Top Ten Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes

mst3k cast

In the not too distant future, somewhere in time and space, a silly little comedy show developed into a influential cult hit that continues to be watched and enjoyed by audiences today, even a decade after it ended it’s run.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the brainchild of comedian Joel Hodgson (not too different from you or me), who started the series out of a public access cable station in Minnesota in the late 1980’s.  As crude as some of the earliest episodes were technically, it did introduce a novel idea that quickly caught the attention of people in the comedy world, and the show developed into a genuine underground hit.  The cheesy but endearing premise had Joel Robinson (Hodgson) stranded on a Space Station orbiting the planet, where he is forced by his masters at the evil Gizmonic Institute to watch horrible movies as part of their diabolical experiments.  In order to keep his sanity in tact, Joel makes the best of the situation and openly mocks the films as he watches them.  This has become a practice known as “riffing,” which Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) certainly popularized, if not outright invented.  And though Joel is a funny enough comic to hold his own during the riffing on the show, it was made even better with the inclusion of two robotic sidekicks who also join in on the fun.  Those puppeteered robots of course were the hilariously hyperactive Crow T. Robot and the hilariously suave Tom Servo.  After their short run on public access, the show was picked by The Comdey Channel (now known as Comedy Central) and quickly went from an underground discovery into a bona fide national hit.

And in all it’s 10 years on the air (7 seasons on Comedy Central and 3 more on the SyFy Channel thereafter), it’s amazing to see how well the show retained it’s identity and stray very little from it’s humble origins.  I think that it really has to do with the purity of it’s gimmick.  The show is really just Masterpiece Theater for the B-Movie crowd, and it brilliantly captures the insanity and camp of the movies that it spoofs.  Not only that, but the silhouetted image of Joel and the bots sitting in front of a movie screen has become the singular iconic image of the show and it’s legacy.  The show went through many different cast members over it’s decade long run, with Joel Hodgson himself leaving in the show’s fifth season.  His replacement, Mike Nelson proved equally adept and hilarious in the lead human role, and marked a welcome departure from Hodgson’s funny but dry delivery.  Writer and Puppeteer Kevin Murphy remained behind the persona of Tom Servo for most of the show’s run, definitively giving the robot his boisterous personality.  And Crow T. Robot went through the biggest change during the switch to another network, changing voice and persona when Bill Corbett took over for Trace Beaulieu; still remaining hilarious, but in a different way.  But, during all this, the show remained true to it’s character, and audiences remained pleased.  Even today, the show is still widely watched by loyal fans who continue to circulate the tapes all these years later, introducing the show to newer audiences.  I for one  consider MST3K to be one of my absolute favorite shows, and it still holds up 15 years after it’s end.  It’s not just the riffing or the skits that make the show such a classic; it’s also the sheer joy of discovering movies so hilariously bad that they need to be seen to be believed.  What follows are what I think to be 10 of the absolute best and most hilarious episodes the show had during it’s run.  I included clips from YouTube for each pick, so that you can hopefully see why I loved these particular episodes so much and get some of you who haven’t seen the show interested by showing you the best bits.



Of course a show that highlights the most notorious examples of cheap and schlocky horror would run across the likes of B-Movie king Roger Corman eventually.  And you could tell that the cast knew they had something special in store.  Just seeing the notorious filmmaker’s name in the opening credits makes Crow shout out “We’re Doomed,” right from the get go.  Though not the only Corman film to get the “MST” treatment, this is certainly the funniest.  This cheesy movie finds a modern day woman given hypnotic treatment, which sends her subconsciously back into medieval times.  And by medieval times, I mean a mist shrouded soundstage decorated with a few prop trees.  Yeah, the MST crew gets a lot of mileage out of the ridiculous cheapness of the movie.  I especially love Mike Nelson’s riff on the cylinder shaped helmet that one of the actors playing a knight wears in the movie; “Gee, I hope I don’t look stupid in this.”  But, like most of the MST3K episodes, a lot of the jokes come from making observations over how dated the movie has become.  And not just for the bad production values, but also from the stilted acting and rampant misogyny of the male characters.  Over the course of the episode, we get some of the best examples of 50’s B-Movie camp, which would become a popular go-to source of comedy for the show.  But, it’s the moment when the evil hypnotist yells out “STAY” to the female lead that the episode hits it’s high point, because of how out of left field it is.  The MST crew’s reaction is both genuine and hilarious, and makes this a classic episode as a result.



If there was ever a reliable source of cheesy and oddball movies just waiting to be riffed on the show, it would be the nation of Japan and their large collection of Kaiju monster movies.  MST3K did take on the legendary Godzilla in two back to back episodes (Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), but the show actually got more traction out of another legendary Kaiju; Gamera.  The show’s 3rd season featured no less than five Gamera titles in it’s lineup, making the monster almost like a reoccurring guest star.  And the corny yet earnest productions from Japan lent themselves perfectly to the show.  MST3K‘s riffs almost had as much influence over raising Gamera’s stock in the eyes of the worldwide audiences as the films’ original American distributor Sandy Frank did; another reliable source of material for the show.  Honestly, any of the Gamera episodes could’ve made my list, because they are all hilarious in their own way and they pretty much riff on the same things.  If there was one to choose out of the bunch, however, it would be this one, where Gamera travels to a distant planet to save two kidnapped Japanese children from the knife headed monster Guiron.  Most of the episode’s best riffs come from the reactions to the silliness on screen, particularly Guiron’s hilariously cartoonish appearance.  And speaking of appearances, there’s a lot of funny comments also made about one of the children’s resemblance to actor Richard Burton; “Don’t talk about Gamera, Martha.”  Any fan of classic monster movies will get a good laugh out of this episode and the MST crew does not disappoint.



Now here’s an example where the MST crew finds something really strange in a particular movie and exploits it to it’s fullest potential.  Teenage Strangler (or Terror in the Night as it has also been titled) is a mostly dull and dated B-Movie thriller from the 60’s that is hardly worth remembering.  That is until we are introduced to Mikey, the little brother of the movie’s protagonist.  Mikey, played by a then young actor named John Humphries (no relation, and any of my family members reading this will see it as a hilarious coincidence given my own brother’s name) is of the oddest characters that the MST crew has ever come across.  Bespectacled, effeminate, socially awkward and speaking with an odd Southern twang, this character is the movie’s most memorable element, and the guys get most of their best lines just from his presence alone.  Mostly they poke fun at how out of place Mikey is, but certainly his odd physical appearance gets touched upon as well.  The mid show sketch even has Mike Nelson and the bots doing their best impersonations of the character, which is hilarious on it’s own.  I especially cracked up at Mike Nelson switching in and out of the character in the sketch.  Overall, it’s an episode that really represents how an episode can hinge around one particular element and become a classic as a result.  This episode belongs entirely to this one odd little character, who becomes one of the show’s greatest little discoveries.



Another great element of the show was whenever they would run across a single moment in any movie that was so unexpected and bizarre that it became a running gag later on in the program.  That was the case with this cheaply made “caveman” movie from the 60’s, starring the late Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond franchise).  The film itself is a nice campy relic, and the MST crew gets a lot of mileage out of the cheapness of the film, and also with the odd-looking male lead, Arch Hall Jr., who looks more artificial naturally than the make-upped Kiel does as the caveman.  But, what ends up being the most memorable part of the episode is when the crew encounters what has to be the worst ADR in movie history.  When a private investigator in the movie examines the scene of a sighting of the caveman Eegah, he instructs the male and female lead characters to follow him.  At this moment, coming from out of nowhere is a voice saying, “Watch out for snakes,” which doesn’t match the action at all and is different from any of the characters on screen.  It’s a seriously “what the f***” moment and the MST crew responds appropriately by asking, “Who said that?”  It’s bizarre and hilarious at the same time, and still to this day is one of the funniest single moments from the show.  In the years since, whenever the crew encountered a scene in any movie that involved characters walking aimlessly through a desert, one of the them would shout out, “Watch out for snakes” in reference to this movie.  It’s a great example where one hilarious moment could take on a life of it’s own and become a defining element in the series.



Over the course of the MST3K‘s run, the crew would often devote episodes to some of the most famous auteurs of bad movies ever to have come out of Hollywood, like the aforementioned Roger Corman, the legendary Ed Wood, and special effects loving Bert I. Gordon.  But, if there was one notoriously bad director who received special recognition because of this show, it would be Coleman Francis.  MST3K managed to devote episodes to the director’s entire body of work; all three of them.  This included the military propaganda film, The Starfighters, as well as the Tor Johnson headlined monster movie, The Beast of Yucca Flats.  But, the best of the bunch would have to be Coleman Francis’ magnum opus of crapitude, Red Zone Cuba (aka Night Train to Mundo Fine).  Red Zone Cuba is a meandering mess of a movie, where three escaped convicts enlist in a top secret military mission to invade Cuba and assassinate Fidel Castro.  You heard that right.  Not to mention that the entirety of their military training takes place over a single weekend, which is also hilariously pointed out.  The MST crew is given a lot to riff here, not least of which is Coleman’s clearly present ego all over the film, as he was also the writer and star of the production.  They brutally savage Francis’ odd directing choices and his unappealing main character.  Also riffed are some of the film’s geopolitical and historical context, mocked in hilarious and insightful ways, making this one of the more high brow episodes; not that they didn’t shy away from some low brow jokes either.  Often throughout the series, the guys would mix up some really obscure and sophisticated references in amongst the cornball goofing, which has been one of the endearing things fans have grown to appreciate about the show, and Red Zone Cuba is one of those episodes that gives the audience the best of all worlds.  In addition, a long forgotten filmmaker also gets his moment in the sun again, for better or worse.



Just like how the Teenage Strangler episode capitalized on one particularly weird character in the movie, this episode also found great material related to a singular character, only in a different way.  This strange early 90’s film from Canada follows a young boy who discovers the existence of an ancient city hidden deep underground, and is soon hunted down by a zealous satanic cult looking to harness the city’s immense magical power.  The young boy, Troy, soon receives help from a pickup driving drifter with possibly the most awesome name in movie history; Zap Rowsdower.  Rowsdower of course is the subject of most of the MST crew’s jokes in the episode, particularly with regards to his distinct appearance.  Think John Ratzenberger, but with a mullet.  And more overweight.  Sure, some of the fat jokes are cheap shots, but the many hilarious ways they use them are what makes this episode such a classic.  If anything, all the jokes actually help to endear Rowsdower to both the MST crew and the audience.  His unforgettable and hilariously unkempt presence has made this a particularly popular episode to many fans and has earned the film and character something of a cult following.  The show also gets a lot of jokes out of the Canadian setting, sometimes even going as lowball as young Troy popping his head out of the pickup truck’s window and the boys adding the line, “Oh shoot, I’m in Canada.”  But all the Great White North references are top notch and stay hilarious throughout.  With them and Rowsdower, this stands as one of the show’s most consistently funny episodes.



Now we get to one of the stranger episodes in the show’s history.  MST3K always included holiday themed episodes from time to time, including the legendarily awful cult hit, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) and the Russo-Finnish import Jack Frost (1964).  But, this Mexican produced family film about jolly, old St. Nick is one of the most bizarre things that the MST crew has ever come across.  Featuring trippy uses of color and sets, way out-of-date racial stereotypes, and a nonsensical story, there was plenty of material here to riff on.  Not to mention, it’s also a movie where Santa battles the Devil.  The jokes come fast and furious in this episode, but often times the funniest moments just come from Mike and the bots purely reacting to all the bizarre things going on.  One particularly hilarious moment comes when Santa winds up his creepy toy reindeer that drive his sleigh and they begin to laugh in an almost maniacally unsettling way.  This only leads to the boys laughing madly along with them and Mike Nelson pleading to the movie, “What’s happening?”  A lot of humor does touch upon holiday traditions as well and they lead to some of the episode’s best jokes.  When Santa receives his letters from children all over the world in one scene, the MST crew adds the line “There’s a dollar in every one.  My chain letter scam worked.”  I also love the line after Santa reads a letter from a child asking for a new baby brother; “Ho Ho. Can do.”  This episode stands as both a great holiday special, as well as a truly trippy and unique experience in it’s own right, and stands as one of the overall best and funniest experiences on the show.



This episode is a monumental one for the series.  It marked creator Joel Hodgson’s departure from the show and the passing of the torch over to Mike Nelson as the series lead.  The changeover is handled perfectly, with Joel getting sent home by the evil Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) by mistake and Mike, being in the wrong place at the right time as Gizmonic Institute’s new temp, is unwillingly sent up as his replacement.  It’s a hilarious culmination of Joel’s arc on the show, and thankfully he’s sent off with a strong episode.  The subject this time was a bad 70’s cop movie starring Joe Don Baker called Mitchell.  The episode is a hilarious dissection of cop movie cliches and it finds plenty of material in the slovenly appearance of it’s main star.  Joe Don Baker isn’t the most handsome leading men, and his character is unfortunately very unappealing as well, making it so easy for the MST crew to poke fun at him here.  Drunk and overweight jokes are plentiful throughout, with the addition of lyrics to the Mitchell musical theme being an especially funny highlight; “Mitchell; heart pounding. Mitchell; veins clogging.”  But probably the episode’s high point is the many riffs made during the film’s awkward sex scene between Mitchell and his girlfriend, played by Linda Evans.  Not only are the riffs funny, but so are their reactions; “Baby Oil!?!? AHHHHHH!!!!”  There are so many jokes that hit their marks throughout the episode and it has since become one of the most beloved by fans, including yours truly.  It also stands as one of their best for making the show transition from one era to the next in such a classic and suitable way.  In addition, it also showed the incredible evolution of a show as it went from a cheesy public access program to a fully accepted comedy standard that could live on even when some of it’s principal cast were no longer a part of it.



This is a prime example of the late 80’s cheese that the MST crew loved to chew into.  This cheap looking, oddly cast, and just plain corny sci-fi thriller has a lot of unintentionally hilarious bits that Mike and the bots perfectly lampoon.  Whether it be actor Cameron Mitchell’s resemblance to Santa Claus, or the clearly older than she’s trying to portray female lead, or the over the top villainous performance by actor John Phillip Law, this episode has plenty to laugh at.  But, what puts this episode so high on my list is the inclusion of what is probably the best running gag in the show’s history.  Throughout the movie, Mike and the bots throw out different nicknames for the movie’s main hero Dave Ryder (played by B-movie idol Reb Brown), as if that name wasn’t already corny enough.  And boy does this running gag enhance the episode greatly.  It’s almost like the three cast members are trying to outdo each other throughout the entire episode, trying to find an even sillier name for the hero than the last.  Some names are hilariously absurd like Slab Bulkhead, Splint Chesthair, Bolt van der Huge, Fist Rockbone, Rip Steakface, Gristle McThornbody, Buff Hardback, and probably my personal favorite, Big McLargehuge.  This gag runs throughout the entire show and never gets old, which is quite the accomplishment, even given the high standard these guys have set.  Easily the best episode during the program’s final run on the SyFy Channel, this episode proved that the show wasn’t just getting more polished with age; it was also getting funnier.  Overall, if there’s ever a perfect episode to introduce a novice to the experience of watching MST3K, this would be it.  Space Mutiny is one of the most consistently funniest episodes in the show’s history and an episode so clearly defined by one brilliant bit of riffing.



Of course the top spot has to go to the episode that officially put MST3K on the cultural map.  Though many episodes have become popular with fans young and old, none have had the impact outside of the show that this one has.  The MST production team had always dug deep into film vaults all over the country looking for movies that were both hilariously bad and bizarre, as well as obscure.  Amazingly, they came across this almost forgotten horror movie made by and starring a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas named Hal Warren.  The crew realized they had a gem right away and the episode perfectly exploits all of the weirdness and hack film-making on display.  It’s a consistently hilarious episode, with Joel and the bots hitting bulls eyes all the way through.  But, what I’m sure the guys didn’t expect was the life that this movie would take on beyond the original airing of the episode.  Manos has since developed a cult following and has drawn the attention of both film historians and aficionados who are just flat out fascinated by this odd little enigma of a movie.  Entertainment Weekly even devoted a whole article to the film, asking whether it has earned the title of “Worst Movie Ever Made.”  That’s quite the legacy left by a little movie that wouldn’t have seen the light of day had it not been for the MST crew.  Even separated from all this, the episode is still a classic, delivering everything that makes a MST3K episode special.  The best gags especially revolve around the creepy and insane housekeeper in the movie; Torgo.  The character even had a reoccurring role in the mid-show sketches, with Mike Nelson doing a hilarious imitation.  Everything about this episode, from the jokes to the peculiarity of the experience, to the lasting legacy it left behind easily makes this the greatest episode in the show’s history.  Now just try to get that Torgo musical theme out of your head after you’ve heard it.  It’s not easy.

So, there you have it; my top ten picks for the best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Though I only had room for 10, there are still many more that are equally worth watching out of the 189 episodes they made over ten years.  Some I would recommend are the two Master Ninja movies, The Unearthly, Cave DwellersThe Day the Earth Froze, Warrior of the Lost World, Zombie Nightmare, The Magic Sword, Deathstalker and the Warriors of Hell, Time Chasers, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Warewolf, Hobgoblins, Quest of the Delta Knights, Merlin’s Magical Shop of Wonders, and Soultaker.  You can find many of these available on DVD as well as on demand and streaming on Netflix.  Some kind souls have even put up the full episodes on YouTube for anyone to enjoy, keeping the tradition alive of circulating the tapes to new audiences from back in the VHS days of the original show.

Even though the original cast has put the show behind them and crash landed the Satellite of Love for good, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped doing what they love either.  Joel Hodgson recently reunited some of his old MST3K cast mates like Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, J. Elvis Weinstein, and “TV’s Frank” Frank Conniff back together again to create Cinematic Titanic, a spinoff series which retains the same irreverent humor and silhouetted style of the show, but applies it to even more obscure and ridiculously gory films that they never were able to do before; even bringing the experience to live venues for performances.  And the SyFy Channel cast of Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy created their own spin-off website called Rifftrax, which publishes downloadable commentary tracks to recently released movies featuring the famous riffers, showing that even mainstream Hollywood hits aren’t safe from their particular brand of humor.  Indeed, the legacy of MST3K lives on with these spin-offs and looks to continue for many years to come.  Probably the show’s greatest legacy is the fact that it helped many people gain an appreciation for B-Movie Hollywood that they normally wouldn’t have had.  Sure, the guys make fun of these movies, but the sheer entertainment value of these cheesy, horrible films also comes through as well in each episode.  Honestly, I would rather watch some of the movies from the show again before I watch any new Michael Bay-style garbage that Hollywood keeps putting out.  And it’s that valuing of “good” bad movies that I’ll always cherish this show for.  You are missed Mystery Science Theater 3000, but never forgotten, and I will continue to keep your best episodes fresh in mind.  Now to end this top ten list, I would also like to share with you some of the best shorts ever featured on the show, all for your amusement.  Until next time, push the button Frank.

