Anghus Houvouras on whether Terminator Genisys is the worst blockbuster of all time…
An insulting, paradox riddled mess. A senseless, poorly written, incompetently directed embarrassment. A master class in how to mismanage a franchise reboot. Terminator Genisys arrived in theaters this week with little fanfare other than a ringing endorsement from James Cameron. Something that probably would have meant more before having seen Avatar. It’s terrible, which is something a lot of people predicted based on a heinous marketing campaign that revealed every lazy twist. If you can’t make a movie look exciting or at least interesting based on a two-minute trailer, the prospects for the finished film are going to be bleak.
‘Bleak’ is a great way to describe Genisys, which is so bad that it deserves a hyperbolic post-mortem. This wretched, stillborn blockbuster needs an autopsy.
1. Nonsense personified
I’m not sure if this is specific enough. There’s so much nonsense in Genisys that halfway through the movie it became painstakingly difficult to keep up with the sheer amount of bullshit being heaped at us. We start with the opening that shows John Connor (Jason Clarke) on the precipice of victory over the machines. Thanks to the previous movies, he already knows how this scenario plays out. The machines will fall. In a last-ditch effort to survive they will send back a Terminator to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) will be sent back to save her thus launching a series of events that will lead to the birth of John Connor who will one day take down the machines.
Within the first ten minutes they wipe that slate clean. Turns out John is sucker punched by another machine at the very moment Kyle Reese gets sent back. This is where things start to get weird. Instead of just killing John Connor right there, they transform him into a human/machine hybrid and then send him back in time to help create SkyNet (hiding in a killer app called Genisys).
Reese shows up in 1984 to discover that a liquid metal T-1000 is waiting for him immediately erasing the storyline of the original Terminator. You see, it turns out the machines just keep sending robots back into the past. They sent one back to kill young Sarah Connor when she was 9, but it’s all right: another Arnold model T-800 was sent back to save her. Now they’re buddies. She calls him ‘Pops’. So this Terminator apparently knows everything that’s going to happen in the future. So instead of Kyle Reese saving Sarah, falling in love, and planting the seed that will one day be the leader of resistance, they don’t.
This would be the first ‘What the F*ck’ moment of the movie.
The second is when you learn that the next part of the plot involves Sarah and Kyle using a time machine to propel them from 1984 to 2017, because that is when SkyNet goes live and Judgement Day occurs. The time machine is a ramshackle, homemade version of the same device that sent Kyle and the Terminator back in the first place and is apparently easy enough to be assembled with parts picked up from a 1980’s Radio Shack.
I couldn’t quite figure out why they needed to go forward to 2017. Instead of a 30+ year head start to put together a plan to stop SkyNet, they decide to thrust themselves into an uncertain future and give themselves 72 hours to save the world. I’m not sure which was more stupid: the plan or the hackneyed writers who thought this was a good idea.
2. I knew John Connor, and you sir are no John Connor
Probably the biggest sin of this movie is what they did to John Connor. For decades it’s always been established that John Connor would one day lead the resistance to win the war against the machines, though we’ve yet to really see that happen. We’re always dealing with the tension that John’s great victory over the machines might not happen because a robot is going to kill his mother, or his father, or sneak in and slip a condom on Kyle Reese right before penetration.
Genisys finally gives us a John Connor who leads humanity to victory, only to see him turned into a human/machine hybrid hellbent on destroying the world. When I saw the trailers and first learned of this twist, I thought it had potential. We’re always told that John ends the war with the machines, but we never knew how. Wouldn’t it be crazy if John Connor ends the war by entering into a pact with the machines. Something akin to the scenario in The Matrix. John ends up winning the war by ceasing hostilities, but he ends up being more Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill.
Sorry to say, the creative team behind Genisys doesn’t go there. Instead, John Connor dies a tragic death and a tepid plot device that turns him into a soulless villain. The entire idea of John Connor being some kind of great leader is eradicated. Genisys turns John Connor into a plot device and ruins the concept of his character for no other reason than needing some kind of M Night Shyamalan inspired twist.
