This time last week I was watching Terminator Genisys. My intention of the Delayed Reaction spot on the blog was to write brief reviews of films everyone else has already seen, whilst I’m bumbling around trying to catch up. Now, if the Genisys box office is anything to go by, none of you saw it.
Which is a shame, because its great…
In the 80’s I had a friend called Richard. Richard had a collection of video tapes (yes films used to be on tape before laser disc, before DVD, before Blu-Ray, before streaming etc - I’m old!). At one end of his shelf was a selection of really hard core horror (in my estimation), starting with Basket Case, though The Entity to Nightmare On Elm Street. At the other end was The Hitcher, The Warriors and The Terminator.
That was my introduction The Terminator, trying to ensure that tape made its way into the VCR before anything from the other end of the shelf.
A few years later Richard and i would go to see T2 together and my head spun when Cameron pulled a bate and switch and recast the villain as the hero, and the hero (complete with the protector iconography associated with cops) was repositioned early in the films run as the relentless killing machine. A spot previously occupied by Arnie’s T-800.
Jump forward a few years and two movies and I’m in the industry when Terminator: Rise Of The Machines and Terminator Salvation are released. Neither films hit the heights of their predecessors, but both were kind of enjoyable in their own ways. Neither are the hideous mistakes they are made out to be, but not by much.
Last week, I went to my favourite IMAX screen, sat in my favourite seat (there wasn’t a lot of competition for seats) and awaited a sequel to the third and fourth films. A sequel in terms of a successor and in tone. What I actually got surprised me.
You see, Terminator Genisys is the best sequel since T2, and by a long way. It does what the first two films did, which is to subvert your expectations as a viewer. Where Rise Of The Machines riffed on some of the moments from Terminator and T2, and Salvation tried to tell a story set in the future world, previously only seen in the cut away scenes of the earlier films.
It achieves this by employing the Movie Geeks favourite trick, The RetCon.
For the uninitiated, a RetCon (or retroactive continuity) is where a movie will take a previously established continuity and alter it to fit the vision of the new film makers. So here we get what we expect, Kyle Reese sent back through time to save Sarah Connor, but the RetCon is that Sarah is expecting him, in fact a lot has changed. In the new timeline, Sarah has a terminator T-800 she calls Pops, he has raised her from childhood and prepared her to expect Reese and the future he represents. In Pops’ wake comes a T-1000, who is laying in wait for Reese.
Clearly everything we know is gone, all bets are off and preconceptions are left at the door. The second “turn” comes when our lead characters, Sarah and Kyle use a home brew time machine, built by Pops (a de-aged Arnie) to jump forward to our immediate future (2017) where they are met by Pops, who has been killing time (allowing Arnie to age) until they arrive. The third “turn” comes when we are introduced to the idea that John Connor is now the bad guy, another, more advanced Terminator who comes back to wipe them all out, and complete the construction of Miles Dyson’s time machine.
So was Skynet a paradox from the start? That is too noodle bakey to cover here, but be thankful the plot gets simpler. The Connornator wants Sarah and Kyle to fail in their attempt to destroy Dyson’s project and undo the timeline(s). All of this is extremely enjoyable, well judged (just enough reliance on audience knowledge of the property) and the perfect ratio of humour and action.
So Genisys gets us back to the heroes being pursued Skynet’s sinister agents, with the traditional twist.
So why didn’t it do business? My guess is that the marketing department’s use of John Connor’s villainous turn in the posters and trailers robbed the film of its biggest twist. The act one “Back To The Future Twoisms” would have been fine to spoil. I imagine a “Hey they’re going back to the original film!” response, but what we got was a “Holy shit, what are they doing with John Connor?”
What do we want when we go to a franchise entry like Genisys? Well firstly we want what we know. Like Jurassic World, the subject of our previous Delayed Reaction, we should understand the world and it’s, before they get broken before our very eyes. Sell that to the audience and your golden. Thats what Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes did and thats what Iron Man Three did. We got what we know about the world, but reframed for our entertainment. The problem with Genisys and its poor attendance may have been that we could not discover the true nature of Connor within the narrative, we learned that in the tailer. So people must have been thinking “Nothing to see here…"
Now. at the end we get a few things to mull over. Firstly, we don’t yet know who sent Pops and the T-1000 back. I have a theory but we will get to that in a moment. We also need to know more about the new physical version of Skynet (Matt Smith), where did he come from, has he always been there? What is his allegiance?
Now, that theory. So far we’ve thought of Skynet as one thing, but what if it’s many? Maybe a trinity of sorts, with the "spiritual” Skynet trying to save man by preventing its own creation (see my “Why John Connor Was Always The Villain In Terminator” piece), and a new physical manifestation, the “son” if you like, trying to preserve itself by taking an aggressive stance to fulfil the original objective and end John Connor. Which leaves the “father” element in our trinity. A big bad yet to be revealed perhaps? Maybe this version of Skynet sent Pops back in time? I guess we will have to wait and see if there’s a big picture here at all…
So is Terminator Genisys any good? Yes, it’s very good, it’s fun and it’s charming, it plays with our expectations by manipulating the things we know from the canon. I don’t want this to become a scale I use to judge these movies, but I have this on pre-order and I can’t wait for it to be released so I can get in a second viewing. The new cast is great, Arnie is on top form here, and he has never been funnier. Emilia Clarke is great (the second GOT star to play Sarah), as is Jason Clarke and the always wonderful J.K. Simmons. If there is a weak spot it’s Jai Courtney who struggles to fill Michael Beihn’s Nikes.
If I was assigning random points if give this movie T-800 out of T-1000!
Thanks for reading,