Tonight, I was personally invited to attend an exclusive Terminator Genisys premiere event in Sydney. In addition to the rather sizeable crowd, none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger – the one and only Austrian Oak himself – showed up for a Q&A, joined by his co-star, Australian actor Jai Courtney. Following the Q&A, we got about 20 minutes of Terminator Genisys preview footage. There were a lot of people there, but I was lucky to be in the VIP screening. A bulk of the people were there for just a vanilla screening of the preview footage, whereas I was in another cinema where the Q&A unfolded beforehand. Plus free beer and some free food. It made me happy.
A few days ago, The Arnold Fans published a report about the same footage I saw, and a Q&A with Arnie (read: gushing sycophantic praise). Now, the guys over at The Arnold Fans have been going to great lengths to promote the new Terminator, and thus their “review” of the footage boils down to a fanboy going nuts over some clips and buying into the promotional talk by pretending that the battle is prematurely over between the “fans” (read: the sycophants & yes men) and the “haters” (read: the realists), just because James Cameron (who praised Terminator 3 when that came out) said he “loved” Genisys (read: Paramount threw him some money so he wouldn’t trash it). Anyway, we here at Manly Movie are a bit more measured in our film criticism, so I’m going to present a far more balanced analysis of the footage on the display.
First things first, Arnie’s appearance. He spent a while on the red carpet, shaking hands and getting photos taken, and being interviewed by the press (I had to hand in my phone and I was inside the cinema when this occurred, so I didn’t get any photos). I was right at the front of the cinema, three rows back, thus when Arnie was seated, the big man was barely five metres away from me. It was surreal to behold his immense presence in person (and yes, he’s a fucking monster). Jai Courtney also got a bit of a warm reception, as he is Australian and did grow up in Sydney. Though I’m sure you can forgive me for being far more excited about Arnie than Courtney.
The interviewer, who was actually a young woman, asked the kind of questions one would expect. What it was like being back, why he agreed to return to this universe, and so on. Arnie REALLY enjoyed toying with her, it was fantastic. She started off by saying she’d call him “Mr. Governor,” to which Arnold said “You know I was joking when I told you to call me that, right? You can just call me Arnie!” Well played, Mr. Schwarzenegger.
At one stage, the interviewer said “Look you keep talking about how you’re back, why don’t you just say it?”
Arnie smirked and said “Wait, what do you want me to say? Why can’t women just tell us what they want?” to immense laughter and applause. He’s a one-liner machine in person too, folks. Anyway, yes, he said “I’ll be back” for us all.
Courtney was definitely the lesser focus since everybody was there for Arnie, but he did have a few interesting things to say about the experience of making the new Terminator. The Q&A was over too quick, and unfortunately no questions were taken from the audience, but it was still an incredible experience. Even though I didn’t get to shake The Oak’s hand, or speak to him, I’ll take what I can get.
Now…the footage? We were shown two sequences. First, the arrival scene, which was actually pulled off fairly well. The shot-for-shot recreation of scenes from the 1984 original was interesting, though of course they’re turned on their head, as shown in the trailers. The introduction of Arnie as the old Terminator actually has some weight to it, even though it’s a key feature of the trailers. Director Alan Taylor has always been a competent visual craftsman, so the sequence is entertaining, but I also liked how low-key it was. The script, however, is not the greatest – there are some goofy lines and moments (calling the Terminator “Pops” still sounds dreadful), and of course the characters are not allowed to swear thanks to the limitations of PG-13. Still, the sequence is better than expected overall…
…Which is more than what can be said of the bridge scene, which has been plastered all over the promotional materials. It is visually spectacular, of course, but the sequence lacks intensity. The bus flip should be an extremely intense moment since Sarah and Kyle are both inside the bus, and we should be on the edge of our seats, hoping the pair aren’t hurt. Because lordy me, that bus gets fucked up – flipping up in the air, rolling over and over again, and so on. But Kyle and Sarah are just fine. They don’t even have cuts or scratches. No gushing wounds. No broken bones. They brush it off as if they just tripped over. Which is especially baffling in the case of Kyle, since he wasn’t sitting down or wearing a seatbelt. In other words, this is another movie which proceeds with superhero logic, and, ironically, treats human characters as unstoppable Terminators for the sake of spectacle. The first movie’s climax has some dated stop-motion effects, but it nevertheless remains a horrific, hugely intense sequence because Kyle is hurt and Sarah can barely fight, and the feeling that these two might not make it leaves us with gooseflesh as we hope that our heroes walk away safely. None of that sleight-of-hand is present in this footage, which is the epitome of cherry-picking to get butts in seats come July 1st.
And even though these two sequences are fairly entertaining, there’s still the question of just how the John Connor twist will play out and if it will even work. It will be interesting to see the in-between stuff, and if Taylor can pull together this story successfully. Those who have seen Thor: The Dark World can certainly testify that it has some visually spectacular sequences, but the storytelling is a mess and there’s not an ounce of substance. Taylor famously spoke out about how Marvel took control of the movie and didn’t let him craft the epic he wanted to make. Maybe we will see a similar situation here, considering the budget and the fact that Paramount are desperate to make some bank. We haven’t really heard much from Taylor lately, have we?
Judging from the footage, Terminator Genisys might not be the 0/10 SyFy original-level disaster that it might have been, but it certainly will not be the instant classic that the first movie was. It’s more than likely going to be a typical PG-13 summer blockbuster – and your mileage will vary depending on your expectations. Personally, I’ve grown fairly sick of the CGI overload scene, and I was pretty unimpressed with both Furious 7 and Avengers 2. Mad Max: Fury Road spoiled us, and showed us just how intense an action movie can be when it’s mostly practical and looks real. So to those keyboard warriors who are going to take to the comments and tell me that I was going to hate the footage regardless, I’m just seeing wasted potential here. Because no matter how entertaining it may be, it still won’t be as phenomenal as it would’ve been with an R-rating and a better screenwriter.