Tag Archive: Tone


I saw Hidden Figures back in early January at a preview screening at Odeon. Since then I’ve been bombarded by trailer after trailer for the film, attached to almost every screening I’ve attended since.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it were a teaser we were talking about, but no. The final Hidden Figures trailer is the most tragic case of spoiling an entire film since we saw the same thing happen to Room around this time last year. These aren’t isolated cases, either. Trailers for Batman vs Superman and Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic were the other major culprits from last year, and I could list more if I wanted to spend time thinking about it. The unfortunate mentality of sheer desperation – of studios and editors thinking the only way to get audiences to pay for a film is by showing everything to them beforehand – is currently one of my biggest problems with the film industry.

Honestly, this is a case of a film blowing its entire load prematurely – and yes, the analogy to an overeager, desperate man unable to contain his excitement for the payoff is entirely appropriate. Within the Hidden Figures trailer – having seen the film and liked it very much, I can tell you for certain – we see brief clips from every major scene in the movie, beginning to end; we hear literally every relevant piece of dialogue, swiftly cut together at speed so as to fit it all in; and the overarching theme of the film is thrust upon you with virtually no sense of subtlety.

I’m going to put the trailer below to help illustrate my point. However, I will say this: if you have not yet seen this trailer and plan to see the film anyway (it is actually worth your time, hence my frustration), don’t watch it. Don’t ruin it for yourself. I know if I had seen this trailer beforehand, I likely would not have enjoyed Hidden Figures as much as I did. But then, I like to be surprised when I watch a film; perhaps you see a cinema trip as more of a risk and like to know absolutely every detail you’re going to see, in which case go ahead and watch this trailer. We’ll just continue to not understand each other.

There is a clear stopping point for me in that trailer – or rather, a point at which it becomes obvious they’re giving away too much. It is the line “I don’t know if I can keep up in that room”, as the general tone shifts to not-so-subtly make it clear that ‘hey, this is a film with a serious message you know’. Tonal shifts like this should be the film’s domain, not its trailer. But again, the trailer is too focused on squeezing every possible detail into two minutes, to let you know you might like this movie, if you liked its incredibly condensed version. It’s not too difficult to decipher, as well, that there is likely an agenda at play with the trailer for this film, if not the film itself. However, I’m going to save this part of my analysis for another article on each of the nine Best Picture nominees.

In contrast, the first trailer for Fences, another Best Picture nominee this year, is a much better example of a well executed trailer than the fast, desperate cutting of the Hidden Figures equivalent. If you watched the one above, now check out this trailer, and observe the clear difference between the two. Note there has since been a second trailer, similar to this but with only a few extra details added, though I haven’t seen that version shown in UK cinemas.

We’re left in no doubt from the Fences trailer that it also tackles some interesting themes and social issues; but it communicates this in much less words than the Hidden Figures equivalent, and does it without spoiling many of the film’s major scenes. In fact, this trailer communicates its message through clips from (seemingly) two major scenes, showing only brief glimpses of a few others while leaving the rest to the imagination, in effect building anticipation for the overall film. I think Hidden Figures could have achieved this too, though perhaps not to the same effect (there aren’t many actors with the screen presence of Denzel Washington, after all).

Bear in mind my comments here are not directly related to the quality of each film; rather, I’ve focused entirely on critiquing their trailers, though to do so is important as the quality of a trailer does correlate with how many people are going to see the film in question. I will be giving my thoughts on the films themselves when I give my breakdown on each of the nine contenders for the Best Picture Oscar in a separate post, to come soon.

Traders.

Traders pic 1.

Imagine a world in which men had been pushed to the point where they willingly put all of their money on the line in a fight to the death; the winner walking away with everything in the other’s possession. Before starting the fight, you find a quiet area, making sure you’re not followed, and dig a hole in which the loser’s body will be placed. If you’re good at it, this can be quite a lucrative business – with frequent sparring partners getting involved out of pure desperation, having lost their job and finding themselves drowning in debt.