3. The Emotional Complexity of a Robot.
There are so many confusing things about Genisys, but the most baffling is the poorly engineered characters. Sarah meets Kyle and they fall in love over 48 hours. Kyle Reese is John’s Father and best friend, and yet after they all kill him there’s barely a moment to mourn his passing. I realize in this new Genisys timeline Sarah and Kyle haven’t even had time to get sweaty and produce humanity’s only hope against the machine. However, I would think that learning your best friend is actually your son, then being forced to see him killed to save the world would carry more emotional weight than the ambivalence we’re shown.
Maybe it’s the terrible casting. Jai Courtney is a one-dimensional hunk of meat. A poor man’s Channing Tatum. Clarke is a pint-sized dynamo, but she never really becomes Sarah Connor. She’s more like the spunky female lead in a community theater production of TERMINATOR! THE MUSICAL. Our protagonists are given so little to do. Other than looking shocked and firing weapons, they have so little to do.
The fault lies mainly with a script that is so bereft of characters, conflict, and common sense that our actors spend many scenes slack-jawed at the events unfolding around them. At no point in Genisys do you get anything from the characters other than confusion or anger.
4. Arnold’s sad last attempt at remaining relevant
Watching Genisys is a sad experience. One that makes you pine for the good old days when Arnold had presence and charisma. Before being the Governor of California made him dead in the eyes. He’s so bad in Genisys. They try to make him likable and give him a few moments of levity, but they all land with the cast iron thud of a T-800 Exoskeleton.
I give James Cameron a hard time, but Genisys shows how important a director with clout and vision is to a project. One who can restrain their iconic action star and help him deliver a solid performance. Arnold was never a great actor, but he used to be a great presence. Cameron knows exactly how to use Arnold. Watch T2 or True Lies and you’ll see Arnold firing on all cylinders. Alan Taylor lacks the gravitas to keep someone like Arnold in check. What you end up with is an awkward performance that rivals his turn as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.
Like Stallone, Arnold has stumbled into his 60’s still trying to be the action icon that made him into a household name 30+ years ago. Arnold, we’ll always love you. However, most of us have little interest in seeing you try to rekindle the magic that you haven’t been able to generate since the end of the 20th Century.
5. How much did they pay for James Cameron’s seal of approval?
The most confusing thing about Genisys is the ringing endorsement from James Cameron. I hope the check was big. Big enough to fund another one of those undersea expeditions he’s always embarking upon.
6. How could this much go wrong?
What’s most disappointing about Genisys is how bad it is given the source material. As Rise of the Machines and Salvation proved, you can still deliver something marginally entertaining even if your end product is underwhelming. Genisys delivers nothing. It’s so fundamentally terrible on every level. Alan Taylor makes Michael Bay look like Christopher Nolan.
Terminator Genisys’ most mind-boggling trick is how a movie that cost 200 million dollars could look this bad. Nothing feels real. The whole movie looks like it was shot on a sound stage. There’s a helicopter chase sequence that feels like a cut scene from a PlayStation 2 game. There’s no excuse for a major summer blockbuster to look this cheap. I’ve seen more inspired cinematography in home-made pornography.
When a movie is this terrible, you start to wonder how a system of checks and balances didn’t somehow prevent this from happening. Surely someone, somewhere had to see that the pieces weren’t fitting together. That the cast was awkward. The direction uninspired. The writing practically non-existent. I know a lot of blockbusters start production without a finished script, but I could easily be made to believe there was no script for Genisys and they made it up as they went along. Alan Taylor just shows up on set and says “Why don’t you guys do a scene where the Terminator makes a stupid face… and Kyle Reese will be like ‘Huh? What’s he doing?’ ROLL CAMERAS”
Terminator Genisys is the worst blockbuster ever made. A joyless waste of a movie that will hopefully fail badly enough to let studios know this kind of franchise malfeasance will not be tolerated by the ticket buying public.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.
Listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of Terminator Genisys using the player below: