03 July 2015

Road to a Blockbuster: Terminator! And Strippers!

Ah, Independence Day Weekend. Is there a better time to blow up a small part of this great country in celebration of freedom, democracy, and capitalism? For me the answer is...almost any time, because explosions are great and there's never a bad time for fireworks. Really, there's never a moment where I'd be standing around somewhere and someone is like "Hey you want to see some fireworks?" and I'd be like "No, that sounds terrible." What a time to be alive.
Thank goodness marriage equality passed, or
I'd feel funny staring at this...for hours.

Like every Friday this Summer (and beyond), we'll take a look at the major motion picture releases for the day, and we have two very special films coming out today that I've been wanting to rant about for a while. The first is the highly anticipated follow-up to the surprisingly excellent male stripper movie, Magic Mike (2012), which will try to succeed despite the lack of its two biggest at-the-time draws, Matt McConaughey and the steady hand of director Steven Soderbergh. The second is Terminator: Genisys (2015), which, SPOILER ALERT, I'm going to absolutely shit on for the next dozen or so pages of text. Let's start with Magic Mike XXL.

The big question with Magic Mike XXL is simply, "Will it work?" Soderbergh is still in as the cinematographer and the editor, and director, Greg Jacobs doesn't have a ton of work to his credit, but he has been Soderbergh's first AD forever. If there's anyone to carry on Soderbergh's legacy as a retired director, he's the dude. It's sort of funny that Magic Mike XXL is his first shot to do so, but whatevs.

Channing Tatum's star has only risen since Magic Mike, and the cast has switched around a little bit, but does any of that actually matter? it's all just saucy lady boner fuel, and any abs will do, really. Magic Mike worked because it gave a lot of the pathos and nuance behind the crumbled dollar bills, and the outrageous stripper scenes were just window dressing to make all that other boring shit more fun.

The issue is that I'm not sure it has the energy of the first one, or the daring to do things any different. Is this sequel really necessary? Well, the answer is, of course not, I mean, no sequels are, but is it actually pushing the story in any kind of worthwhile way? From the marketing material I can say that I have no idea at all what is happening, but then again, the first film didn't present much other than hot abs, so whatever. This ought to do alright, because it's targeting a decidedly female-centric audience, although to be honest, there actually has been a solid amount of female protags so far this summer, so maybe that won't be counter-programming enough to serve an under-served audience. Nah, no other film in a while has matched this well with the interests of horned up young women.

So, now, let's move on to what we all came here to talk about, the bound to be completely awful Terminator: Genysis. Err...Genisys. Whatever. You didn't even notice that was a typo, did you? Now, just for fun and to have a little something in the background while I wrote this, I searched Netflix for Terminator and found they only have the first one. That's kind of odd, right? I mean, this is the originator of the franchise, but one can hardly project how overblown and crazy shit got after this relatively straightforward story. Actually, T2: Judgment Day (1991) is relatively straightforward as well, but applied a spin to the story along with cutting-edge effects to beef it up without becoming overblown. It's one of the reasons I wrote a whole article about it being one of the greatest action movies of all time.

That was actually five years ago and I still have the same torn feelings towards the Terminator franchise. On the one hand, it produced two of our greatest sci-fi action films, including a rare sequel that improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way. On the other hand, it's given us three sequels now, each more emblematic of Hollywood's simultaneous inability to innovate beyond their past success along with their urge to rekindle a long-dead franchise every couple of years.

Seriously, all three terrible Terminator sequels were long-range pointless follow-ups. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) actually has some cool parts, and to be honest, I dig the ending a lot, although the TX as a villain just can't compete with the T-1000 and the whole thing just feels like a hollow echo of T2, without adding any actual value to the franchise.

It's almost hard to believe that as much time passed between T3 and Terminator: Salvation and that movie to now, but there it is. Salvation was supposed to promise a new trilogy, but who knows how the hell that was supposed to happen. That film is mostly remembered now as the scene of Christian Bale's temper tantrum over Dave the Lighting Guy, which is almost too bad, because there's a handful of cool things going on. For the most part, though, it's stuck in its own nostalgia, with literal shit like flaming garbage cans and a rubbery CGI Arnold to beat up poor John Connor, who Christian Bale somehow doesn't embody as well as Edward Furlong.

There are almost too many problems with Salvation to catalog. No part of it sells John Connor as a leader or an expert at defeating machines like T2 or even T3 did. You know, I want to comment again about watching Terminator (1984) right now - Arnold looks fucking cool. Like, he's not trying to be cool with the all black leather. Because why would a robot care about looking cool? He's got some bizarre 80s Tee on with a gray jacket, it's fantastic. Salvation also introduced Marcus Wright, who would be interesting if his character made any sense or worked the way anyone wanted him to in the movie, and maybe better if he was played by anyone other than Sam Worthington, who really gained the most notoriety by being the first of the super bland leading men, to be followed by Garret Hedlund, Taylor Kitsch, Charlie Hunnam, and our very own Jai Courtney.

So, Salvation didn't work on any critical, commercial, or cultural level, and no one really cared about it, so any and all sequel plans fizzled out. That's almost a shame because it was a departure from any other Terminator movie and proved that that world could be expanded without sticking to the repetitive robots-through-time shtick that the first two sequels couldn't break away from. The problem with this is that, as it turns out, the little glimpses we saw in Terminator and T2 were enough, and apparently, the more interesting story was always in the present.