Well, Traders brings this scenario to life. An Irish thriller with darkly comedic elements, it’s set around the 2008 financial crash – indeed the film opens with the two central characters losing their highly paid jobs and facing the reality of being unable to afford the lavish lifestyle’s they had been living up to that point.

The film has a definite tongue-in-cheek style to certain parts of its script and acting performances; a tone which some may find slightly jarring as it tackles serious issues like depression and even suicide, resulting from unemployment and debt. But Traders does in fact handle these issues well. It simply does so with a refreshingly irreverent attitude, and dares not to make them the overall focus of the film – because the focus here is instead about finding thrills in a hopeless situation. That’s what the 2008 crash was. The so-called ‘death of the Celtic Tiger’, following a boom for the Irish economy throughout the 1990s and mid-2000s, left many feeling as hopeless as the characters of this film. To look back on it with a sense of humour is something one would like to think is warranted, if not necessary for moving forward.

Jointly written and directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy, starring Killian Scott as its central ‘trader’ Harry Fox, with John Bradley as his hapless friend Vernon (to whom the concept of trading can be attributed; originally pitched as his new ‘business idea’), Traders has been named in the same breath as Fight Club (1999) by critics. It’s not hard to see why; in basic terms, both films involve fighting, men falling back to primal instincts in the face of societal disillusionment, and both provide a subtle critique of their cultural backdrop in entertaining fashion.

This film, though, had a much smaller budget, and in general feels like a more eccentric premise; so that it manages to be almost as successful as David Fincher’s accomplished cult classic is all the more impressive. In time Traders itself may garner a similar reputation in some circles, though its tone may turn others off. For me it was undoubtedly one of the festival’s best surprises.

8 / 10

Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Revenge of the Sith Palpatine.

The dark side is a pathway to many abilities; some considered to be unnatural.”

Let’s rewind ten years. I was fifteen years old. Had enjoyed the first two Star Wars prequels but knew, deep down, they weren’t perfect films. Despite the disappointment that had greeted those movies across the board, anticipation for Revenge of the Sith was pretty high. This was, after all, the episode on which the entire saga rested; the one we had all wanted to see coming into the prequels from the start. Anakin was going to become Darth Vader. The Jedi would be wiped out. The Republic somehow twisted into the Empire. This was the film in which it was all going to come together.

It opens three years after Attack of the Clones, in the midst of a space battle that looks better than anything its two predecessors had done. This film is still full of CGI and that undoubtedly causes issues (some CGI environments are so blindingly obvious that certain scenes lose any sense of realism or immersion), but here it isn’t quite as jarring or intrusive on the whole.

You immediately feel that Anakin has also matured from the whiny, tantrum-prone teen we knew previously, now more Obi-Wan’s equal as a Jedi. Hayden Christensen’s portrayal remains a point of contention, but he has improved, and much of his problem again stems from the material he’s given to work with here.

One of the biggest issues I have with Revenge of the Sith, in fact, is Anakin’s eventual turn to the dark side, which feels abrupt and slightly forced when it eventually happens. In the course of a few moments Anakin goes from saying “what have I done?” in horror, having prevented Mace Windu from killing Chancellor Palpatine, indirectly causing the Jedi Master’s death, to then kneeling and pledging himself to the Sith, agreeing with Darth Sidious that all Jedi should be eliminated.

No real person would act like this. Once again this film, like its predecessors, suffers greatly from a lack of organic development in its plot and character arcs; always coming across as if it’s heading towards some fixed destination and needing to tick off various checklist points on the way there.

Some sequences, including the first twenty minutes when Anakin and Obi-Wan are rescuing the Chancellor (which reportedly lasted over an hour before being edited down), feel excessively cut to the extent that you lose much of the emotional substance they otherwise could have had. George Lucas’ original version of this film was apparently four hours long, and that we ended up with a running time half this amount sums up, for me, the main problem. Lucas simply left himself with too much to get through in Revenge of the Sith, and seemingly wasn’t willing to stretch the film’s length to what it arguably needed to be to do itself justice.