Ant-Man – Review


The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become such an overwhelming success that it has now made the Marvel brand one of the most powerful names in entertainment.  Marvel Comics had a rough history during the 80’s and 90’s; never seeming to get much traction with movie adaptations of their properties and watching their rival DC Comics effortlessly making millions off of blockbuster hits like Superman (1978) and Batman (1989).  Not only that, but when the rise of comic book movies in the 90’s did take hold, Marvel had to sell off the cinematic rights to their characters to many different studios, helping them to at least gain exposure but also loosing creative control over their characters on the big screen as well.  That all changed with the acquisition of Marvel by Disney and the subsequent formation of Marvel Studios.  Now, Marvel had a power base to take back their many different characters and make movies their own way.  The results have completely reversed Marvel’s fortunes and now they are the envy of Hollywood.  But, what is distinctly special about the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe is that not only does it highlight many of their marquee characters (Iron Man, Captain America,The Hulk) but it has also given the spotlight to characters that normally would’ve been ignored.  This was probably best illustrated by the release of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), where Marvel took one of their more obscure titles made it into a hit film; some would say, like myself, that it was their crowning achievement, so far.  But, there are other characters that are also getting the spotlight today because of the ever expanding reach of the MCU, and that includes one unlikely Marvel all-star; Ant-Man.

Ant-Man has had one of the more interesting development cycles in recent years.  Planned long before the beginning of Marvel’s big launch of it’s universe, Ant-Man was a dream project for acclaimed British comedy writer/director Edgar Wright.  Wright has always been a huge fan and champion of the pint sized hero, and he spent years crafting the screenplay with his frequent collaborator and fellow filmmaker Joe Cornish.  But, for years, the project often took a back seat as Marvel had yet to consolidate it’s properties back into their own studio.  After the successful Phase 1 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe completed with the release of the mega-hit The Avengers (2012), Phase 2 was put into action and with it, the announcement that Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man would become a reality.  Wright spent the next few years putting together the production of his long in-development script and that included finalizing the visual representation of Ant-Man’s powers as well as casting the right actors for the roles.  Everything looked like it would help lead to yet another successful launch of a somewhat obscure Marvel superhero, but around two years ago the unimaginable happened.  News spread that Edgar Wright was leaving the project altogether, and that another director was being hired on to complete the film.  Apparently, creative differences between Wright and Marvel was to blame, as the director refused to compromise his vision to fit within Marvel’s increasingly stringent playbook regarding it’s cinematic universe.  This eventually led to speculation that the movie was in trouble, and could end up being Marvel’s first failure as an independent film company.  But, now that the movie has finally made it to theaters, audiences can now decide for themselves, and thankfully, Ant-Man is not the realization of our worst fears, nor is it anything more than we expected.

Ant-Man’s screenplay and story is still credited to Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, but it was also given a quick rewrite by the film’s star Paul Rudd and his frequent collaborator Adam McKay.  While much of the film does feel disjointed because of the two different creative teams working on it, it more or less retains Wright and Cornish’s original story outline.  The plot involves a master thief named Scott Lang (Rudd) who takes a job where he is hired to break into a high tech vault owned by an eccentric billionaire.  Once he’s broken in, he finds no cash or riches, but instead an odd looking suit with a matching helmet.  Curious to learn why this suit was in the vault to begin with, Lang tries it on and soon learns that the suit has the power to shrink it’s wearer down to the size of an insect.  After Lang’s trial by fire with the outfit, he soon meets the previous owner, renowned scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).  Pym apparently wanted Lang to find the suit because he needed someone young and bold like him to break into his old facilities and steal something with the same powers.  That something is a prototype suit called the Yellowjacket, which has been developed as a weapon of war by Pym’s former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).  Lang agrees to help Pym and is trained by the old man and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) in order to harness all the different capabilities that the suit has.  In time, he learns that the suit enables him not only to shrink, but also allows him to be ten times stronger because of the increased density of his atoms.  He also is given the ability to speak with ants through a special frequency in his helmet’s antennas and control the ants to do his bidding as a result.  With his powers refined, Lang and Pym put the plan into action and try to stop Cross from selling the Yellowjacket to the wrong people, or using the suit’s mighty powers for his own sinister reasons.

The best that I can say about this finished film of Ant-Man after all the behind the scenes mayhem that preceded it is that it doesn’t come off as a disaster.  It’s a very capably made action film with a lot of funny humorous moments and plenty of entertainment value.  As another entry in the growing Marvel universe, it’s also very serviceable.  There are plenty of references to other things going on in the larger Marvel world, including some very welcome cameos from established characters in the universe that helps to tie everything together.  The worst thing that I can say about Ant-Man however is that it’s nothing special either.  Marvel has unfortunately fallen victim to it’s own success in this regard, because at this point, after several groundbreaking and original films in their canon, having a film that is only par for the course is not good enough anymore.  Ant-Man is the first movie from Marvel in recent years that just feels ordinary.  I wasn’t blown away by anything in this movie; it just rehashes things from other super hero movies that I’ve already seen done a million times before: the reformed criminal trying to live a better life for the sake of his daughter, the mentor who’s trying to right the wrongs of his past, the corporate hot shot who’s clearly the bad guy, the training montage, etc.  It’s almost like you can just sense the checklist that the Marvel corporate heads had laid out for this movie and each one getting checked off with every scene.  In the end, that seems to be what led to Edgar Wrights departure from this project.  This Ant-Man is the most committee driven Marvel movie to date, and that’s not a good thing for a company that has continually been leading the way with regards to  originality in the film-making community these last couple years.

My sense overall is that I might have liked this movie better had Edgar Wright been allowed to see his vision through to the end.  If you’ve seen any of Wright’s other movies, like his Cornetto trilogy (which I reviewed in detail here) or even his oddball comic adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), you’ll know that he’s a director with a distinct visual style.  Applying that said style to the character of Ant-Man would have made this a truly unique experience unlike anything else seen from Marvel.  But, sadly Marvel’s master plan won out and Wright proved to be too original a visionary for what they had in mind.  Unfortunately, with Wright’s departure, the reigns of the production were given over to director Peyton Reed.  Reed is a capable director, but he also lacks a distinctive trademark style to his name.  If you look at his filmography (2008’s Yes Man, 2006’s The Break-Up, and 2000’s Bring it On), there’s no real definition to his work.  He’s just a director for hire rather than a visual artist.  Now, that’s perfectly fine for someone who’s worked in the rom-com field where all you need is someone with basic film-making talent, but in the Marvel cinematic universe, it’s just not enough.  Ant-Man contains no distinct look that helps to separate it from other super hero movies.  The cinematography is very flat and it makes this movie feel no more different than a TV pilot at times, especially in the quieter dialogue scenes.  Peyton Reed thankfully doesn’t spoil the experience with his directing, but he also doesn’t help it to soar either.  It’s just good enough, which sadly is no longer good enough for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  What has been the driving force of Marvel’s success is that each movie can stand on it’s own free from the bonds of the MCU’s over-arching plot, especially when it comes to each franchise’s own style.  Captain America sets itself apart with it’s gritty realism while Thor sets itself apart by embracing it’s operatic fantasy elements.  And Guardians of the Galaxy is just a whole other animal altogether.  By comparison, the plainness of Ant-Man sadly just makes it feel smaller in comparison.

