HERO SUBVERSION: TERMINATOR GENISYS

[Before THE FORCE AWAKENS, there was GENISYS; 2015’s most expensive abortion. Not a review; this is a non-exhaustive look at the subversive handling of the hero characters.]

 

GIVEN the well-written and well-executed Terminator original, it’s easy to poke fun at the sequels post T2: Judgement Day. But whereas Rise of the Machines and Salvation missed the mark in a number of vital ways, they did at least take a stab at writing the characters that we wanted to see, even though both films had Sarah Connor die off-screen for the sake of convenience.

Genisys is the first sequel to put all three of the main characters – John, Reese and Sarah – in one film and at the core of the plot.

However, it was a deliberate attempt to undermine and destroy these iconic heroes in the minds of the audience, and shit on everything that’s good in this world.

Every tedious minute of Genisys is spent on a journey into irrelevancy, stupidity and madness; but I won’t be touching on the plot.

And while I could focus on every instance of the characters being mishandled and abused, dwelling on that would be as painful an exercise as watching the film sober.

Instead I’ll focus on the key points of interest with some titbits for the sake of flavour.

THE TERMINATOR /1984

Sarah Connor went from zero to hero in one day.

We first see her riding a moped to work at Big Jeff’s restaurant in L.A., naïve and unlucky in love. Then prior to the end credits, we see her driving into the desert armed with a hand-cannon and heavily pregnant with John, reasoning through how she’ll prepare him for the storm that’s coming.

She’s wiser, she’s focused and she’s resolved.

Her achievement of hero status was not from any magical power that was latent within her and which suddenly burst to the fore. Instead, it was down to her strength of character, and her making difficult decisions given the nightmare reality she’s presented with, and acting rationally.

A 19-year-old girl, who became a legend because she did what was necessary for mankind’s salvation.

Kyle Reese, in contrast, is a soldier born into the ashes of a landscape that’s no longer America. Having fought against Skynet’s machines likely all his life he is used to death, and being both relentlessly hunted and outmatched.

Without fail, he’s pro-active, resourceful and determined.

One of the things I like most about Reese as a character stems from the turning point of the story.

The confessing of his love for the girl it’s his duty to protect and then sleeping with her, could well be seen as a moment of weakness for Reese. It can certainly be interpreted that way.

The act had the potential to change the future and doom everyone.

KR: John gave me a picture of you once. I didn’t know why at the time.

The reason it didn’t result in doom is because he was always John’s father. The question is, did Reese know? It was a mighty risk for him to take.

He wrestled with the mission he was charged with, and he wrestled with his own desires. Then he pro-actively took the initiative in the field.

Not only do I consider this the real heroic highpoint for Reese, it’s also the true beginning of humanity’s redemption from the fire.

GENISYS /2015

Cue joke about Genisys dropping like a Russian bomb, wiping out the original blockbusters and raising from their ruins a monstrosity that hunts down and systematically eradicates everything we loved that may have survived.

Staying true to the trend that’s now endemic in Hollywood, rather than creating new characters with a new story, instead the writers created an incestuous story, violating the purity of the original, and delivered a flop.

During the beginning of the film, John and Reese are discussing what they’ll do when the war’s finally over. Reese says he’s going to find his parent’s house and use his hands for ‘something other than killing’.

Reese isn’t a killer, he never was; he battles machines.

You may consider me highlighting this lazy and clichéd writing as pedantic. Neither does the above example serve as evidence of my central charge. But it does wonderfully demonstrate a misunderstanding of the characters, and I would continue with the suggestion that the misunderstanding is a result of the writers not wanting to understand.

They knew enough, they knew enough to reject them entirely. They knew enough to subvert them.

KYLE REESE

Reese is portrayed differently from the start.

In The Terminator, we never once see Reese and John together. From that we can infer that John is a leader occupied with strategy, and Reese is just one of many soldiers going out to fight a desperate war. We know they have a relationship of some sort, yet it’s left undefined.

In Genisys, John rescues Reese when he’s a boy and then the two of them are seemingly never parted. Reese becomes John’s right-hand, and on the night of the final battle against Skynet we see them fight alongside each other as though it’s what they’ve always done.

We later learn John was the one who taught Reese everything he knows.

Why is this a significant change?

Because in Genisys, contrary to the original film, we never get to see Reese as a lone operator. All the time he’s playing second-fiddle to someone else. Whether it’s John, or Sarah, or ‘Pops’, Reese is always playing catch-up to someone who is more pro-active than he is, and who knows what’s going on better than he does.