Having said that, there are some surprises lurking here that automatically put this film above the other two Star Wars prequel movies. For example: the soundtrack – not so much in what it adds, but the times when it remains quiet. This is probably the quietest Star Wars film, with certain scenes completely absent of sound apart from the characters voices. The scene where Darth Sidious reveals himself to Anakin is most evident of this, as it begins without any sound, and the soundtrack subtly starts to build as Sidious builds up to revealing his true identity.

Speaking of Darth Sidious, Ian McDiarmid is once again excellent in this movie. Go back and watch the scene where Palpatine is talking to Anakin at the opera – probably the film’s best scene overall – and observe what he does with his inflections and subtle facial expressions. In that one scene you see him play his two characters at once; the gentle, kind Palpatine, looking out for Anakin as one would show concern for a nephew; under the facade, Darth Sidious, who shows the slightest hint of glee as he recounts the story of Darth Plagueis and remembers killing his former master.

Due to the film’s use of silence, its soundtrack is all the more effective when it is used. Seeing the clone troopers turn on their Jedi generals via Order 66 is especially poignant and harrowing thanks to John Williams’ score, while the iconic Duel of the Fates makes a return in the final climactic lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

That final fight itself is a disappointment though. Yes it’s long and epic… but most of all, it’s over-choreographed to the point of absurdity. We don’t get the sense that this fight is real, or that there is any genuine emotion involved outside of dialogue and close-ups on the actors faces.

The dialogue is, I’m afraid, still unreasonably bad. It’s a slight improvement over the two films that preceded it, but George Lucas insists time and again on verbalising certain emotions and actions rather than trusting his actors to convey them.

Padme, for example, has to spell out for Anakin (and the audience) that “you’re breaking my heart” after hearing that he’s turned to the dark side and killed younglings. Honestly, watching the film back now, I almost feel sorry for Natalie Portman because of the numerous occasions she has dialogue fed to her that completely negates or undermines any acting on her part.

There’s another simple scene that exemplifies this issue, and it makes me want to punch the screen in frustration more than any other in this movie: it is when we see Darth Vader in his full body suit for the first time. He asks ‘where is Padme?’ and is informed that, in his anger, he killed her. Vader is angry and heartbroken. We see him crush the environment around him through the force; showing that his power is as strong as ever. And then, as if we hadn’t received the message, he shouts, “NOOOOOOOOOO!” The scene immediately becomes almost comical with that line.

But despite these misgivings, what I was saying earlier still stands: this is the best of the prequel trilogy. It is the darkest Star Wars film, and was the first to receive a PG-13 rating – after all, its plot deals with the Sith exterminating every Jedi; the Empire standing tall at the end, with Yoda and Obi-Wan, facing defeat, forced to go into exile. Within the first fifteen minutes Anakin, one of the film’s main protagonists, beheads his adversary Count Dooku in cold blood. Throughout the entire running time there’s an impending sense of unease, the likes of which Star Wars viewers hadn’t truly felt since The Empire Strikes Back twenty-five years earlier.

Of course many of this film’s fans, including myself, were not alive when the originals had their first theatrical run. I must admit, at fifteen years old, I considered Revenge of the Sith my favourite film of 2005. For me it more than delivered on its hype. With each subsequent viewing over the intervening years I’ve increasingly found little annoyances with the film that almost spoil my memory of enjoying it so much first time round. But I will say in its favour, even now, it’s hard to dwell on those flaws for too long – because it goes along at such a pace that you’re unable to. There are five separate lightsaber fights in this film, and while some of them really aren’t great at all (Obi-Wan against Grievous technically shouldn’t even count), this is what the essence of Star Wars was all about.

