“Terminator Genisys” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is bigger, bolder, funnier and older (but not obsolete, as he tells us throughout the film) in “Terminator Genisys,” a surprisingly effective reimagining of the “Terminator” movie franchise. It’s far from a perfect movie and hardly original in that it borrows heavily from the first two “Terminator” films, yet, it earns a rightful place in the franchise canon with a inventive script that’s willing to break free from the traditional storyline and in effect, be in control of its own destiny.
“Terminator Genisys” begins in the post-apocalyptic future, where the Resistance, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) gets ready to strike its final death blow on the machines: a group of Terminators and other deadly weapons made self-aware by the defense program Skynet. Connor, however, discovers he’s a bit too late, as a T-800 (a younger, CGI version of Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Emila Clarke), to ensure he is never born, and effectively, taught to be the leader he is to become the leader he is today. To thwart the machines’ plan, Connor sends back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in time to find Sarah and protect her.
Arriving back in 1984, Connor arrives to find out that Sarah is not the helpless waitress John said she would be, and has already been trained, in fact, by The Guardian (Schwarzenegger) to be a proficient warrior. Eliminating the current threats by the machines, Reese and Sarah travel forward in time to 2017 to stop Judgment Day altogether, only to encounter a John: who seem to have taken on the form of a Terminator himself – and the protector of Genisys – an all-powerful computer operating system for personal and military devices that will turn into Skynet, and eventually, against the human race.
While the first part of “Terminator Genisys” plays like a mishmash of the first “Terminator” and its first sequel “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the film eventually forms its own identity by expanding Sarah’s and Reese’s back stories. Also expanded is the story of The Guardian, a T-800 unit sent to protect Sarah as a 9-year-old girl – and a machine that remains tried and true despite its aging technology. It’s human skin and features age, too, which explains how Schwarzenegger can still play the character more than 30 years after the original film.
Despite some muddled, crisscrossing timelines and confusing leaps of logic, “Terminator Genisys” is far better than the past two “Terminator” installments – and thanks to director Alan Taylor’s intense pacing and employment of spectacular visual effects and sound, definitely has the tone and feel of the first two blockbuster hits in the franchise. The best development to come out of “Terminator Genisys,” though, is the big twist involving John, a major spoiler unleashed during the film’s second trailer.
The big reveal was a smart marketing move by Paramount, because, quite honestly, the first trailer for the film felt like more of the same. Jason Clarke is definitely up to the task as the film’s new bad guy, and bring intensity through his performance in both human and CGI form. Emilia Clarke also makes for a likable, ass-kicking Sarah, as does Courtney as Reese in a role far more involved in the plot than the original film.
The biggest winner in “Terminator Genisys,” though, is Schwarzenegger, who, while embracing his age and his creaky cyborg frame, is completely willing to poke fun at himself. The great thing is, for the first time in years, we’re laughing with Ah-nold instead of laughing at him. With “Terminator Genisys” Schwarzenegger is, for the lack of a better words, back.
“Magic Mike XXL” (R) ** (out of four)
Channing Tatum is in his element and out of his clothes once again in “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel to the 2012 surprise hit original starring Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. Of course, you have to enjoy dancing male strippers to fully enjoy Tatum and his fellow beefcake co-stars, which is to say the film was made with the female club-going element in mind. For the poor guys they drag with to the movie, get ready for a dull and pointless two hours of nothing.
Tatum is back as Mike, a hard-working small business owner who after three years out of the stripper game is lured back to the for one last road trip by his buff buddies. Making stops at various public and private strip venues on the way, the goal for the Kings of Tampa (minus McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer’s characters – whose absences are explained), as they are called, with the goal of getting to a big-time male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.
There’s really no story to speak of in “Magic Mike XXL,” just lots of well-choreographed stripper scenes by the of Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash (there’s no doubt the guys, especially Tatum, have the moves). Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Andie McDowell and Elizabeth Banks bring a little bit of spunk to the film with supporting roles, but in the end, “Magic Mike XXL” is a slick-looking movie that will have female-dominated audiences hooting and hollering, and all but throwing dollar bills at the screen (at least that was the case in my screening). The movie comes off as more of an eye candy-coated fantasy night out on the town than an actual cinematic spectacle … that is, unless we eventually find out that Tatum and his co-stars’ well-chiseled abs are really just elaborate visual effects. Remember “300”?