But, as I said before in this review, Ant-Man is also far from being a disaster.  What ultimately saves this movie in the end is the performances by the more than capable cast.  Paul Rudd in particular works out perfectly as the title character.  He’s charming and funny, but still manages to carry the weight of emotions that the character must also express in this story-line.  I like the fact that Rudd is trying to make the character of Scott Lang different from all the other heroes in the Marvel universe.  He’s a wise-cracker, but not obnoxious, and he brings out the darker aspects of the character without overdoing it.  He runs a fine middle ground between all the other personalities of the Marvel heroes we’ve seen to date; he’s not as irreverent and in-your-face as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, nor as stoic as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.  The casting of Rudd was one of Edgar Wright’s biggest contributions to the finished movie, and I’m happy to say that he got the right man, and that he’s going to continue to play a key role in the continuing Marvel Universe.  The rest of the cast also contributes to the overall effectiveness of the movie.  Michael Douglas especially shines as Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man.  Pym is probably one of Marvel’s more notorious main characters, with a very troubled history, and Douglas does a perfect job of conveying that long history of the character through his tortured and heartfelt performance.  Much of the movie’s best moments belong to him, especially when he berates Scott Lang whenever he screws up.  Corey Stoll also should be commended for taking a villainous character who could have come off as flat and boring and make him genuinely terrifying with his unhinged performance.   Actor Michael Pena is also fun to watch here as one of Scott Lang’s safe-cracking associates, with his long-winded ramblings being one of the movie’s most hilarious highlights.  Really, there are no weak points at all in this varied cast.  Everyone came to work and there’s not a single false note among any of them, which helps to make this movie far more entertaining that it would have been otherwise.

Despite the lackluster visual aesthetic that the overall movie has, I will say that the action scenes in the film are indeed very well staged.  The movie does an especially good job of visualizing the experience of Ant-Man shrinking down to his small size.  The special effects in this movie are top notch, and the sense of scale given to these moments are well done.  The best moments belong to the clever visual ways that Ant-Man fights against his enemies, whether it’s jumping onto a gun as it fires and then growing back to normal size to lay the final knockout punch to the man who fired at him, or whether it’s exchanging blows inside a closed briefcase with a shrunken Yellowjacket.  The final confrontation between the hero and the villain is especially well done, with the two adversaries fighting on the rails of a toy train set.  The movie makes this setting look larger than life and grandiose from the shrunken point of view of it’s characters and brilliantly cuts back to the POV of a normal sized person, showing the hilariously small impact that these two are actually making in their fight.  There are certainly holdovers from Edgar Wright’s vision of the movie in these action scenes, and I’m happy to see the movie retain them.  It almost makes up for the blandness of every other scene surrounding them.  At the very least, it makes the Ant-Man powers easy to convey to a larger audience and gives him the awesome superhero moments that he deserves.

So, did Marvel do right by the character in the end with their shakeup in the director’s seat.  While I don’t believe that Peyton Reed failed the character in the end, I still feel that something was lost in the departure of Edgar Wright from the project.  His original style would have certainly made this movie stand out visually from all the rest of the Marvel movies, instead of just following the lead that all the other ones have set.  But, this movie could also have been a lot worse, and I’ll credit director Reed for seeing this project through to completion.  There’s no doubt that this movie will ride the coattails of the successful movies that have become before it, and it’s not undeserving of that success either.  I’m certainly happy that they cast the right guy as Ant-Man, and that the visual representation of his powers were well done overall.  I just hope that the eventual continuation of the Ant-Man franchise will also allow for more creative freedom in the subsequent sequels.  Maybe they can even convince Edgar Wright to return and do an Ant-Man sequel on his terms, now that the pressure of establishing a new character is out of the way.  Overall, this is a passable, but not quite revolutionary addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It certainly didn’t make me angry about the direction it took like Iron Man 3 (2013) did, but at the same time it did give me a transcendent experience like Guardians of the Galaxy either.  Marvel needs to realize that the bar has been set extremely high now, and that they need to make every movie from here out both unique and entertaining.  Retreading old ground and putting out the minimum requirement is only going to reduce the intended impact from here out.  So, in the case of Ant-Man’s first cinematic outing, it’s still a rousing and entertaining time at the movies for the most part, but compared to his Marvel brethren, Ant-Man’s still just a small fish in the big pond of Marvel’s own making.

Rating: 7.5/10

Collecting Criterion – The Wages of Fear (1953)

wages of fear

The Criterion Collection continues to be a great resource for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of worldwide cinema.  Gathering classic films from around the world, from every genre and every era, Criterion has helped to show modern audiences that there has always been a vibrant film-making culture outside of Hollywood and that it is just as influential on the movie-makers of today, if not more so.  A particularly huge chunk of Criterion’s catalog is devoted to the many film-making movements that arose in Europe during the post-war years.  Many of these films are fascinating because each of them perfectly represent the changing cultural landscapes of their selective countries as they began to rebuild and define themselves in the later half of the twentieth century.  We see the rise of Neo-realism emerge out of post-war Italy thanks to films like Bicycle Thieves (1948, Spine #374) by Vittorio de Sica, the emergence of the French New Wave with Breathless (1960, #408) and The 400 Blows (1959, #5) by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut respectively, as well as the rise of New Swedish CInema with Ingmar Bergman and his classic The Seventh Seal (1957, #11).  But, not all of the movements of this period represented a complete break from Hollywood for most European filmmakers.  Some of them found inspiration in the films being made across the pond and tried to use many of the same techniques and apply them to stories that hit closer to home.  And this was especially the case with filmmakers who intended to use the medium of film to make more of a political statement.