So where does it rank in the overall saga? For me it’s just a notch short of Return of the Jedi, as even though I prefer the tone of this one, the problems with its script and the fact that Lucas simply found himself with too much to get through in the plot almost cripple the finished product. It’s a good Star Wars movie – but could potentially have been a great one.

7 / 10

Return of the Jedi (1983).

Emperor Return of the Jedi pic 1.

Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the Dark side will be complete!”

So, remember how I said I loved the tone of The Empire Strikes Back? Well the final part of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi, went a considerably different route for a good portion of the film.

Many people claim this is the weakest movie of the trilogy – and I’m not going to disagree with them here. While there are certainly parts of it I still love, there are also parts of it I really don’t. Return of the Jedi is the first ‘polarising’ instalment in a saga that would struggle to find its footing from this point onwards; its best days (from a critical viewpoint at least) already behind it.

But let’s begin with the good. Like any good conclusion to a typical trilogy, this film went back to where it had all started six years before: on Tatooine, with C-3PO and R2-D2. They’re back to help infiltrate Jabba’s Palace and rescue Han Solo from his clutches – who is still frozen in carbonite by the way; C-3PO makes sure to unnecessarily spell it out for us once they’re inside.

This was the first time audiences had seen Jabba the Hutt (unless, like me, you had seen the 1997 ‘special edition’ of the original Star Wars beforehand – in which George Lucas had seen fit to insert a CGI version of him for no narrative purpose) and his slug-like character design would become almost as iconic as Yoda.

Soon Luke Skywalker turns up at Jabba’s Palace as well, having sent the droids with a personal message that he was on his way. Luke in this movie is now an authoritative ‘badass’ Jedi knight; a far cry from the slightly whiny teenager we were first introduced to in the original Star Wars. You really get the sense from his first scene that Luke has come a long way as a character – his arc being another trait this final instalment nails perfectly, and overall this is probably my favourite version of Luke in the trilogy.

Needless to say, the confrontation between Luke and Jabba does not go well, and within the first twenty minutes we’re treated to another memorable opening action sequence as was the case in Empire (though not quite on the same scale). With Han Solo freed from the carbonite, and the three main protagonists (Luke, Leia and Han) back together for the first time since the start of the preceding film, it’s hard not to get caught up in the feel-good nostalgic sentiment of Return of the Jedi’s opening sequence.

From Jabba’s palace to the edge of the Sarlacc pit (in which people are thrown to be ‘slowly digested over a thousand years’), it starts off at a pace that makes you believe you’re in for one hell of a ride throughout the rest of the film. To be honest though, one of the main issues I have with Jedi is its pacing; as it struggles to maintain this momentum going into the rest of the movie.

This is evident from Luke’s very next scene. Fresh off of rescuing Han, he sets off with R2 to return to Dagobah and complete his training with Master Yoda. Except when he gets there, that’s not what happens.

Instead, they talk. Yoda reaffirms that Luke needs to face Darth Vader again and defeat him if he wants to be a true Jedi, before revealing a significant plot detail that ‘there is another Skywalker’. Then he dies rather abruptly – barely thirty minutes into the film. It all felt a little… rushed. Almost as if Lucas had a checklist of things he wanted to get through in this film and he therefore wanted to get Yoda’s death out of the way early.

Outside Yoda’s hut, Luke meets Obi-Wan in spirit form again. Obi-Wan’s spirit feels it necessary to sit down on a rock as he talks to Luke… I could dwell on that, but I’ll move on. Obi-Wan and Luke talk. Obi-Wan tells Luke he must face Vader again. Then he reaffirms it one more time for effect, before confirming Luke has a sister: Leia. Not quite the emotional slobberknocker of a twist that we got in Empire, but something at least.

Luke’s entire visit to Dagobah, though brief, exemplifies another problem with Jedi: exposition. So many scenes are, for me, too concerned with communicating what’s going on to the audience in words rather than action, as was more the case in this film’s two predecessors. While I said this version of Luke was my favourite of the trilogy, one is left with the feeling that we just don’t see enough of what he can do as a Jedi, after those new skills were hinted at in the opening sequence. We’re left wanting more that, until near the end, we don’t quite get.