That’s a hell of a switch.

Then we learn that a T-1000 was sent back to kill Sarah when she’s a little girl, and she’s saved by an Arnold T-800. Her parents having been killed in the attack, the T-800 raises her itself.

The 1984 Sarah that worked in the family restaurant, that had friends called Ginger and Matt, that had a mother that took shelter up in the Big Bear cabin, that ominously sought to hide from Reese in a nightclub called Tech Noir; that Sarah is irrevocably lost.

The original film we saw; all of it, the whole thing, everything.

It’s gone.

Just… gone.

Aside from the amusing interplay between the two detectives on the trail of the ‘phone book killer’, the original film has only two instances of what can be considered banter between Sarah and Reese. That was a significant advantage, as it allowed the film to maintain tone and character whilst providing some comedic relief of tension.

First when Reese brings back supplies to the motel and Sarah looks through them, finding mothballs, corn-syrup and ammonia.

SC: What’s for dinner?

KR: Plastique.

SC: That sounds good. What is it?

KR: It’s a nitroglycerin base. It’s a bit more stable. I learned to make it when I was a kid.

When they’re making the explosives, she jokes that he must have had a fun childhood.

The point is that Reese doesn’t respond to her cheerful banter. He’s focused on preparation, and the future from which he comes is not a cheerful one.

She does succeed finally in making him laugh, when she pretends to throw the bag of pipe-bombs at him. It’s a moment that further humanises Reese, it being the one time he smiles. But it doesn’t come at the cost of the work done in setting up his character; he remains someone that can only produce a chuckle when a near-death experience turns out to have been a trick played on him by the love of his life.

It’s also worth pointing out the degree to which Sarah was portrayed in T2 as being devoid of humour, with the many times John failed to crack his mother’s detachment. That seriousness she got from Reese, and it’s a brilliant continuity between the two films.

Genisys is replete with banter between Sarah and Reese, along with endless bickering.

What’s more, Reese engages in bickering and competitive banter with the Clown-800, reflecting his total reversal as a character, and reduced status.

Sarah’s role as the innocent is gone, and Reese is usurped in his role as her protector by the Clown-800. Reese’s role as her teacher is gone as well, and he’s reduced to little more than an inter-dimensional sperm-courier.

One that she rejects, at that.

In fact, whereas in the original Sarah was having Reese’s son by the 1hr-25mins mark, in Genisys it takes almost a full two hours for her to even admit that he’s a good man. This, having known about his deeds for years, having known about his death saving her life, for years.

Of course, the writers subvert that sacrifice in the most effective way possible; by keeping Genisys-Reese alive.

SARAH CONNOR

In deliberate contrast to the reduced role and status of Reese, Genisys raises Sarah’s to that of mankind’s saviour, practically usurping John’s role entirely. She even has her own Terminator, like John did.

It’s an indulgent Feminist wish-fulfilment that comes at significant cost to every other character. It’s also wilfully ignorant of the beefing up of Sarah’s character in T2, and even the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, (which wasn’t good, but managed to at least make more effort than Genisys).

In Genisys-logic, as Sarah’s responsible for John’s training, she’s also consequently responsible for everything Reese knows; a very deliberate reversal of the original dynamic.

And whilst on the subject of Genisys-logic, Sarah’s actually mental in this film.

SC: If you love me, you die, and I don’t.

This is when she’s discussing with Reese whether they should pair-bond, and it’s another example of the writers not giving a damn.

This shouldn’t need pointing out to anyone, but there’s no causal link between Sarah and Reese falling in love, or having sex for that matter, and Reese dying – either in Genisys or The Terminator.

Whilst this is bonkers, perhaps it could be dismissed as resulting from the story the Clown-800 tells her when she’s a little girl. Yet it doesn’t account for why she would have such irrational and magical thinking.

That’s not Sarah Connor.

Just to drive home the inflated importance of Sarah in the eyes of the writers, there’s a moment at the end of the film where Reese must speak to his 12-year-old self and tell him to remember a plot detail (don’t ask).

So insistent are they on raising Sarah’s profile, they have her ask the young Reese first if he’s comfortable with her ‘friend’ having a word with him.

Wouldn’t Reese tell her he can handle his younger self? Apparently not.

SC: The girl you came back to save? She’s gone. I don’t need saving.

KR: And I volunteered for this shit?