Political films of this time period sought to break down many of the traditional conventions of old-fashioned cinema by seeking to achieve a grittier sense of realism in their movies.  And many European filmmakers saw some of this style that they wanted to replicate arise out of Hollywood in the form of film noir.  Noir was a huge departure from the lavish, colorful Hollywood productions that many European intellectuals dismissed as too decadent and bourgeois for their tastes.  As a result, many New Wave and Neo-realist filmmakers idolized the noir anti-hero, because he represented a symbol of defiance in a world gone mad.  One particular politically minded filmmaker of this period was French director Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Clouzot was heavily influenced by Hollywood thrillers of the pre-war and post-war periods, and his career as a filmmaker also left a impact on the genre as well.  He was often called the French Alfred Hitchcock because of his mastery of suspense and in fact, Hitchcock actually viewed Clouzot as a rival at the time.  The two directors at one point fought over the rights to the murder thriller Diabolique (1955, #35) which Clouzot eventually won out, and it prompted Hitchcock to make his own dark murder thriller, Psycho (1960), in response.  But, as much as Clouzot left a mark on the thriller genre in worldwide cinema, he was also a filmmaker unafraid of tackling politically charged issues in his stories.  That was particularly the case with what many regard to be his masterpiece, and a film that Criterion has lovingly preserved for modern audiences, 1953’s The Wages of Fear (#36)

The Wages of Fear is a suspense thriller unlike any other, putting desperate men into a life-threatening situation against the elements and against themselves.  The film follows the lives of a group of down and out social rejects who take petty jobs in a run down South American village just to get by.  Mario (Yves Montand), a con artist, learns of a job opportunity being given out by an American owned oil company and quickly seeks out the help of another con man, Jo (Charles Vanel) who has contact with the American contractor (William Tubbs) who’s hiring the men.  Both Mario and Jo are chosen to drive a truckload full of heavily unstable nitroglycerin to a drilling site high up in the mountains to help stop an out of control oil rig fire there.  To make matters worse, the drivers are given none of the safeguards necessary to make the cargo safer to transport, given the urgency of it’s need.  With their deadly cargo, the truck drivers must take extra precaution as they trek their way over the mountains, which includes obstacles like numerous rock slides, precipitous cliff-side roads, and the occasional oil slick from a ruptured pipeline.  Even a minor speed-bumb could prove deadly to these men if it causes the nitro to explode unexpectedly.  Not only that, but they must work under a deadline in order to be paid the full amount they were promised and contend with another truckload driven by another crew; the German Bimba (Peter van Eyck) and the Italian Luigi (Folco Lulli).  The remainder of the story follows the different trials that these drivers face while on the road, each becoming more perilous and heart-pounding than the next.

Wages of Fear is a masterclass in suspense film-making and should be watched by anyone who loves heart-pounding action.  What makes it particularly spectacular is the fact that Henri-Georges Clouzot utilized almost no trick photography during the making of this film.  All of the most perilous moments in this movie, whether it be a huge explosion to clear a rock slide off a road, or a truck hanging perilously off of a cliff-side on a rickety, old platform, was done entirely on location.  You have to wonder if Clouzot might have been a little crazy to put his actors in such perilous situations for the sake of each shot, but in the end, it does heighten the sense of realism that the movie has.  They’re just lucky that Clouzot didn’t put real nitroglycerin in those trucks.  Even still, the realism really heightens the cinematic experience that you’ll get from this movie.  There are many moments that’ll make you wonder how they filmed that, to which the answer will probably be very, very dangerously.  The realism also helps to underline the human condition that these men are put through, which underlines the political subtext as well.  Some have claimed that the movie was anti-American, which I don’t really believe is the case, because nothing in the movie casts a negative light on American culture or government.  Instead the movie is more of an accusation against the dehumanizing and sometimes unlawful practices of oil companies in developing nations.  But to some, attacking oil interests was equivalent to an attack on the U.S., so the film was cut heavily on it’s American release.  Looking at the film today, the cuts seem unnecessary and unfair, and Criterion has thankfully restored the movie to it’s appropriate length.

A large reason why the film still resonates beyond it’s technical achievements is also because of the strength of the cast.  Yves Montand and Charles Vanel carry the film significantly, and much of the films suspense is portrayed perfectly on their faces.  You really get a sense of the toll that this perilous mission is taking on the men, as they begin to break down both mentally and physically.  There’s an especially gruesome moment late in the movie when Yves’s Mario must decide whether or not to stop the forward progress of his truck through a waist deep pool of spilled oil in order to pull an impaired Jo out of harms way, or keep plowing through in order to avoid getting the truck stuck.  The anguish on Yves face during this moment of decision is heartbreaking, especially when juxtaposed with the squeals of pain from Jo as the multi-ton truck crushes his leg.  This scene is one of the most notorious in the movie and the chemistry between the two actors really sells the horrifying impact of the moment.  There’s also a lot to say about Clouzot’s ability to sustain the tension in this movie.  In all the film’s 2 1/2 hour running time, not once do you feel the movie drag.  Every moment helps to ramp up the tension as the men head further away from the calm of civilization and deeper into an environment where even one bump in the road could mean immediate destruction.  Many filmmakers have since been influenced by Clouzot’s unbelievable work in Wages of Fear, including Oscar-winning director William Friedkin, who himself tried to duplicate Clouzot’s masterwork with his very ambitious but flawed remake, Sorcerer (1977), starring Roy Scheider.  Despite Friedkin’s best, and loving intentions, there is no comparison to the original.  It was a product of a time when filmmakers pushed themselves to the edge only because it was the best way to capture reality, and not just because it would show off their talents as a filmmaker.

The Criterion edition of The Wages of Fear once again represents their strong commitment to preserving the classics of yesteryear and bringing them back to their former glory.  While Wages of Fear is limited visually by the standards of the time that it was made, it has nevertheless been preserved well enough over the years in French film vaults, given it’s highly regarded status.  Criterion helped to give the movie a fresh new transfer in high definition for this blu-ray release and the hard work shows.  The black and white cinematography is beautifully realized in high definition, bringing out the stark contrasts between light and dark, which defines many of the film’s most tension filled moments.  The high-def transfer also brings out the texture detail beautifully, showing every jagged rock and piece of rubble on that mountain pass as well every bead of sweat that runs down the faces of the actors.  Clouzot wanted his film to reflect reality as best as it could and the on-location photography really shines through in this new transfer.  And like I said before, this is the longer uncut version, and all the deleted material has likewise been seamlessly reincorporated back into the movie.  The soundtrack, which was also limited by the technology of the time, has also been given a cleaned up transfer in this new edition.  The Criterion blu-ray features an uncompressed monaural soundtrack free of pops and hisses and sounds very natural for a film of it’s age.   For a foreign language black and white film made over 60 years ago, this is as good as you would expect from the people at Criterion.