Some character interactions are also far less convincing here than in Empire. Han Solo, for example, seems once again to be best buddies with Lando Calrissian, despite the latter having betrayed him to the Empire on one of their last meetings. While it’s understandable that the two would reconcile and rekindle their friendship, I feel the film misses an opportunity to make it more of an interesting arc that could have been developed further.

This would also be the case with Leia in a later scene, when Luke reveals to her that not only is Darth Vader his father, but she is also his sister – which makes Vader her father as well. The emotional resonance of this reveal never quite comes across from Leia’s perspective, which is disappointing, especially considering it played such a major role in Luke’s character arc in the previous film. A little knowledge of Leia’s character history also suggests that if anything, she should be more horrified than Luke at finding out such news. She was fighting against the Empire long before Vader invaded her rebel cruiser and held her captive for a whole two thirds of the first film, after all.

Obviously Lucas must take some of the blame for these gripes (especially the points at which exposition is heavy), but I also have an issue with how this film is directed by Richard Marquand, with whom the main responsibility must lie for the niggling problems in the aforementioned scenes. Return of the Jedi suffers due to a less ‘daring’ directorial style than we saw in Irvin Kershner’s Empire Strikes Back.

This is all before I’ve even taken those creatures known as the Ewoks into consideration. Now, when most people quote their reasons for disliking Jedi a little more than the other instalments in the trilogy, these furry little teddy bear-lookalikes are never far from the conversation.

It’s not just that they’re clearly a nod to the younger members of Jedi’s audience, but more that their inclusion around the mid-way point of the film absolutely kills whatever pacing it had up until that point. Tonally, the Ewoks just didn’t fit in Return of the Jedi. The movie didn’t really need them.

Here’s a major part of the issue: on one hand, you had the despicably evil Emperor’s first appearance in person, magnificently and sinisterly portrayed by Ian McDiarmid, and on the other you had the Ewoks helping take out what he himself claims is an “entire battalion” of his absolute best troops. Sorry, but I call bullshit on that one.

It didn’t make sense, even if I kind of understand what George Lucas was going for. Yoda had taught us in the previous movie not to judge by appearances and to be wary of underestimating others based on size; Lucas saw another opportunity here to reiterate that point again in more of a feel-good manner than the dark tones of Empire.

But let’s dwell on the Emperor for a moment. Perhaps the single biggest reason I enjoy returning to Jedi so much now is to see McDiarmid’s original characterisation of a man he would play again in the prequel trilogy almost twenty years later. Here we truly see the Emperor’s powers in action for the first time; realising exactly how and why the Empire has managed to maintain its tyrannical hold over the galaxy for this long under his rule. The final climactic fight between Vader and Luke is made to feel all the more epic with his manipulative presence in the background – a presence that you feel has really been there, unseen, throughout the entire trilogy.

No doubt remains in this final movie; we see a delicately balanced three-way conflict between these three main characters. Darth Vader himself is no longer the true main villain, no longer quite the badass we knew in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, with the Emperor revealed as the manipulator pulling his strings.

For a few moments the Emperor almost convinces Luke and the audience that the young Jedi will indeed take his father’s place by his side. But of course we know how this story ultimately ends; with Anakin Skywalker killing his ‘Sith’ master, as he would later be prophesied to do in the prequels. This ending sequence, from Vader’s sacrifice and redemption up to Luke standing by his funeral pyre (the only person there, which shows Vader was feared rather than liked by his subordinates), is the film’s emotional high point.

Return of the Jedi undoubtedly showcased some of George Lucas’ bad habits (childish elements, exposition overload, dodgy pacing), along with some better ones in action sequences and production design. It is, on balance, still an immensely enjoyable movie, though falls short of the excessively high bar set by the other two films in the trilogy. This is Star Wars; not quite at its best but, as most people would say, to be treasured and appreciated for what it is… considering what awaited in the saga’s future.

