Deja View: Terminator vs. Jurassic World

One is a global smash, the other a critical punching bag. What gives?

Two movies, both sequels to beloved classics. Nobody was particularly waiting for either one. Both early trailers were greeted with sighs of “Meh.” Both were sequels as well as reboots. Both pretended that the last couple of sequels didn’t exist. Expectations were lowered.

When Jurassic World opened, it sprinted out of the gate with a stunning $208 million opening weekend, and could very well become the 3rd biggest global release ever (at least until Star Wars opens later this year). The reviews were mostly positive and even the audiences who attended in droves didn’t seem to mind the stupidity of watching Chris Pratt, the Raptor Whisperer lead the crafty dinos into battle.

But Terminator Genysis has stirred the pot in the other direction. Critics carped that it was all-too familiar, lazy, poorly directed, and became a repetitive action machine with rock-em-sock-em robots.

Sure, I’ll give them that. But TG also dared to shake the blankets off and give us an entirely different alternate timeline. In the same way that the 2009 Star Trek reboot hits the reset button, Genysis freshened things up by drastically changing just about everyone’s dramatic arc.

Seriously, how many times can you tell the same story again and again? Skynet sends a killer robot back to 1984 to kill Sarah Conner so she can never spawn the future’s savior, her son John. No spoilers here, but that line of thinking comes to an end by the end of act one.

And yet Jurassic World’s setup is exactly the same as the previous entries: Genetically-created-and/or-modified dinosaurs on island. Humans on the island. Something goes wrong and nature does its thing. By the end of the film, there’s a T.rex roaring from inside a visitor’s center or a helicopter pad. Irony!

Like cinematic comfort food, the demographically-perfect Jurassic hit the sweet spot. Parents grew up watching the original and had shared the Steven Spielberg original with their kids. Boom! Instant box office smash.

But with Terminator 5, there is a vitriol among critics that’s disproportionate. Okay, sure: Jai Courtney, who plays T5‘s future savior and baby daddy Kyle Reese, has the charisma of a block of wood – but he’s no worse than Bryce Howard’s shrieking damsel in distress that outran a T-rex with high heels and a fabulous haircut. So what gives?

I have a theory.

If Terminator was the first film to upend it’s entire canon for the sole purpose of being able to make more films, that would be one thing. Most people liked (or at least went with) Star Trek because as much as Trekkies initially cried foul, it introduced a new generation to the iconic trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and was brilliantly cast. Big hit, everyone happy! Order the sequel!

But then Into Darkness was too Earthbound, too paranoid, and dared to re-introduce Khan as a deep-throated pasty-skinned anti-hero. That might have been okay – maybe – if the movie also hadn’t also regurgitated the last half hour of The Wrath of Khan as if it was parodying it.

There’s the line. Now you’ve gone too far.

I’ll bet Robert Zemeckis had no idea when he made Back to the Future Part II (1989) in using time travel to climb inside the events of a previous film, he was setting up Hollywood’s “get out of jail free” card. It’s a spectacular narrative device, but such a slap in the face to anybody who ever wanted to, say, sit down and watch all the movies in order.

Goodbye, weekend movie marathon. Say hello to a new Spider-Man every four years. Seriously, there have been five Jack Ryan movies with four different actors playing Ryan. And there will surely be a sixth/fifth.

Pity the poor folks who regard themselves as X-Men fans. Three movies, two solo Wolverine movies, a reboot, and the epic mess that was Days of Future Past that brought both casts together, only to (SPOILER) completely render the previous three films (!) null and void!

For what it’s worth, I liked the new direction the Terminator series took. After two tone-deaf sequels (Rise of the Machines, Salvation) that offered nothing new, it was a blast to not know where any of it was going. Sure, I knew it would all come down to a last act smackdown with a ticking clock (literally) and big explosion, but I had no idea what any of the characters’ fates would be.

There was also something about Arnold Schwarzenegger playing an older (not obsolete) T-800 that was instantly lovable. Yes, the exposition was thick and the action a bit padded. But when it had to find its heart underneath all that liquid metal, it did.

So as much as hipper-than-thou critics enjoyed typing reviews that said things like “Please, Arnold, don’t come back,” some truths are unavoidable. There will always be a James Bond and he will always be in his 40s. Kirk, Spock and McCoy will always explore the galaxy. There will always be a Batman glowering through rainfall. Someone will keep trying to open that damned dinosaur island, and something will always go wrong.

Prior to the release of Terminator Genysis, I would have added to that list that Skynet will always try to wipe our humanity with terminators, and the resistance will always send Kyle Reese to save Sarah Conner.

But not anymore, and I like that.

I’m not sure why so many people are hating on Terminator. Maybe it would be a different story if Chris Pratt played Kyle Reese and Dwayne Johnson played a terminator.

You’re welcome, Hollywood.


Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, editor, writer, and film critic (print and radio). He produced and co-hosted the TV programs Soundwaves and Reel Life (later called Filmtrip), and now anchors the weekly Flick Nation radio features At the Movies and Home Media Guide, which are heard on KGO Radio in San Francisco.

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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