Sunday, July 12, 2015
Worldview Review: "Terminator: Genisys"
Because of my soul-deep regard for Story, I am fervently philosophically opposed to the “reboot.” Because of this, if I were not teaching a sci-fi-related course in the fall, I probably would not have seen this latest Terminator offering, having heard that it was that most deplorable thing, a "reboot" of a "franchise"--and that would have been a shame.
As it happens, “Terminator Genisys” is not properly a “reboot” at all, but a continuation of the Terminator saga. The sharp script with marvelous time-travel convolutions abides by all the rules of the Terminator world introduced in the first film, and respects (and even at times beautifully alludes to) the events of the previous films (certainly of the first two, both of which I’ve seen and studied so often for teaching my course that I nearly have them memorized). The only thing “rebooted” about the film was the casting of the two young leads as different actors, of practical necessity, since the first film was made over 30 years ago. In this regard they could hardly have done better for the Sarah Connor character; Emilia Clarke reminded me of the original’s Linda Hamilton throughout the film, not just her physiognomy but the crafting of the character. While Arnold Schwarzenegger has obviously aged, the smart script even makes perfect sense of that, again strictly within the “reality rules” established in the very first film.
From a worldview perspective, these “Terminator” films (certainly the first two and this most recent one) are quite interesting. Yes, there’s a great deal of violence, but interestingly, unlike most sci-fi action adventures, which generally compete with each other for the record of most bloodshed and loss of life depicted in a two-hour timespan, these films are shot through with a very obvious regard for the value of human life. In the second one, in particular, the young John Connor makes a big deal out of ordering his robot guardian not to kill anyone,This regard for human life and reluctance to kill indiscriminately extends throughout this series and is reflected in a similar order to Sarah Connor’s guardian “Pops” in this recent film, as well as a clearly expressed distaste on the part of Kyle Reese to “kill” at all, even when those he is “killing” are only machines. The filmmakers also seem to take pains to order the chaotic action sequences such that it is at least plausible that the hapless humans caught in the Terminator crossfire might escape the fate of “collateral damage.” For example, in one chase sequence in "Genisys," a gas truck, driven by an uninvolved human driver, is wrecked to attempt to slow down the relentless human-killing Terminator pursuer. I was surprised to see the Guardian target this vehicle—for the very reason that it is inconsistent with the usual Terminator “just can’t kill people” world rule—but, as the truck turns over, we see that the cab with the driver disconnects from the trailer full of gas, sliding out of view to our right as the trailer explodes off to our left, implying that the driver might have survived this incident. Yes, it's subtle, but it's--something.
If you haven’t seen the previous films and are considering whether you’d like to, you should note that in the first film, we do get an obligatory 1980’s sex scene between unmarried adults, but it must be said that the fact that these two people have sex actually is essential to the story (spoiler alert: the future’s inspiring leader of the human resistance, John Connor, who sent Kyle Reese back to protect his mother Sarah Connor, turns out to be the fruit of this one night they spend together). At least we maintain the “human life is of ultimate value” worldview in the fact that Sarah Connor doesn’t decide to have the future savior of humankind aborted. It’s also worth noting that the first “Terminator” movie was not just made quite a long time ago, but was fairly low-budget even for that day, so adjust your expectations accordingly with respect to special effects, etc. It is still a compelling story, and an interesting study in heroic devotion on the part of the Kyle Reese character, and in fortitude and courage, and the growth of character through adversity, on the part of the Sarah Connor character.
The second film, “Terminator II: Judgment Day” is a far better film in general than the first (although you do profit somewhat by having seen the first), and is far too busy with all the action involved in saving the young John Connor and his mother from the next generation Terminator, and then attempting to save the world from Skynet, to bother with gratuitous sex. It manages to give us images of patience, determination, fortitude, self-discipline, and familial loyalty in the midst of the inevitable chaos. It also has a lovely depiction of a scientist as a caring, brilliant, African-American family man of integrity and courage, played beautifully by Joe Morton, which is worth the price of admission, right there.
I found the intervening films (3 and 4) generally forgettable, and can recommend with a clear conscience simply skipping from the second ("Terminator II: Judgment Day," which, in my view, remains by far the best of the series) to this most recent, "Terminator: Genisys." The only thing you might wonder about is a reference in this most recent film to the destruction of a site in Denver (which happened in one of the previous films). It was a major Skynet hub; they blew it up; all good. Moving on.
I wouldn’t in good conscience recommend any of these films for kids, but for adults or young adults with well-formed consciences who like action/adventure and enjoy speculative fiction with at least a little food for thought regarding the nature of humanity and our relationship with the machines to which we increasingly hand over our daily lives, this series is worth a look.