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A Tale Of Two Reboots: “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Terminator: Genesys”

I don’t hate sequels and reboots – sometimes they work out really well!   But, it’s a case by case thing – some of them excite me, some don’t.

When Mad Max: Fury Road was announced, I was a bit dubious – did Mad Max need a sequel after Thunderdome?  That pretty much wrapped up the series for me.  Then it was going to have a new actor – who looked like he could play the part.  Then it was still the original director, and he explained, just a bit before the release, that Mad Max: Fury Road was basically one long chase scene.  And the trailer tore it – it looked awesome.

The mention of a Terminator sequel had me sort of excited, until I heard the term “reboot” thrown around.  Why would you reboot the Terminator franchise?  Just send someone back earlier in time, and throw the timeline out of whack – no need to reboot the whole thing.  Maybe then we could forget Terminator: Salvation ever happened (there was very little good about it – probably the only “cool” thing that happened was a fight with a T-800 series that was acted by a CGI Arnold in his younger years.  And even that wasn’t particularly great.)

Both movies kept having the terms “reboot” and “sequel” thrown around, which made it a little harder to see where they were going with it – if it was a reboot, then all continuity is gone.  If it’s a sequel, then everything you knew and loved (or hated) about the franchise was still there.

Mad Max:  Fury Road

imagesIt took about 5 minutes show they went a new direction with Mad Max – in particular, the character Max.  Max Rockatansky (Mad Max) started out as a cop, and not even particularly edgy.  By the end of the movie, he gained a bit of edge.  The next two films made him edgy and gritty, but not insane.

Fury Road starts out with him insane.  He’s seeing things.  He’s… well, he’s insane.  He’s able to function, he’s just not at all right in the head.  Within 15 minutes, the chase scene starts.

And, aside from a few little things along the way, it doesn’t stop.  The pressure is kept on the main characters the whole time (including the bad guys.)  Most of the movie ends up being fairly unpredictable – sure, some characters are going to die, and you’re sure you know which ones.  But, how it happens, and what happens along the way keeps you guessing.

And, the big bad guy death wasn’t how I saw it happening (SPOILER ALERT for the rest of this paragraph):  normally, you’d have a car rolled, and a slow last breath scene.  Or a big car explosion.  Nope – it was a moment where the main character had a lucky break, took it, and ripped a good portion of his face off.  Game over.

The movie doesn’t really bother much with back story.  It doesn’t bother with exposition very much.  Just enough to keep things going forward.  Heck, there’s no explenation for the use of human mother’s milk, for instance:  that’s just what they do.  In a lot of ways, it makes the Mad Max world better – the place is insane, and no one need bother explaining their actions.

Continuity wise, Mad Max is Mad Max.  Beyond that, there’s not much in the way of direct connections to other movies (except flashes of insanity over the loss of his wife and child) – it feels like the same world, but if you had never seen a Mad Max movie before, it wouldn’t matter.  But, it works great for someone who’s also seen the other movies – the “feel” of the place, the insanity, the intensity of the characters, the evil, and the good, all flow into the series.

One of the big pieces of commentary about the movie (positive and negative) is that the lead character is actually Imperator Furiosa.  Somehow, the idea of a Mad Max movie actually being lead by a woman really pissed off some “Mens Rights Activists” (by the way, you can just read that term as “assholes” instead, it’s much easier, and it explains their motivations much better.)  There was a short call for boycotts of the movie, but I’m certain that they $360 million box office take I see right now was completely unaffected by that.

Furiosa is indeed the lead character – Max sort of ends up being the sidekick, and the continuity that ties it into the existing Mad Max world.  But, that’s not to say he doesn’t play a major role, either.  He pulls her bacon out of the fire more than once, and she ends up doing the same thing for him.  I think it worked well – it wasn’t Max’s mission, but he ended up along for the ride and helping out.

I’m curious where they’ll take it for the next movie.  Supposedly, the next one is “Mad Max:  Furiosa”, focusing on the female lead entirely.  This could be interesting – it’s a compelling character, though I’d still like to see more of Max himself in future movies, too.

Terminator:  Genesys

imgresHere’s the thing:  I’m a huge Terminator fan.  Well, I’m a fan of Terminator 2.  The first Terminator movie wasn’t particularly great by it’s self – slow pacing, bad music, bad effects, but it had a fantastic story concept.  Its a mystery to me that someone thought “Hey, let’s bring back that one movie that kind of sucked, and give him a hundred million dollar budget (that was real money back then) and see if we can make some real cash!”