So, if Magic Mike XXL was unnecessary, this sequel is totally unnecessary. There is zero storytelling effort going into this and virtually nothing to be gained other than an Arnold Schwarzenegger vanity project that is supposed to set up the studio with their next franchise. But this isn't like Jurassic World that is deferential while blazing its own path through intelligent self-reference. This is just this really dissonant experience between literally repeating the past and offering some extreme mind-fucks in its own insane meandering towards who knows where.
Hasta mañana.

Apparently, this also takes the path of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and Jurassic World (2015) in selectively honoring certain sequels and ignoring others. It's not a terrible proposition, but I can't figure out why sequels tend to care at all about continuity. It's as if there's this big concern about fans being able to keep up, which I suppose is true in our obsessive, Internet-adled age, but I sort of wish sequels would be brave enough to just pick and choose without having to resort to big continuity jumps. Again, I'm describing Jurassic World, which didn't have to jump through hoops to remind us that Jurassic Park III (2001) sucked.

Now, I have only watched the trailers and every television commercial, but it's as if Genisys offers nothing new, only what worked in the past but remixed. It's blatantly declaring itself to be everything wrong with franchise sequels, which just stings more after other flicks this summer like Jurassic World, and fuck, to an even greater extent Mad Max: Fury Road got so much right. If you have confidence in your world you can make a great movie out of your setting if you just focus on making a great movie first and worry about setting up your sequels or shared universe or whatever later.

That probably wouldn't leave room for Arnold's involvement, and that might make him sore, but he's really really just too old for this. It might not be a coincidence that the trailer for Creed (2015) dropped this week, which showcases Stallone's most famous long-running franchise character, but it appropriately pushes Rocky to the side in favor of rising star, Michael B. Jordan. It's a spiritual passing of the same themes, which may not be appropriate for the Terminator (I can't picture Arnold coaching young...Terminators), but it's a step in a satisfying direction and an actual show of humility and realistic expectations from its aging superstar actor. I'm not sure after Salvation the studio wanted to risk another go around without Arnie, though.

Speaking of which, the Young Arnold in this does look far better than the one in Salvation, but that belays the point I just made - they can't get away from his legacy. No one saw Fury Road and thought "This would have been improved by Mel Gibson." Why can't we do the same with Terminator? Is it that Arnold is much more well-liked than Mel (arguably true, but they've both had their share of pretty rough scandals), or is it just that they want some bankable star to lead this crop of newbies? Hate to break it to you, but since his governator days, his three 2013 films haven't been so great in any sense of the word. Those being The Last Stand, Escape Plan, and Sabotage. He's not quite as bankable as he was in the 90s.

The rest of the cast is a total mixed bad. Emilia Clarke should be a superstar. She can be. Jai Courtney has tried so hard to be a superstar, but always turns into a dope. This won't push him to the A-List. Maybe Suicide Squad (2016) will if he can be sort of memorable. In Jason Clarke's two most high profile roles, he has been solid but hateable in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and the most uninteresting part of an otherwise great film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). This role here as the villainous John Connor (more on that later) just seems too damn weird to make a case.

I am actually a big Byung-hun Lee fan after G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (2009), where yes, he's the best part, and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008), which is a crazy fun action adventure western out of Korea. But he succeeded in these roles because he was a hardass who was allowed these little moments of humanity to show emotion, which made his characters subtext really interesting and well rounded. Robot. Totally.

Okay, let's discuss the John Connor thing. The trailers have given away what even director Alan Taylor has said is a decent spoiler, that somehow the machines made him into a super Terminator and also sent him back in time. So, he's now the bad guy. So, if that's the fucking case, then why do they have to go back in time at all to kill Sarah Connor? I mean, as I just found out in Terminator, the point is that John Connor won, and the Terminator was a last ditch effort. So killing him just undoes a lot of the shit he did. But if they still capture him in the future and make him a Super Terminator, can't they just rebuild from there? Or at least use him to wipe out the rest of his command? I haven't seen this yet, admittedly, but why is anyone going back in time? Why not make all their enemies into terminators? This is all retarded.

Evidently, the spoilers started popping up, ironically to spark interest and show the world they are into new directions, but they've totally made me want to see this movie less. Everything about this marketing campaign has just reeked of desperation. The latest trailers playing in theaters are even trying to get James Cameron's endorsement, which is just all soo, soo, sooooo pathetic. It's clawing at any strand it can and just shows that the studio has no faith in this project.

Plus, the title is terrible.

And if you want my honest opinion (if you haven't figured it out so far), I actually sincerely believe that they should just play Judgment Day in theaters this weekend instead of this. I would honestly go see Judgment Day in theaters if it was playing. That'd be sweet. I've never seen it in theaters. I have no desire to see this and the sooner we can all forget about it, the better.

Now, will this actually make any money? There's maybe enough distance from Jurassic World, but it could very well get buried by that and Inside Out (2015) which is still going strong. Its appeal is way more that classic PG-13 action blockbuster nerd crowd, though, and it's been a little while since we had a really good one of those. It's Independence Day, long weekend, things could go smoothly. It's not going to set any records, but it probably won't do completely terrible.

So, what do you think? Do you already hate this movie as much as I do? Will you be shelling out for Magic Mike XXL instead? Terminator is on Netflix. Give it a shot!

1 comment:

  1. Really, there's never a moment where I'd be standing around somewhere and someone is like "Hey you want to see some fireworks?" and I'd be like "No, that sounds terrible." What a time to be alive.strippers in San Antonio


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