The extra features on this set aren’t quite as extensive as some of Criterion’s other marquee titles, but what is here is still appreciated.  There’s no commentary track, but we are given a few interesting documentaries regarding the film and the people who made it.  Probably the most substantial feature is a 2004 documentary called Henri Georges Clouzot: An Enlightened Tyrant, which details the life and career of the director.  The feature is a fascinating look at a complex man who was a great artistic mind, but also someone who was known to be very hard to work with.  There is also a really fascinating video essay called Censored, which details the different cuts made to the movie upon it’s American release.  It shows the cuts themselves as well as details as to the specific reasons for why they were cut, like the already mentioned perception of anti-Americanism as well as some suggestions of homosexuality between the different characters.   There are also interesting interviews with cast and crew included on this set, including a new one with Clouzot’s assistant director on Wages of Fear, Michel Romanoff, where he details the tumultuous filming on location in southern France.  There’s also an interview with Clouzot biographer Marc Godin as well as an archive interview from 1988 with Yves Montand (who died in 1991), and how he viewed his experience making the film.  Overall, a very nice collection of extras that add substance to this set and compliment the movie perfectly.

The Wages of Fear was a groundbreaking movie in many ways and it has only gained more notoriety ever since it’s original release.  Even when it first premiered back in 1953 it was seen as something special.  It holds a special distinction of having won both the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first movie to ever do that.  Even many years later, it’s influence is still being felt in gritty suspense thrillers from all over the world.  Clouzot has rightly earned a reputation as one of France’s greatest filmmakers, although his gritty realist style fell out of fashion once his native country adopted the New Wave.  But, even still, his work is right at home in any cinephile’s collection, and no more so than with The Wages of Fear.  It’s cinematic suspense at the highest degree and much of it’s film-making wonder is still impressive to behold.  Clouzot’s career was unfortunately brief, due to health complications that plagued him for his entire life, but with this and Diabolique, he thankfully won enough high praise to be considered a peer among the cinematic titans of his day.  He didn’t earn the title of the French Alfred Hitchcock for nothing.  The Wages of Fear is a movie that I recommend that every one should check out, especially if you’re looking for a good title to add to your Criterion collection at home.  It once again shows how good Criterion is at keeping the works of the great cinematic masters of the past alive and relevant for modern audiences.

wages of fear bluray

Terminator: Genisys – Review

terminator genisys

The Fourth of July weekend has commonly been a strong one for summer movies.  Amid all the barbecuing and the fireworks, a good helping of American moviegoers also fit in a trip to the cineplex as well, and Hollywood usually reserves that time slot for some of their biggest attractions.  While the summer season usually sees successful releases for films of all kinds of genres, it’s usually the the action flick that rules the Fourth of July weekend.  Whether or not that’s a reflection of the holiday spirit or the kind of “rah-rah”, guns-blazing patriotism that comes along with the celebrations is uncertain, but it’s definitely the common pattern of the holiday weekend at the movies.  In the past, we’ve seen this time frame dominated by the likes of Transformers (2007), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Men in Black (1997), and the appropriately titled Independence Day (1996).  And given that movie studios spread out their releases over a long weekend frame during the holiday, this is also a time of year where new movies are given a longer head start, making it to theaters on a Wednesday as opposed to the traditional Friday.  All this to show that the Fourth of July is a marquee date on the calendar for Hollywood.  This year, we are seeing a very strong summer season with movies like Avengers: Age of UltronInside Out, and Jurassic World all holding very strong beyond their opening weekends.  Competition in this field is tough, which is why Paramount is hoping their big Fourth of July release can live up to the legacy that this weekend usually holds.  And what better way to celebrate the founding of America than an action flick sequel starring an Austrian born former state governor.

Terminator: Genisys is the fifth entry in the long running Terminator franchise.  Though the Terminator series started off strong in the 80’s with the now iconic original film, and was made even more legendary by it’s amazing sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992), it has since struggled to find it’s direction with all the subsequent titles released thereafter.  Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was a largely forgettable cash-in, and Terminator Salvation (2009) took a clever and interesting concept and ruined it with a poor execution.  Terminator: Genisys marks the latest attempt to revitalize the series and update it for the times we now live in.  The movie has one thing in it’s favor; it marks the return of franchise star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s slipping back into the familiar territory of action flicks now that his years in politics are over.  It certainly is one of the movie’s best selling points, because beyond that, this film is a hard sell.  Relying heavily on it’s brand name and the star power of the Governator, Terminator: Genisys unfortunately tries way too hard to squeeze out any last ounce of substance in this franchise.  The same can be said about the last couple Terminator movies as well, but it feels much more apparent this time around given the way that the story goes.  Here, instead of moving the plot forward in time, we are taken back to the beginning and are shown the world of Terminator thrown into disarray.  Terminator: Genisys is a very complicated movie, perhaps more so than any other in the franchise, and more than anything, it’s largely due to the direction they chose to take with this new entry.

The story begins in the now not too distant future of 2027 (back in the 1984 original, this would have been seen as a far off future date).  The world is a wasteland now ruled by a race of robots controlled by the omnipresent artificial intelligence system known as Skynet.  Only a small band of human resistance remains to take down the cybernetic overlords, and they are rallied together by their leader John Connor (Jason Clarke).  Upon entering a key Skynet facility, they uncover the robot army’s secret weapon, a time machine.  They learn that one of the robots, a Terminator, has already gone through the machine and was sent back to the past, setting up the events of the first movie.  John Connor makes plans to use Skynet’s own weapon against it, and send one of his own men into the past to stop the Terminator from killing his mom, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before he is born.  Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers for the job and is sent back to the past, only to find that things are not what John Connor said they would be.  Instead of saving a helpless and unaware Sarah, she ends up saving him with the help of her own guardian Terminator whom she affectionately refers to as Pops (Schwarzenegger).  Kyle soon learns that the timeline that he’s from has been altered and that Skynet has begun a whole new strategy to ensure it’s survival; a Trojan horse operating system known as Genisys.  In order to stop Genisys from going online, Sarah and Kyle travel into the future year of 2017 in order to prevent it’s launch, and they soon learn that Skynet has sent an unexpected guardian to the past as well to prevent them foiling it’s plan; John Connor, modified into a terminator.

This is a plot twist that could have been a shocker, had the studio not spoiled it in the trailers.  But, it’s only one of the many twists and turns that this movie takes throughout the course of it’s running time, and that’s largely the biggest problem with the movie.  This is a very plot heavy film, where many scenes are devoted to just explaining everything.  But, by doing this, the movie removes any suspense that’s needed to be built up.  It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience’s ability to comprehend the finer details of the story, so it has everything spoon fed to us.  Pretty much the entirety of the movie’s plot is as follows: action scene followed by exposition followed by another action scene followed by even more exposition; explosions and talking, repeat until the end credits.  That’s about it.  There’s nothing remarkable about the story here; it’s just more of the same from beginning to end, which is a far cry from where the series started.  The 1984 original was a masterwork of suspense that didn’t need to detail everything about the universe that these characters exist in; in the end it was just a thrilling cat and mouse chase that was elevated by fantastic characterizations.  Terminator 2 went into a more action oriented mode of storytelling, but the action scenes were so big and creative, that it didn’t matter how complicated the plot was.  Terminator: Genisys is more or less just another routine action film, and one that relies heavily on your knowledge of the other movies in the series.  As a result, it lacks identity, which is something that has characterized all the Terminator movies made without it’s original creator, James Cameron.  The only defining thing about this movie is it’s attempts to update the technological reality of the Terminator world based on what we know today.  There’s a statement made in here about the over reliance with integrated media in our lives, but it gets lost pretty easily in this convoluted plot.  Basically Skynet has become an evil version of the Cloud system here.