With these two lines of dialogue, the original characters of Sarah and Reese are not only erased, but mocked. They’re mocked for who they were and what they did, and in Reese’s case, for his virtuous deed in traveling through time.

And while Sarah barked at Fate’s bit in the original as well, it was short-lived. She soon understood that the necessity of mankind’s survival meant she must make sacrifices.

Genisys-Sarah grew up resenting such sacrifices.

SC: Listen, I know you think you’re here so you can just lock me in a room until I give birth to the leader of the resistance.

KR: You’re right…

SC: This is my life. I wouldn’t mind being consulted once in a while about how it’s going to go.

KR: You need to understand that Skynet’s gone. You’re free. For the first time you can choose the life you want. Any life you want.

SC: I can choose… *KISS* Because Skynet’s over.

With over a decade to get used to the idea, Genisys-Sarah should have been resolved and ready to do her part. Instead she’s petulant, bitter and irrational.

The framing of her character in Genisys as being one trapped by a destiny she has no ability to refuse is startling. Being free to choose is necessary for virtue, and thus it’s a necessity upon which her very heroism depends.

The original Sarah always had a choice, and she always knew she had a choice. She chose without complaint and got the job done.

JOHN CONNOR

Not content with the subversion of Reese and Sarah, Genisys then goes even further by transforming John Connor into a Terminator. One that seeks to convince them toward a union with the machine, because Saruman logic.

The writers, having thus achieved their mission in inverting every role, then have Sarah wish that John never would be born in the first place.

SC: We can’t, just look at what John has become … John’s not humanity’s last best hope anymore, he’s Skynet’s.

Rather than Reese and Sarah getting together to conceive mankind’s saviour, she and Reese can’t sleep together lest they conceive mankind’s destructor.

The original films always had the allusion to the New Testament, and though The Terminator is hardly a religious text; Genisys is an overtly Satanic treatment.

This also suggests another interpretation of the film’s ridiculous title.

As an amusing and slightly unnerving aside, the depth of the film’s subversive strike at the core mythology does cause me to look rather askance at the Clown-800. Like a snake, it had a hand in ruining Sarah.

In ruining everything.

KR: Programmed by who? Who sent him back?

C-800: Those files have been erased.

SC: Whoever sent him, they don’t want us to know…

Its presence in the timeline is a mystery, (ironically enough, from a now deleted timeline). Yet I do wonder if he’s Satan himself.

‘Pops’

THE ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE DEFENCE

The intention was totally to go from the first movie and create a branching timeline that doesn’t rewrite anything, but creates an alternative universe in which the characters are having a different adventure, with some signposts that are familiar.1

Laeta Kalogridis, co-writer of Genisys

This is the main objection I foresee.

It takes place in an alternate timeline, and the change from the horror/sci-fi tone of the original is thus enabled (a boon to the box-office revenue), and a far lighter treatment of the characters is justified.

It’s just meant to be a bit of fun and entertainment, after all.

However, this defence is not adequate.

Genisys taking place in alternate timeline is precisely what enables the subversion. The film would have been even more strongly rejected by Terminator fans had it been executed with the original timeline.

For good reason, because what technically enables them to tell a different story, does not excuse what they did with the heroes.

Besides, Reese’s character is rewritten before he even travels back in time and any alteration of the timeline relevant to the plot. He’s different because he was written differently, not because he’s an alternate Reese.

(In my view, alternative timelines are junk that have no place in the Terminator universe, but that’s a subject for another post. I’m not attacking alternative timelines in fiction generally.)

It’s sold as an alternative, when it’s actually just a rewriting.

It uses the nostalgia for the original to draw in the fans, and the makers went to great lengths prior to release in claiming that they were returning to the spirit of the original.

Only to undermine it.

One does not make such claims, whilst deliberately writing the characters with such pendulum-swings in their values and roles, the key aspects through which characters are defined and recognized.

Reese is no longer the stoic protector.

Sarah is no longer the determined mother.

John is no longer the saviour of mankind.

In the T2: Judgement Day, Making of documentary, James Cameron said of Sarah’s violent invasion of Dyson’s home and attempt on his life, that ‘in a very real way she became the Terminator of the second film’.

In a very real way also then, in its mission to subvert the characters and destroy their heroism, Genisys is the Terminator of the entire mythology.

 

1 – http://www.craveonline.co.uk/entertainment/873983-exclusive-terminator-genisys-screenwriters-reveal-big-secret

 

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