2015, Science Fiction Gone Awry


Terminator Genesis (I refuse to call it “Genisys”) is the latest attempt to reboot or reinvigorate the on-again, off-again franchise, and much like its predecessor Salvation, it’s a a textbook example of style over substance and the evils of incoherent storytelling. With another T-1000 on our heroes’ tail during the first half, inventive action falls by the wayside in favor of recreating visuals and moments from the first two films. Old Schwarzenegger’s return is amusingly welcome, as he alone manages to leaven the leaden proceedings, but his robotic quips aren’t enough to carry a film that twists itself into knots trying to alter what we already know. Paired with a better director, Emilia Clarke might have been a perfect replacement for the great, gritty Linda Hamilton, but the script fails to carve out any notable scenes for a character who should be one of the greatest heroines in cinema history. Jai Courtney is woefully miscast as a suddenly strapped Kyle Reese, looking nothing like the original’s Michael Beihn, and continues his cache of dull performances. Jason Clarke, usually a wonderful proxy for everyman determination, is also miscast as commander John Connor. Here, a series of ludicrous plot turns (all of which were spoiled through marketing) transform hero protagonist Connor into android antagonist Connor, and Clarke is less relaxed in the role of a conniving conduit for the all-powerful Skynet. Despite an admirable and often touching father/daughter subplot between Sarah Connor and “Pops,” Arnold’s aging Terminator, as well as a splendid comic turn from J.K. Simmons, this desperate attempt at blockbuster fodder is too concerned with the past to craft anything worthwhile for the future.

Grade: C

Jupiter Ascending is another flawed but ambitious science fiction opus from those weirdlings the Wachowskis. They blend an original, near ingenious plot about a galactic society just under our noses with a slew of silly choices. Tatum’s hero is half dog? Sean Bean is half bee? Giant iguanas as the villain’s bodyguards? The idea is people are spliced with animals all across the universe for…some reason. The wonkier visuals are seemingly random and serve no narrative purpose, so when every other alien extra looks completely different from the next, the world-building looks busy. Too busy. On the other hand, a few of these ideas work. Channing Tatum zipping through skylines on badass rocket-skates? Sure, why not. Ditto the nifty sight of bees surrounding Mila Kunis’ royal heir to the Earth. The strangest effect is without a doubt Eddie Redmayne’s performance, a seething rasp that intrigues until it doesn’t. For Tatum, he relies a little too much on makeup, and Kunis does what she can with a very archetypal role, but neither of them provide much in the way of sparks. Their romantic subplot is the least believable thing among a smorgasbord of unbelievable things, but it’s hard to notice when they’re flung to the center of set piece after set piece. Some of them are mind-numbing for sure, but others, like a flight of fancy above Chicago between them and an army of heat-packing UFOs is actually fitfully entertaining. The siblings are certainly in over their heads here, reaching for epic and not quite grasping it, but I admire the effort. At the very least, it’s written coherently (if not visualized), something that can’t be said for Terminator Genesis.

Grade: C+            

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