I’m also not a huge fan of Terminator:  Salvation.  Interesting idea, but it sucked overall.  And Terminator 3 was pale in comparison to Terminator 2.  Though, T3 did have a good, ballsy ending where they didn’t stop Judgement Day – they blew the hell out of Earth.  They get points for that one.

OK, so, really I’m a fan of Terminator 2, and just keep hoping for a movie show up in the franchise that rivals it.

Terminator: Genesys is the first time I felt they got close – Terminator 2 is still better, but I think they did it right.  Unfortunately, I’m one of the few people who seem to think they got it right.

First off, that whole idea of a reboot?  Nope – it’s a sequel, just like Mad Max: Fury Road was.  But, it’s a completely different approach to dealing with all that continuity.  Mad Max sort of nodded at it as it passed by it’s continuity in the hallway on it’s way to a development meeting.  Terminator: Genesys reveled in it, took it out to supper, went to bed with it, and possibly handed it cab fare for the ride home.

Everything below should be considered a spoiler. 🙂

Right from the beginning the movie covered some territory we already knew – Kyle is sent back in time as Skynet becomes desperate for survival.  We get to see that happen.  Then we get to see the T-800 sent back.

That’s when continuity goes sideways.   The T-800 from the first movie has to take on a much older (and, I suppose, much more experienced) T-800 that knew it was coming.  Along with Sarah Connor, they wipe it out in nothing flat.  Then a little bit of time later, they end up wiping out a T-1000, with a very confused and suspicious Kyle in tow.

The Terminator – er, the current, older Terminator that’s on the good guy’s side – shows a lot more intellect in this film.  While he’s used as a heavy fighter like every other Terminator movie, this time he’s used heavily to push the time line forward, and for exposition.  In previous movies, the Terminators have been shown to be extremely intelligent – but, only in really short scenes, and never for something major.  Stuff like facts about Skynet, how Terminators work, etc.  This time the Terminator gets to be useful in planning, designing, building, and executing another time machine, for instance (which even further screws the timeline from the original movies.)

Oddly, my problem with the movie was the bad guy – I didn’t care for the use of John Connor as a transformed bad guy.  It didn’t make much sense, IMO, based on the rest of what Skynet had done to that point.  On the other hand, sending Terminators back into the past to kill people might not be the most strategically sound plan anyways – but, they were up against a wall when they did it the first time, so Skynet keeps playing the same card over and over.

The reason the reviews were so bad, IMO, was a combination of two things.  First, it’s slow paced compared to T2 and the other films that come after it.  Honestly, a good portion of it is paced like the original – though, without the horror feel of the original – with some T2 style action stuff tossed in here and there.

But, because they were rewriting the movie’s own history, they had to explain it all.  And, well, they did – and that slows down the movie considerable.

Secondly, it’s pacing compared to no only it’s previous movies, but other movies out there right now

Along with the surprise at the beginning (killing the original T-800 right off the bat), it also had a surprise at the end.  (Again, spoilers)  Classically, the Terminator always dies.  They set up a moment towards the end where the material the T-1000 is made of is just laying around – “all it needs is a CPU” is mentioned by the T-800.  The obvious thing is for the bad guy to end up in that stuff, and suddenly they have to fight multiple T-1000’s – a battle royale.

Instead, they end it on a completely new note – the T-800 ends up in there after being pretty much destroyed (and having destroyed the bad guy.)  Leaving the T-800 alive is an interesting new twist, and not something I had expected.  It also gives them the possibility of using the “aged” Terminator in the next films.

If there are any.  There were two more slated – but, the gross from this one is fairly low so far ($280 Million, which still is way above the development budget, but possibly below the budget when you include marketing pushes.)  I like where they’ve gone, and if they continue, it would be an interesting trilogy on it’s own.

Reboots

Here’s one beef:  the term Reboot ended up being applied to both movies, and it’s not really true for either one.  A reboot would be going back to the beginning and starting from scratch.  Both movies acknowledge, one way or another, the existence of previous movies, without actually doing away with them.  In fact, the existence of previous movies in Terminator: Genesys was key to it, and for Mad Max: Fury Road it was just stuff.

Instead, they’re just sequels.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Seeing the difference between how both of these movies deal with being sequels to older movies, and all the baggage that comes with it, is pretty cool – particularly for two movies I think end up being fairly awesome.

 

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