8 / 10

Empire Strike Back - Yoda.

No, not try! Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Just what would American cinema be without the wisdom of Jedi master Yoda? Without the saga-defining twist that shook audiences around the world? Without the iconic Imperial March accompanying the Galactic Empire in their relentless pursuit of the Rebel Alliance?

With the widespread success of the first Star Wars film in 1977, George Lucas didn’t take long in getting to work on the sequel – while forming ideas for a possible seven further films to come. It was here, with The Empire Strikes Back three years later, that the entire saga really found its narrative footing, providing the backbone on which both Star Wars trilogies rest.

Now knowing Star Wars would be a trilogy at the very least, Lucas felt more free in his storytelling. Empire truly feels like the middle part of a trilogy in the best possible sense. The screenplay is full of action, wonderfully paced, not having to rush through plot details to wrap up the story before the film’s end, while also dropping several hints about where the next film would go. One memorable scene (though are there really any scenes in this movie that aren’t memorable?) even employs metaphorical imagery; something one doesn’t attempt in a major Hollywood movie unless they’re supremely confident in their film.

Confidence is something George Lucas has never lacked, and that didn’t always work in our favour, but when combined with certain other essential elements in 1980, it helped create what most would say is the best Star Wars movie of all. One could argue it belongs alongside the all-time greats in any context.

The film opened on the ice planet of Hoth; a stark contrast to the sandy deserts of Tatooine in the first movie. Though Star Wars climaxed with a major victory for the Rebel Alliance as they managed to destroy the Death Star, you get the sense in this sequel that all their victory served to do was anger the Empire – and now the Rebels are on their radar like never before.

In fact The Empire Strikes Back couldn’t have had a more appropriate title, because from the start that’s exactly what the Empire intend to do. Having just been introduced to the Rebel base on Hoth, the first major piece of action we see there is its evacuation, in a scene that rivalled the final twenty minutes of Star Wars – the difference being, of course, that this was the first twenty minutes of Empire.

The famous, intimidating AT-AT Walkers were introduced in Empire's opening action sequence - setting the perfect tone for the rest of the film.

The famous, intimidating AT-AT Walkers were introduced in Empire’s opening action sequence – setting the perfect tone for the rest of the film.

No doubt about it; The Empire Strikes Back was a much darker movie than its predecessor, with its characters under greater threat from all angles. Even the usually trustworthy Millennium Falcon refuses to work properly for most of the film. From the moment Luke lands on Dagobah to find Jedi master Yoda, who will instruct him on his way to becoming a Jedi knight, the harsh environment is against him. And we see Darth Vader systematically kill off any Imperial troops who fail him as they pursue the protagonists.

One of the nicest touches to this film for me was actually that aspect of showing you the inner workings of the Empire – the Imperial troops come across as real people with genuine concerns for their life when something goes wrong, knowing they have to face Lord Vader at the end of it.

Needless to say the film was – and still is – astoundingly beautiful and brilliantly well shot. Most of the credit for this must go to director Irvin Kershner, whom Lucas hired when he decided to focus more on producing (having directed the original film himself). Apparently Kershner appealed to Lucas because of the director’s focus on character development, and it was a wise choice across the board considering the finished product.

But let’s not pass over the soundtrack. Once again John Williams provided a score that was as iconic as Star Wars, and I would argue he even outdid himself in this sequel. Is that Imperial March not one of the most iconic pieces of music in cinema history? It’s one that always remains in my head for at least a few weeks following any viewing of The Empire Strikes Back, and when I’m sitting in the cinema waiting to see The Force Awakens a few weeks from now, I guarantee you it’ll be going through my mind on loop as I ponder what a high bar has been set.

