the franchise.

    1. [cough]Ewoks[cough]

      1. IF THAT RUINED THE FRANCHISE FOR YOU THEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT MOVIE SERIES COULD POSSIBLY MEET YOUR STANDARDS.

        1. (Um, but I take your point. I guess maybe that did kind of suggest early on he might actually be mentally retarded.)

          1. If they just sort of showed up and fiddled about they won’t be so bad, but the whole fighting the Stormtroopers was stupid and boring.

            1. 5 year old me loved Ewoks fighting stormtroopers.

      2. Get that checked before they spread

    2. I also think in Episode IV Lucas wasn’t some high priest of a cult. He was just a director, dealing with strong personalities like Alec Guinness who would tell Lucas to his face when his crap was crap. Studio and editors also actually had a say. Alan Ladd directed Episode V; and you start seeing the narcissm-creep and shit comedy-relief (Ewoks) in VI.

      By the prequels, it was full-blown megalomania surrounded by sycophants.

      Same thing happened to Peter Jackson; all the pressure, budget, and time constraints forced him to make tight edited movies for LOTR. By King Kong, he’s got enough money and clout to jack off with a render farm for three hours – so he does. The natural conclusion, of course, is turning a hundred-page book into three three-hour long pieces of glitzy unwatchable cinema-shit.

      1. Yeah, if you watch Plinkett’s (hilarious) reviews of the prequels, you’ll see that Lucas had some really stupid ideas slapped down by his producer during development of the original films.

        1. When a (undoubtedly) raving Lucas sprung ‘mitochlorians’ on his Episode 1 cast and staff the feeling in the room must’ve been like right after someone farted in an elevator…and yet, obviously, nobody said a thing in protest.

          Whole franchise was doomed – it was Caligula trying to conquer Neptune – from that moment on.

          I’m sure next day, Lucas rolled Jar-Jar out.

  6. I don’t think it looks like a very good movie, but I’ll go if I can assured there won’t be a fucking Age of Empires commercial every 10 minutes.

    1. You mean Game of War?

      “Hey, look at these tits. Now buy our shitty game”.

      1. Both suck.

        1. Nothing about Kate Upton’s tits sucks.

          1. Get ’em out or go away.

      2. “Hey, look at these tits. Now buy our shitty game in-game currency”

        It’s “free”

  7. Sometimes I wish skynet was real that way it would save us from these terrible sequels.

  8. Yes, Kyle Reese is back, this time played by Jai Courtney, a buff but personality-free young man Hollywood keeps assuming must be a star; “Genisys” once again serves to question that assumption.

    Ouch.

    I still expect to like this more than Terminator Salvation, though.

    1. I do too. Of course, that bar is so low that not even Barbados Slim could limbo under it.

      1. You two have left me with the choice of either quoting Futurama or Christian Bale’s epic rant.

        1. Please don’t quote Futurama, or you and me are fuckin’ DONE professionally.

    2. a buff but personality-free young man Hollywood keeps assuming must be a star

      Yeah, that narrows it down.

    3. You aren’t going to replace Michael Biehn. That role actually required a modicum of acting talent.

      Fun Fact: Schwarzenegger was supposed to play Kyle Reese in the original Terminator. Imagine lines like “I came across time for you, Sarah” delivered by Arnie.

      1. Is it true that O.J. Simpson was originally slated to be the Terminator, or is that just an urban legend?

    4. It’s a damn shame, too, because Jai Courtney was awesome in Showtime’s Spartacus series. Everything else I’ve seen him in, he seems to be trying to hard to be a Big Action Star when his real talent lies in being a supporting character that can leaven the main star’s conflicts a bit.

  9. And in reference to the alt-text, Bill Paxton would have made it great. Bill Paxton makes everything great.

    1. That cost me 20 minutes of production at work. 😉

  10. They do keep making them because audiences keep seeing them. Sequels and franchises make more money than original films.

  11. I submit that there’s no way anyone could have ever done this movie without it fundamentally being self-parody.

  12. Wouldn’t kids be the ones that are out of place in a video game arcade? Would they even understand what one was?

    “It’s like a phone, only bigger. And you put in quarters, not from your parents credit card”

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