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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Terminator Genisys: A Rant

I watched Terminator Genisys last night. I was prepared to forgive all kinds of time-travel plot holes, and a general level of incoherence. I was not expecting a Good Film. And yet, I was not expecting a movie that undermines everything that made the previous Terminator movies work. And so I must rant.

[Major Spoilers Ahead.]

It comes down to two things: character and principle.

The earlier films had clearly drawn characters whose actions generally made sense. When the second Terminator film came out and we saw Sarah Connor again on the big screen, we knew what she was capable of.  We knew what to expect, and she did not disappoint. In Terminator Genisys, we get a new Sarah Connor. New, but not improved. This Sarah Connor has no resemblance to the old one. The original Sarah Connor is one of the greatest female action heroes of all time.  The new Sarah Connor is not a hero by any measure. She cannot do anything on her own. Her only choice in the movie is to follow Kyle.  By film's end, she needs a man to explain to her that she can actually make choices in the world. We don't see her doing it. He just says she can, and the film ends.

Sarah and Kyle are both idiots in this movie. Kyle has mysterious new memories (don't even pretend you can explain how) and believes in them so much, he's willing to die for them. His willingness to die for them convinces Sarah that they must be legit. They have one shot to save the world (or so they think), and they risk being too late being Kyle insists his magic memories are trustworthy.  Yet, as logic would have it, there's no reason why Kyle's plan would be better EVEN IF HIS MYSTERIOUS MEMORIES ARE LEGIT. That's right. Even if Kyle is right, and the world isn't going to end until 2017, they could still travel to 1997 and do whatever they need to do to stop it. So why risk being too late? There is absolutely no reason for the characters to do this. There is no reason why they should be so stupid, and there is no reason why Pops wouldn't have stepped in and said: "Sarah Connor, I am here to protect you, and I cannot let you make this mistake." No reason. Except there is a reason why the writers put it in there: It is to show that Kyle and Sarah have faith.  But faith in what?  In Kyle? In intuition?  In weird quantum memory magic?  I guess it's all three.

This is where principle comes in.  While every previous Terminator film has driven home the dark message that the end is coming, and there is nothing you can do to stop it--not even travel back in time--this film says You Gotta Have Faith and You Can Change The Future. It's not that those are bad messages. They just don't work in this franchise. Okay, maybe there is a way to work them into the franchise, but it would take some ingenuity. This movie forces them on us in a way that destroys all credibility.

The relationships between the characters are all screwed up, too.  Not because they're different from the original relationships, but because they're just screwed up.  For one thing, the emotions in Terminator Genisys are underwhelming. Instead of the simple, carnal passion arising out of heightened emotions which we got in the first installment, Terminator Genisys gives us forced awkwardness and unconvincing romance between Sarah and Kyle.  Why do they fall in love, anyway?  Is it because Kyle was obsessed with her and decided he would die for her before they even met?  That seems to be what melts her heart, and it's a little creepy.  Is it because Pops, her father figure, was sent from the future to protect her, so now she falls for the first guy to come from the future to protect her? Whatever it is, it does not feel authentic, let alone true to the original characters.

And what about the relationship between Sarah and Pops?  Like in T2, the T-800 in Genisys goes through awkward moments of trying to appear human (which is odd in Genisys, since Pops had been living with Sarah for decades already), but it's not as effective this time around. Pops is no fun, and there is absolutely no chemistry between "him" and Sarah Connor.  When she cries out because she thinks she's going to lose him, it's not at all convincing.

Pops keep asking Sarah if she and Kyle have "mated." Is he just curious about her love life or was Pops sent back to make sure they had a child? Presumably he was, since that is the only reason why he would be sent to keep her alive.  So, will he make them keep having children until they have a boy who grows up to be like John Connor?  That's pretty sick.

But wait.  Why send Sarah and Kyle to the future if John Connor is supposed to be born in 1985?  The real mission is to take down Skynet.  In that case, why bother with Sarah Connor at all?  It doesn't make sense.

There is no way the writers of this film ever thought for a second that they should worry about internal logic.  You can read about the plethora of plotholes on other Websites, though I doubt anyone has enumerated all of them. (They might be uncountably infinite.) There is just one more scene, however, that I need to include in this rant.  It's when Pops shoots John Connor the first time, and Kyle starts yelling that Pops was sent there to kill John (a theory which makes NO sense, idiot Kyle), and Pops grabs Kyle by the throat. WTF? I mean, really. First, why would you start ARGUING about a T-800 that you think is a threat RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE T-800? And why did Pops grab Kyle by the throat? Since when does a T-800 choke people? A T-800 would explain: "That is not John Conner. It's a cyborg. Run!" And why did Pops assume that John Conner was a bad cyborg in the first place? He sees Sarah and Kyle having a friendly conversation with cyborg John Connor and just assumes it's a threat?

I didn't care for the third Terminator film, and the fourth was entirely forgettable, but neither of those was a disgrace to the franchise. At least those films gave a damn about creating believable characters and a fairly coherent narrative. The only fair comparison, I think, is this--and I know it's harsh: Terminator Genisys is the Prometheus of Terminator movies.