Though this movie carried an unmistakably darker tone, it was also a funnier film than its predecessor. C-3PO is on top form with his sarcastic quips and sense of self-importance, while Luke’s encounter with Yoda is hilarious before we find out that this little green creature is in fact the grand master Jedi we’d been hearing so much about.

That was the entire point of course; to show us that one shouldn’t judge on appearances, and although Yoda only features for barely more than a third of this movie, the amount of wisdom he is able to impart not just to Luke, but to all of us in that time is astonishing. For any typical kid growing up, they couldn’t have found a better teacher in the world of film than little master Yoda, who taught as much in what he left unsaid as in what he did say. His design, though not overly elaborate, was Lucas’ finest moment as it pertains to creature creation.

While the action zips along (you hardly notice the time going in), a subtle plot point appears out of the blue mid-way through the film, when we get our first glimpse of the Emperor, mastermind behind the Galactic Empire and the only one Darth Vader answers to. They discuss the ‘new threat’ of Luke Skywalker and speak of the possibility that he could be turned to the dark side; a brief scene but a vital one for getting the audience emotionally invested in the showdown between Vader and Luke to come – and to tease the involvement of the largely unseen Emperor, whom we know must come into play at some point if the Rebels are to ultimately win this fight.

It ended – rather frustratingly for audiences at the time, who would have to wait a whole three years for the next film – on one of the most iconic cliffhangers ever; Han Solo frozen in carbonite, his fate unknown as he is taken to Jabba the Hutt by the renegade bounty hunter Boba Fett, while Luke and Leia recover from what amounts to defeat at the end of the movie. And that’s after Darth Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father before inviting him to overthrow the Emperor so “we can rule the galaxy as father and son”.

Audiences were left somewhat unsatisfied with Empire's ending - but that only built anticipation for what was to come...

Audiences were left somewhat unsatisfied with Empire’s ending – but that only built anticipation for what was to come…

In contrast to the first film, this wasn’t a battle the good guys won. The Empire really did ‘strike back’ for most of the movie, and a lot of the time was spent fleeing or hiding from them. At the end of this sequel, audiences were left with the uneasy feeling that the score was level at one apiece; and something would have to give in the third and final part of the trilogy.

10 / 10

Terminator Genisys.

Genisys pic 1.

Before I get into this review, I’d like to make something clear: if you’ve seen the trailer for Terminator Genisys, you have no need to see the movie. Not in the cinema at least. I’m serious. The trailer for this film summed up everything I detest about Hollywood trailers, giving away the most interesting scenes, all the major plot points and leaving you with little else to do in the movie theatre than sit back, turn your mind off and bask in a load of fan service that you already knew was coming. Regardless of how I rate the film on its own merit, I’d prefer audiences to take a stand against the profit-hungry marketing department’s lack of respect towards storytelling and not pay cinema prices for it. Alas, I realise I’m set to be disappointed in that endeavour.

So… There are some rather cool moments in Genisys, as one would expect. This is, after all, a new Terminator movie, and if you’re not coming for cool moments then one would have to wonder what exactly you are coming for?

Indeed if it’s a revolutionary bit of filmmaking or even a good story you’re looking for, Terminator Genisys sadly (and rather spectacularly) fails to deliver. I say sadly because I, as much as anyone, really wanted this movie to live up to the extraordinary standards set by the first two films in the series.

The Terminator (1984) was a dark, atmospheric and – in comparison with its sequels – rather small scale science fiction movie that had aspirations towards horror. Looking back on it now feels somewhat refreshing. To think the premise was all so relatively simple back then; a soldier sent back from the future to protect Sarah Connor from a cyborg assassin. Though time travel was an important element in the narrative, at that point it wasn’t yet beyond the intellectual grasp of the average viewer.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) remains not only one of Hollywood’s finest examples of an excellent sequel, but quite possibly one of the greatest action movies ever made – ramping up this element in contrast to the slower, darker tone of its predecessor. In fact a large part of its success lay in how it turned certain audience expectations upside down; Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role as a T-800 from the original, only this time he was here as a protector, while the antagonist Terminator (the T-1000) was a more agile model with a slimmer build.