There’s also a significant lack of vision in this movie.  Visually, the movie is as basic and dull as an action movie can get.  There’s no mood established, no trick photography; really nothing at all that we haven’t seen before in about a hundred other action movies.  And, I hate to keep bringing up the other films in the franchise, but it’s a comparison that has to be made, because vision is one of the things that once defined the franchise back in the day.  Before James Cameron brought the sinking of the Titanic to cinematic life and took us to the far off world of Pandora, his name was undeniably linked to the Terminator series.  He redefined the sci-fi genre with 1984’s The Terminator with groundbreaking special effects and a unique take on the concept of time-travel; something that even astrophysics scholars have written papers on in response.  The sequel took all of Cameron’s concepts and made them even more epic, establishing this franchise as not only a masterful work of science fiction, but one of the most defining ones of all time.  Terminator 2 also broke new ground in the visual effects field, pioneering a lot of new technologies in CGI, which brought the amazing liquid metal T-1000 to life.  Since then, Terminator has stopped being the leader of the pack and has just gone through the paces instead, particularly in the visual department.  Genisys is directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), who takes a workmanlike approach to the movie that’s not bad, but not anything spectacular either.  He’s basically just standing on the shoulders of what’s been done before.  And what’s particularly troubling about the safe approach here is how unremarkable the visual effects are now.  Really, the original Cameron-directed classics hold up much better as showcases for CGI than this more modern film does, because Cameron knew how to uses his effects for maximum impact.  Here, it’s just an overload of CGI that altogether looks the same from scene to scene.

But, not everything in the movie is a disaster.  There is one saving grace in the film and that’s the presence of Arnold.  Let’s face it, these movies would not exist without Mr. Schwarzenegger’s star power and remarkably he’s still able to leave a much welcomed impression in this series. It’s not a remarkable performance per say, but Arnold does provide much needed levity in this movie with some hilariously delivered one-liners throughout.  And it shouldn’t be surprising how comfortable he feels in this role either.  It’s the part that made him a star, and he slips back into it here comfortably like an old pair of pants.  Honestly, if the whole movie had just followed his lead, it would have been much more enjoyable to watch, but sadly he’s the one bright spot in a muddled mess.  Even still, he’s a welcome element that helps improve the film significantly.  I was smiling every time he was on screen, partly because of the nostalgia factor but also because Schwarzenegger still has unmatched charisma as a action movie star.  If you take anything away from this movie, it will be any moment that he’s in.  There’s a nice running gag throughout the film with Arnold’s Terminator making attempts to blend in, which results in an awkward forced smile (best seen when he’s getting his mugshot taken).  There’s also another good moment when he and Kyle Reese get into a friendly competition as they try to outpace each other while loading their weapons.  It’s little things like this that help make Arnold’s presence here worthwhile and he easily becomes the beating heart of this movie as a whole.

Sadly the remainder of the cast is a lot less consistent.  Emilia Clarke is feisty enough as Sarah Connor, but her performance retains none of the resonance that she shows weekly in her role as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones.  Her Sarah Connor is much more of a passive force this time around in the story, sidelined to basically reacting to the events rather than taking matters into her own hands, which is what Linda Hamilton’s version of the character did so well before.  But I think that it’s less to do with how hard she performs and more so to do with the limitations put on her character in the script.  Clarke does the best with what she’s given and thankfully she does a passable job embodying the now iconic heroine.  (Interesting side note, Emilia Clarke now shares the role with one of her Thrones co-stars, Lena Headey, who played Sarah on TV in the Sarah Connor Chronicles series).  The weakest cast members, however, unfortunately would be the two Australian stars, Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney.  Courtney especially has been plagued by lackluster roles in action movies over the course of his career, although he is better served here than in the terrible A Good Day to Die Hard (2013).  His Kyle Reese is serviceable, but pales in comparison to Michael Biehn’s standout performance in the original.  Also, there is zero chemistry between the two leads here, which is something that defined the first Terminator so memorably.  Jason Clarke also gets the enviable role of John Connor, and does very little with it.  It’s a sadly passionless performance that displays none of the charisma that John is supposed to represent.  It makes you long for the likes of Christian Bale, who himself had a hard time with the role.  Hell, I would even prefer the ranting Christian Bale from the set of Terminator Salvation.  The movie also brings in quality actors like J.K. Simmons and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and wastes their abilities on underdeveloped roles.  In the end, the movie makes a talented cast work hard for not much of a result, which is another disappointing aspect of this film.

So, how bad is this movie overall?  I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s the worst action movie that I’ve ever seen.  Hell, it isn’t even the worst action movie of this year, or this summer.  It’s just kind of a “Meh” movie from beginning to end; unremarkable in every way possible.  Well, to be fair, any moment with Arnold Schwarzenegger is worth seeing, but there’s not much else of note to say about it.  The action scenes are bland, the CGI is horrendously overused and generic, and the characters are just pale imitations of what they once were in better movies.  As a standalone action flick, I guess it could serve it’s purpose, but unfortunately for Terminator: Genisys, it’s carrying the legacy of a once dominant franchise.  And instead of expanding on the universe, this movie instead chooses to just cover old ground and tell us a story that we already know, adding nothing to the mythos.  The vision that James Cameron created with his original movies is something worth exploring further, especially with all the new advances in technology that we’ve made in the years since; yet that’s not what we’re getting in the franchise today.  But, even still, this movie isn’t so bad that it casts a dark shadow on the series as a whole.  In the end, the first two Terminators still retain their classic status, and this new version is more or less on par with the last couple movies from the series.  Having  Arnold back certainly helps.  Overall, it’s just a sub-par entry into a franchise that has seen better days and should probably be put to rest soon, or at least re-freshened with new ideas.  As a diversion for this year’s Fourth of July weekend, I would recommend sticking with the fireworks, because you will find none with this Terminator.

Rating: 5.5/10