Posts Tagged ‘terminator’

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A favorite trope among the critical elite is the old trick of pointing out how a bad movie is a metaphor for itself. They pick out a particular scene, or line of dialogue, to construct an elaborate meta symmetry between the action onscreen and the actions that led to it literally being on-screen.

Recently, this popped up in reviews for Jurassic World, which told the tale of how corporate greed and a need to invent bigger, faster and scarier monsters went horribly wrong, resulting in the (creative) death of innocent (storytelling narratives) bystanders.

Perhaps no film has been so perfectly tailored for the plot-is-review device as Terminator Genysis, which seeks to recapture the early magic of an enduring cinema franchise by sending characters to the past and making a mess of the original timeline.

In short, it’s a reboot *about* rebooting. It tries to jump back in time to save the franchise from destruction, but fails.

Unlike 2009’s Star Trek, which pulled off a similar stunt by hitting the space-time reset button before setting off on a satisfactory stand-alone story, TG has little more on its mind than borrowing table scraps from the original (far superior) Terminator films and offering little by way of justification for its existence.

For the uninitiated, in the year 2029 mankind has been all but wiped out by an army of sentient machines controlled by the Skynet program. A small resistance force, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is nearing victory, which prompts Skynet to send a humanoid “Terminator” back in time to kill Connor’s mother Sarah (GoT’s Emilia Clarke) before Connor can be born, thus clearing the chess board of its opposing King. But Connor is able to send back one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of Divergent and Jack Reacher) to find and protect his mother from the machine.

That’s the plot of The Terminator, a great film directed more than two decades ago by James Cameron. For reasons that remain unexplained after the credits roll on Genysis, something is altered in the timeline, resulting in Kyle Reese finding a battle-hardened Sarah Connor and her Terminator sidekick (original star Arnold Shwarzeneggar, returning to the franchise after a one-film absence) in lieu of the damsel he was expecting.

So after a few scenes that recreate (with a twist!) the iconic imagery of T1 and T2, the plot zips ahead to 2017, the new date of the robopacolypse, with our heroes fighting to destroy a nascent Skynet.

Much like Jurassic World, the film offers two hours of satisfactory action-fueled fun the unfortunately falls apart on further reflection. At the end of the day, TG is little more than rehash of the “destroy Skynet” plot established in T2 and repeated in the abysmal T3 and tragically underwhelming T4. Its an improvement over the last two films, but after leaving the theater, and decompressing from the pulse-pounding Hans Zimmer soundtrack and destructo-porn, you realize that you’ve already seen that movie, several times, and you’re not entirely sure why you haven’t stopped yet.

As a standalone film, Genisys is baffling at best, with hordes of unanswered questions (likely saved for the inevitable sequel) and long stretches of chunky exposition that attempt to justify the plot gymnastics of the time-travel shenanigans.

Unfortunately it’s a pale imitation of its predecessors, with a lessor Sarah Connor, a lesser Kyle Reese, and a grey-haired Arnold who insists, on several occasions, that he is old “but not obsolete.” His familiar catch phrase of “I’ll be back” makes it’s appearance, but at this point its a threat directed at the audience.

Grade: C

*’Terminator Genisys’ opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 1.

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Terminator Genisys poster

Bruce Willis is dead the whole time.

If you don’t understand that reference: good. If you do, then you’re also aware that it is one of the most famous plot twists in recent movie memory. Or to use cinematic vernacular: it’s a huge spoiler.

Spoilers occupy an interesting corner of pop culture. Technically, they’ve always existed. I have no doubt that for as long as stories have been told, impolite individuals have ruined the myriad twists and turns for their friends.

But the spoiler as we know it is largely a byproduct of the internet age. Once upon a time, you had to go to the loudmouth at the water cooler to find out the identity of Keyser Soze. But then came the world wide web, where plot details are just a google search away, intentional or otherwise.

Now, take a look at the above poster for Terminator Genisys, which made its internet debut this week. The film is the latest nostalgia property to be retconned into modernity and its promotional materials contain a glaring, willful embrace of spoiler culture that is almost frightening in its audacity. If the strategy works and the film is a success (which is no sure thing) it may very well usher in a Post-Spoiler World, for better or worse.

But before we get to the future, let’s send a soldier back to the past.

Not too long ago, audience members would regularly arrive at a theater partway through a film and watch until the end. Then the next showing would begin, and they would exit once they caught up to themselves. The trailer for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window famously references this practice.

Did you catch that? Here’s the important part.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 5.03.09 PM

Hitchcock, cinema’s Master of Suspense, obviously had a distaste for his films being viewed out of sequential order. He made his living off of surprises, startles and scares, which are hardly effective when you watch Marion Crane arrive at the Bates Motel *after* seeing Norman bates in his mother’s dress.

History tells us that Hitchcock, and others like him, won that battle.

And that was fine for years. A code of conduct was established with unwritten rules dictating the time that the happenings on a new episode of your favorite show or the latest blockbuster would remain privileged. There were stumbles here and there, hurt feelings and minor scuffles, but for the most part a peaceful plot ignorance was preserved.

The first signs of trouble were DVRs and online streaming services, making it easier and easier to watch television on your own timetable. But the dam truly broke with the arrival of scripted programming on Netflix, unloaded as if from a digital dump truck to be devoured, or rationed, at your leisure.

A few stalwarts continued to fight the good fight. J.J. Abrams, a renowned secreteur, fought tooth and nail to preserve the secrecy of what every Trekkie had already concluded: that Benedict Cumberbatch was Khan Noonien Singh.

And entertainment writers had to forge new rules, debating whether to analyze all of House of Cards at once, to satisfy the hunger of binge-watchers, or dole their ruminations out piecemeal in some semblance of the bygone weekly format.

Which brings us back to Terminator Genysis. If you don’t want the spoiler stop reading, but it’s out and it’s proud. As part of its rejiggering of the Terminator timeline and canon, the latest film will feature John Conner, the mythological hero of the human resistance, succumbing to Skynet and transforming into some form of man/machine hybrid.

It’s right there in the trailer. And it’s right there in the poster.

Most reports agree that the filmmakers sensed the film wasn’t meeting expectations. Fan loyalty, it seemed, had not been renewed after two catastrophic failures in the franchise. So rather than preserve their prize pony until opening weekend, the marketing team, like Lawrence Gordon, elected to Saw off their own foot in order to escape. Instead of “Come see the movie to find out what happens,” the campaign says “Here’s what happens, now come see our movie.”

It’s a bold, if not frightening, choice. Should the film bomb at the box office like its predecessor, I suspect nervous studio executives to retreat back into the safety of a spoiler-free cave. But if Genisys suceeds, and the audience shows they’re not deterred by the lure of pre-release meat, then the copycats in Hollywood will no doubt take a second thought at that big reveal they’re protecting so dearly.

For what it’s worth, I think that’s a mistake. A rumor here and a tease there are fine but an outright Spoil does exactly as its name suggests.

Maybe I’m wrong, and the John Conner reveal is a red herring, meant to distract us from the *real* shocker. I hope so, because if I’m right then the Judgement Day may be upon us, the Spoilers are self-aware, and they view mankind as a threat.

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