It is genuinely surprising to see “Terminator: Genisys” on the cover of this week's “Entertainment Weekly.” After all, this represents the third attempt to start a new trilogy of “Terminator” films, and the last fumble was made by Warner Bros, whose parent company owns and publishes “Entertainment Weekly,” while the new film is being released by Paramount, a competitor.
Then again, looking at the pictures they used on the cover, maybe “Entertainment Weekly” knew exactly what they were doing, because they are profoundly unflattering shots of the cast, including a grinning Terminator, a weird decision since everyone else has on their “this movie is really serious” faces. And the article inside has set off a massive recoil from fandom, which certainly wasn't how Paramount was hoping to kick off their next nine months of promoting the film before its release.
The reason fandom is up in arms today is because they're getting their first real taste of what this film has in store for them, and they do not like what they're tasting. Nope. Not at all.
Here's the paragraph that has set off the most reactions so far:
Twist No. 1? Sarah Connor isn”t the innocent she was when Linda Hamilton first sported feathered hair and acid-washed jeans in the role. Nor is she Hamilton”s steely zero body-fat warrior in 1991″s T2. Rather, the mother of humanity”s messiah was orphaned by a Terminator at age 9. Since then, she”s been raised by (brace yourself) Schwarzenegger”s Terminator-an older T-800 she calls “Pops”-who is programmed to guard rather than to kill. As a result, Sarah is a highly trained antisocial recluse who”s great with a sniper rifle but not so skilled at the nuances of human emotion.
“Since she was 9 years old, she has been told everything that was supposed to happen,” says Ellison. “But Sarah fundamentally rejects that destiny. She says, ‘That”s not what I want to do.” It”s her decision that drives the story in a very different direction.”
Yep. That's still just the tip of the iceberg, though. Kyle Reese is critically important this time around, and not just because of his role as John Connor's father. Remember… the Sarah Connor he met and slept with no longer exists, so there's no guarantee that the two of them will even spark to one another again. By saving Sarah, have they erased John completely by accident? These are the kinds of questions “Terminator: Genisys” wants you to consider, and I have no problem with that in theory. My favorite stuff in the script is when we actually see the moment where John sends Reese back, and he makes him memorize the message that we heard Reese tell Sarah in the 1984 film. It's nicely handled, and it feels like they get the characters right there.
But I still wonder why I'm even writing about a new “Terminator” film. This is the great frustration for me with these movies. James Cameron told the entire story he wanted to tell in two movies. Everything since then feels reverse-engineered to me, designed to somehow extend the life of a franchise that organically came to a conclusion. Patrick Lussier and Laeta Kalogridis are both very strong writers with a great ear for genre, but their job here is next to impossible. They're being asked to make us buy that the story being told in this film is a story we needed to hear about these characters. Once the film kicks its big plot mechanics into motion, it becomes very busy and it also feels to me like it's trying too hard to do it all, to serve as both sequel and homage and meta-textual spin.
I hope they aren't planning to spend the entire time between now and the release of the film playing coy about Matt Smith's character's identity in public. For fans, there aren't a lot of character name reveals that could mean anything, so it narrows the mystery down pretty quickly. Honestly, they should just go totally silent about him instead of setting up this guessing game. But when you're doing something like this, playing that Mystery Box game, you're inviting participation, and I know that something I said the week Matt Smith was cast caused a real ripple of panic among the filmmakers. Since then, I've tried to tread very lightly. I don't think the filmmakers want the secret spilled, so the wrong tact to take is to constantly play up what a big secret it is.
Nothing would make me happier than sitting down to see “Terminator: Genisys” and walking out of it satisfied and ready for more “Terminator” films. But so far, it feels like the same sorts of choices and the same sorts of pressure are all going to once again result in the same sort of “Terminator” film.
But at least it won't have this scene in it:
So thank god for the little things. “Terminator: Genisys” is in theaters July 1, 2015.