‘Terminator Genisys’ Review 0 121

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Who exactly is Terminator Genisys made for? That was the question going through my mind throughout the latest installment in the long-running, diminishing returns sci-fi action franchise that once married real ideas and humanity with thrilling action but now resembles the type of generic, flavourless blockbuster that so often permeates the multiplexes these days.

In a narrative that’s not too far away from announcing that you should just plain ignore Rise of the Machines and Salvation, Genisys kicks off by explaining how the dreaded Skynet went online and resulted in the world being a wasteland of despair before the famous John Connor (this time played by man-of-the-moment Jason Clarke) rises up and leads the Resistance against the machines.

Everything is as Terminator fans know and expect, with the machines sending back a T-800 Terminator to 1984 to kill John’s mother, with Kyle Reese (played now by Jai Courtney) being sent back to the same time to protect her. However, this is where Genisys differs as when Kyle gets back there nothing is as it was expected to be.

Plot-wise it’s best not to know much beyond that and, to be honest, even in seeing the movie it’s hard to really decipher it all – both in terms of the specific ins and outs of the time travel and perception of events and in the general bombastic filmmaking style – because it’s never really clear whether the movie itself knows exactly what it’s doing.

As I posited up top; who is this movie really for? If it’s for fans of the first two Terminator movies – for those either old enough to remember them in cinemas or from renting on video – as is clearly evident in the constant referencing to those films, then it’s just going to disappoint because it lacks the smarts, thought-provoking concepts, genuine emotion and above all else truly amazing and memorable action sequences. Also, in its approach of moving things forward and trying to be its own movie, it ultimately brushes the originals aside as if they never mattered at all.

On the other hand if the movie is to be treated as very much its own machine, as it were, then it’s entirely frustrating because it repeatedly leans on the shoulders of the originals for support – not so much hat-tipping but rather pointing a giant foam finger shouting “Remember that scene!” – in a way that will leave new, unfamiliar viewers cold. At the same time, as a modern blockbuster, with all the new age CGI bells and whistles, it merely blends into that most crowded of crowds. This is undoubtedly a by-product of the cinematic age in which we live, where liquid metal is no longer ground-breaking, but nevertheless it does nothing to create any sort of memorable blockbuster experience.

Now that’s not to say that the movie is completely worthless. A major plus point is the performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger – he said he’d be back, didn’t he? – who by now has that character perfected down to an absolute tee and he seems to be the only truly self-aware, so to speak, actor in the film. His comic relief – trying to blend in with an unsettling forced smile etc. – is a welcome break from an otherwise po-faced instalment; it’s not quite at the level of Salvation on that front but there are moments that definitely come close.

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Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor

Emilia Clarke has a lot of beauty and screen presence and she can certainly hold her own in a male-driven world, as any Game of Thrones fans will know, and she’s solid here but doesn’t get anywhere near to filling the considerable boots of Linda Hamilton. Courtney continues to be a charisma vacuum of the highest order – along with the A Good Day to Die Hard, this is another fifth franchise instalment marred by his sheer presence – and there are several other actors, namely J.K. Simmons and South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee (as this film’s superfluous liquid T-1000), woefully underutilized in nothing roles.

The action sequences are fine, perfectly watchable in the modern blockbuster sense, but that’s all they are and in an age where there are so many big movies like this coming out, that just isn’t enough. There’s no real flair in their direction or content and so it ends up just lurching from one ordinary set-piece to another without a single one that will have you dying to talk about with friends afterwards.

While it’s not the outright disaster that it had the potential to be – and let’s be honest that a lot of us were truly expecting – Terminator Genisys is nevertheless another disappointing instalment in a once great franchise. Where T2 in particular posed fascinating questions – about everything from the logic of time travel to the responsibility of humans when it comes to creating technology – which had you pondering long after the credits rolled, this feels like it throws up questions that it doesn’t know how to answer; they are confusing rather than complex, a distraction rather than a welcome challenge. The film is just about passable fare if you’re not looking for anything intellectually demanding but even in the realm of leave your brain at the door mindless entertainment, it leaves a lot to be desired.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 530

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 556

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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