Successive sequels did not follow suit; bringing Schwarzenegger back only to pander to those audience expectations and repeating the kind of action sequences one can find in any other generic Hollywood movie. Furthermore, as is the risk with a series based so heavily on time travel, it became bogged down in its own messy, flimsy continuity. T2 was already pushing the rules with its ‘changing the future’ idea, but it would have been fine if the series had ended there. Which, in the eyes of some fans, it did.

Genisys takes the time travelling premise to a newer, more confusing level than ever before. We see one particular character travel from 2029 to 1984 en route to 2017, all in the first half hour. The 1984 in this film is a different version from the one we knew from the series’ own history, due to other characters travelling back to 1973 beforehand and changing things (for unknown reasons probably revealed in another future sequel). Sarah Connor is no longer a naive waitress with a hairstyle fitting of the decade; now she’s a wise-cracking tough girl who knows more about Terminators than the soldier sent back to protect her from one.

Though Emilia Clarke is a talented actress in her own right, they made little effort to replicate Linda Hamilton’s look from the first film. The problem I had here is not with performance – Clarke made the role her own – but the fact that Sarah Connor now seems totally out of place in her own timeline. She looks nothing like someone who grew up in the 1970s-80s. I realise her revised backstory has made her a different person, but like I said; this is less about character and more about fitting into your setting.

It’s ironic then that this film’s best moments actually take place in those first twenty minutes in 1984. To an extent, Genisys returns to the series’ roots, showing further details of what led to Kyle Reese (played here by Jai Courtney, a fine actor himself but firmly in Michael Biehn’s shadow as this character) being sent back to 1984 in The Terminator. A couple of early scenes are direct recreations of memorable moments from that film. The nostalgia is bound to bring a slight smile if you recall those moments yourself.

Unfortunately however, the film does not continue in that vein. Its references to the original are surface-level; there is none of the lurking atmosphere or true sense of threat that one associates with the first film. Such moments are soon eclipsed in favour of fast-paced action and CGI; though we do get another nice throwback to T2 with the appearance of a T-1000, its similarities to the second film end there as well.

If you’ve seen the aforementioned trailer, you’ll know what happens in the story (involving John Connor, who gets in on the time travelling action himself – of course) and can probably predict how it ends too. Try not to overthink it; it’s rather more predictable than you’d imagine. This is a Hollywood film, with an ending appropriate for those who pay for these movies over and over again. There are explosions and naturally, the biggest is saved for last.

Not that I wanted to go on about this too much, but I’d like you to pause for a moment and, if you’ve seen this film, ask yourself whether you might have thought it better had you not been privy to the numerous details revealed in the trailer? Something tells me Terminator Genisys might have had a better chance of standing out if the marketing had not so aggressively tried to shove it down our throats.

Still, that wouldn’t have helped the film’s own problems; it perhaps may have simply led to people overrating it. There is a further, rather obvious gripe I have with the plot’s continuity: if events had changed in 1973, changing the course of Sarah Connor’s life, wouldn’t that have interfered with the fact that Reese and the original Terminator were sent back from the future (what should have then been an alternate future) to 1984 in the first place? Yes, of course it would have, but we’re not supposed to think so hard about it.

In the end that’s why Terminator Genisys soon starts to throw so much meaningless bullshit at its audience. It doesn’t want us to think beyond the first twenty minutes. It wants us to laugh and giggle at Arnie’s parody-like characterisation, and consider how privileged we are to have him back. To marvel at another different Terminator as the upgraded antagonist who is, of course, more advanced than the rest. To wait with baited breath for the next cool moment in reference to a time when this franchise was actually relevant and still had good movies to its name.

This film, at its absolute best, belongs firmly in the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines pantheon of being merely average. And unfortunately, for a Terminator movie, that’s one of the most damning judgments one can make.

4 / 10