In what was a fairly meh fourth instalment to the Terminator franchise with Terminator Salvation, not a lot hope would be placed on any later additions. However, with the fact that the original Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would return to his famous role, one cannot be help but be happy.
Of course, the reappearance of a classic character does not fully make a movie as we will see in the recent fifth instalment – Terminator Genisys.
The cast of the film presented some noted strengths and weakness.
Schwarzenegger himself was great as the T-800 Terminator, who is reprogrammed to be a Guardian and is affectionally referred to as “Pops”. Although he still possesses a remarkable physique for a man at the age of 68, Schwarzenegger’s performance offers a great sense of humility and nostalgia as the aged robot, while presenting the air of cold stoicism befitting a killer machine, Schwarzenegger crafts a great level of sympathy for the Terminator as we come to see how years of activity and lack of proper maintenance has rendered this once unstoppable killer to a somewhat staggering machine, who even continuously lament and reminds others he “is old, not obsolete”. This is not to say we are not offered an enjoyable role of force with Schwarzenegger, as we see him tackle a recently time travelled T-800 and far more advanced Terminator models throughout the film, but we are given a sense of realism, such as with his right hand seizing up while loading ammo cartridges with Kyle Reese or having to reset his kneecap mid combat with the T-3000 Terminator. Seeing Schwarzenegger repeatedly get back up after a beatdown and refusing to stay down against more advanced Terminators is awesome, he doesn’t give up and that is admirable.
Not to mention, the subtle facial cues we get from Schwarzenegger that show the developing emotion of the T-800 Terminator are brilliant acted. In simple and subtle facial movements, Schwarzenegger conveys a remarkable show of subdued and developing emotional awareness, from the hints of sadness when Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese time travel and thus leave the T-800 alone for 33 years, to his moments of doubt when faced with his failing mechanical components, etc. Schwarzenegger quite simply shows, that although best known for his action and comedic roles, he can act remarkable well when needed (its a shame we don’t see a lot of this more dramatic side in his work).
We also are offered some not out-of-place comedic relief in Schwarzenegger’s deadpan comedic timing, be it with the Terminator’s inability to smile without seeming maniacal or its growing humanism; as we see with his reading of ‘Guns & Ammo’ magazine and his central role as a ‘father’ to Sarah Conner, which is notably heartfelt and sweet, Schwarzenegger convinces us that a machine truly cares.
Hell, we get to see Schwarzenegger carry a giant teddy bear (with which he conceals a shotgun), its brilliant.
Further skilled comedic relief is provided by J.K Simmons as the older modern-day Detective O’Brien. While his role adds little, if nothing, to the film, it offered a sense of self-aware comedy, but nonetheless beyond these moments he isn’t really seen again and plays no notable part in the film, which is unfortunate considering Simmons’ thespian skill and the amusing ad-libs he has with Schwarzenegger (as he displays as a comeback to the T-800’s physical strength when he is expecting their weaponry: “Blows a door clean off. You know, for people who can’t do that themselves.” – it even caught Schwarzenegger off guard). Still his scenes are some of the few during which the actor is actually good, not counting Schwarzenegger’s or Lee Byung-hun’s.
Herein lies another strength and failing to the film, that of Lee Byung-hun as the T-1000. While nothing will be able to match Robert Patrick’s performance as the shapeshifting android assassin (he allegedly declined to reprise the role due to age preventing from doing the stunts himself), Lee does a remarkable job with the role despite the fact he doesn’t speak and is offered very little screen time. A shame considering Lee’s popularity and acclaim in South Korean cinema, something we do get to see much. Still he plays his part well, despite the limitations imposed. So its hard to judge Lee’s performance, since while it was good and offered a wonderful throwback to the eerie nature and silent fear of the T-1000, we see very little in the grand scheme of things (20 minutes at most).
Now in regards to the poor cast choices comes with Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. They were so unbelievable boring and wooden, being able to barely perform looks of dull surprise. Clarke appears to be doing little more than riding off her claim to fame with her role as ‘Daenerys Targaryen’ in the HBO series Game of Thrones, be it an inability to escape the role that made her famous or the fact that she can’t play anything beyond it – her performance offers little more than forced patronising explanations of the flimsy plot, which boards on unintentional leaning on the Fourth Wall. While Courtney again proves he cannot carry a movie, repeating his failings with A Good Day to Die Hard and I, Frankenstein – honestly, it doesn’t leave much hope for his performance in the upcoming Suicide Squad; it should also be noted that he is playing the role of a veteran born and raised in a post-apocalyptic wasteland but instead of being a rightfully starved and PTSD ridden individual, he is a well-fed muscled and emotional stable (badly acted) man who shows no difficulty in adjusting to the vastly alien past.
To simple put, when Schwarzenegger’s role as a cold-blood murderous machine is the most human, emotional and life-like character; then the other cast members are failing.
The final two roles played by Jason Clarke and Matt Smith are nothing particularly special. Clarke is okay as John Connor, its nothing noteworthy but it works and his role as the new Terminator model of the T-3000 offers sense of humanism not seen in the usual stoic acting of a terminator villain, but his role was crippled by advertisement, as the film’s marketers revealed the plot twist of having him as the new Terminator ruined any chance he had to surprise us, effectively killing anything he may have displayed (Christian Bale’s performance seems better in comparison). While Smith, as Alex, an advanced T-5000 Terminator serving as the physical embodiment of Skynet, was kinda eh. He is visible for barely a few minutes at the start and thus leaves little impact, his voice while heard notably near the end of the film, its pretty un-impressive; his most enjoyable role comes when Schwarzenegger effortlessly (without looking) backhand shoots his holographic emitters to shut him up.
So as we can see the cast was pretty mix-match.
The plot is also quite weak, but this can be forgiven considered how convoluted it would have to be just to justify the existence of another film let alone the reappearance of Schwarzenegger.
In terms of visuals, the T-3000 at the very least had nice effects, better than the T-1000 who seems to have been shackled with the effects taken directly from the 1991 film (Terminator 2: Judgment Day).
Other problems exist in the labelling of the film as a PG-13, when has it ever been family friendly. While the scripts poor quality is immortalised by the scene involving the you doctor who is is patching up Conner and Reese after the reemergence from time travel in a freeway; not only does he make a personal phone call while treating patients (a strict policy violation in any credible healthcare facility), and rather nonchalant about making small talk with two people who are about to enter Police custody as suspected terrorists (who he’s treating without supervision or protection), but he brags that “Everything I do will be uploaded and online, 24/7.” when asked about the Genisys app (the film’s Skynet) – the line comes off as little more than writing that is out of touch, it is a line one wouldn’t even hear from today’s generation of social media obsessed individuals.
The film suffers from a variety of internal and external factors, from casting, scripting and acting to even cinematic competition considering it competed with the family-friendly Jurassic World and Inside Out. It sadly seemed to have everything against it, nonetheless it is fun. For all its problems, the film offers the one thing people wanted, Schwarzenegger as the T-800 Terminator once again…He came back!
So see it for him at least, see it to relive a moment of cinematic joy in the reacting of one of pop cultures most enduring and long lived icons… Schwarzenegger’s Terminator.
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