Thursday, July 16, 2015

Film Review: Terminator Genisys

I remember when I was young I thought film critics were snobs.  I loved movies like Flash Gordon and The Goonies.  And I remembered movie critics on TV trashing movies like these because of the bad acting.  I was so angry once that I ranted to my brother, "Acting?  Who cares about acting?  If the story is good and it looks cool, what does acting matter?"  I believed critics were just nit-picking good movies on irrelevant trivialities.

But writing this review feels like traveling back in time to the 1980's and revealing to my younger self that I have become the monster I used to hate.  I have become that snob.

Because it is the acting that sinks Terminator: Genisys.

The plot revolves around Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) who is a loyal soldier to John Conner (Jason Clarke), the leader of the last human resistance against the evil machines of Skynet.  As is part of the Terminator lore, John must send Kyle back in time to protect his mother Sarah (in this movie played by Emilia Clarke) and become John's father, even though he knows it will cost Kyle his life.  In this film we get to see the events that lead up to the time travel, but something goes wrong.  Kyle is sent back to 1984, but there is a liquid metal T-1000 (Byung-Hun Lee) waiting for him as well as a leather-clad Sarah with her guardian Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) whom she calls "Pops."

I don't want to get into all the twists and turns of the movie, because that is the most enjoyable part.  I admire the attempt to jump start the franchise by doing something new with the mythology.  And some of the action sequences are fairly well done.

But I couldn't care about any of it because the actors were awful.

The chief sinner is Courtney as Kyle.  I'm not sure that it is even really his fault.  He is just horribly cast.  He has nothing of what made the original version of Kyle so good.  If you remember from the first Terminator, Kyle is haunted, hunted solider.  There is an intense desperation in his eyes.  His body is sinewy but not bulky.  You believed he grew up desperate and starving.  Michael Biehn deserves more credit than I think I have given him the past.

Courtney's Kyle is a thick-necked brute.  He is way out of his depth.  I couldn't find anything compelling about him in this role.  The script doesn't help him either.  Biehn's Kyle would get injured and could barely walk at times.  Courtney's Kyle gets full on slammed by a car on a highway while naked, is sent flying several feet in the air… and he comes off with barely a scratch.  How can I feel any fear for him or his danger?

And Emilia Clarke is not much better.  She feels like a little girl play dress up.  Linda Hamilton was Clarke's age when she originally played Sarah.  But I defy anyone to tell me that Clarke matches the maturity and power of Hamilton as Sarah (and we are talking about Sarah before she became a psychopath in T2).

On top of this, Courtney and Clarke have zero chemistry.  They talk about how they are supposed to fall in love, but it feels like parents from 2 different families telling their kids that they should get married.  It is all artificial.  If I had never seen the original movies, I may be less harsh.  But this is a franchise film that leans heavily on nostalgia for the originals.  All of that raw energy of the original two has been smoothed-out and dipped in suffocating shiny plastic.  I feel the rage many felt at how Darth Vader could be cast with Hayden Christiansen.

Schwarzenegger is serviceable once again as the Terminator.  He is often imitated and derided as an actor but he actually has a great deal of charisma and skill.  Unfortunately, director Alan Taylor failed to get a James Cameron-level performance out of him.  But Schwarzenegger does a decent job.  And they are able to work out his age issue fairly well.

There are other plot holes that I won't get into detail here including a needless change in setting from 1984 to 2015.  The movie tries to bring up traditional Terminator ideas like fate vs. free will, but there is little that resonates because the characters as presented in the script and the acting are so flat.  Different actors may have helped make this movie better; it wouldn't be great, but it would be decent.

But the horrible casting is the hydraulic press crushing the life out of it.

It is clear from the end that this movie is set up to be the beginning of new trilogy.  But if the follow up films are going to be done with the same cast, then I make the filmmakers this plea:

Don't come back.

1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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