Terminator Genisys, 2015
Directed by Alan Taylor
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee
John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.
Terminator Genisys was always going to struggle. Not only was it going to be a franchise sequel to what many believe is the cornerstone of both the action and science fiction genres, but it also had a rough ride in the early days of its marketing campaign. The announcement of its misspelled title was met with much amusement and mockery from the Internet and its first trailer received nothing but puzzled faces, cocked slightly to the left while mouthing the word, “what?”. But it’s not because it’s a sequel/reboot/reset to the Terminator franchise that Terminator Genisys fails. Nor is it boring because the marketing bods have tried at every turn to spoil every last facet of its plot. No, Terminator Genisys fails because it’s boring. Not only that, but it’s a boring, convoluted mess.
The opening 20-30 minutes of the movie work as a prequel/remake of James Cameron’s 1984 classic The Terminator as we see The Resistance fighting back against Skynet and winning, even witnessing the omnipotent machines sending back the T-800 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor along with Kyle Reese volunteering himself to go back and protect her. Only when Reese lands back in the time of perms and terrible pop music, he finds a very different 1984 than the one he was expecting. It is revealed that another Terminator was sent back even further to when Sarah was a child to raise her to become warrior, thus changing the timeline. They do battle with a T-1000 in 1984 before travelling to 2017 using a time machine they built in a secret basement (?) in order to stop this new timeline version of Skynet named Genisys. Together, Kyle, Sarah and the Terminator she calls “Pops” must try and stop Judgement Day once and for all.
Sounds convoluted? Well, it gets worse. This review won’t go into spoilers (even though the trailers are doing a fine job of that themselves), but the further the movie dives into its story, the dumber and more contrived it gets. The opening act in the future and 1984 is actually quite fun with Alan Taylor perfectly re-creating Cameron’s original movie shot for shot, including dialogue (there’s even the punks by the telescope, but sadly no Bill Paxton). However from here, the film not only falls dramatically downhill, but also raises far too many questions for its own good.
If this is the past of 1984 that we’re supposed to know and love, then why is the T-1000 there? The film offers no explanation, which leads you to assume that he’s only there because the writers like the character and added in him as fan service. Like Superman Returns and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Terminator Genisys cherry picks moments from the franchise’s story while disregarding others and hoping the audience won’t notice. The movie asks you to pretend that Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation don’t exist (the last one in particular), but then rewards you for being a fan of the franchise by reminding you about the parts you love. It’s trying to have its cake and eat it.
And the plot holes that run throughout are staggering, simply staggering. The movie tries so hard to be clever, but then can’t work out how it’s meant to be so clever, so it just throws in techno-babble jargon in an effort to cloud their laziness. How can Kyle Reese remember past memories of a life he never led? It’s okay, Arnie has an explanation that makes no sense, and we move on to the next problem. If the original Terminator was so easy to kill, why did the original Kyle Reese struggle so much? This Reese is better, I guess. How can Kyle and Sarah interact with a John Connor who has not been conceived but still managed to be sent back in time? Time travel, probably. In fact, the whole set-up doesn’t make sense because if the timeline was reset by the Terminator protecting Sarah from a young age, then why were the scenes in the future still from the timeline where Sarah Connor defeated the Terminator in original 1984?
Does the film bother to address any of these questions? Of course not. But they have enough scenes of expository dialogue that it seems to think that it is explaining itself. And it’s not just that the actors spend so much time trying to explain what’s happening (in almost Jupiter Ascending levels of awkwardness), they have to try to justify this asinine plot. It feels as though the writers think that their idea is so bloody clever, but none of us dumb-dumbs can keep up with them, so they have to stand around and explain things to us. Unless they’re taking the time out to remind us that Schwarzenegger is really old.
And when the actors are not standing around talking about things, we get really bland and boring action sequences. Terminator Genisys is so incredibly bereft of an original action set-piece that it’s beyond belief. Arnie lumbers around with various different bodies, guns are fired but they mean nothing, and explosions happen for the simple hell of it. In one sequence seen in the trailer, Arnie throws himself out of a helicopter to destroy it – which leads to nothing but him getting a couple of scratches. The fights between Terminators are laughable at best because none of the combatants ever feel like heavy machinery. They’re tossed around so easily with ragdoll CGI that you would think they’re made of pockets of air. There’s never a real sense of danger either. Remember that awesome moment in Terminator 2: Judgement Day when the T-1000 pulls itself back together and you realise that our heroes are still in danger? Well that feeling is never present in Terminator Genisys. The new Terminator just gets shot, rebuilds itself and carries on. And the characters never react to this being a big deal, it’s just another day in the office for them. Nothing ever feels like its moving forward either, hampered by a middle act where no action takes place to make room for all the exposition dialogue (or jokes about Arnie being old).
And let’s not get started on how little this movie values human life. Unlike Jurassic World which put focus and attention on those who sadly lost their lives, our “heroes” in this movie blow up an innocent truck driver just to stop them being chased. Remember kids, these are the good guys.
Jai Courtney continues to raise questions about he keeps getting hired for big movie roles by providing a rather sleepy performance as Kyle Reese. This man is no Michael Biehn and any semblance of that brilliant character is lost in this one-dimensional performance. Emilia Clarke doesn’t even come close to being the Sarah Connor of old, but is far from the worst thing in the movie (that can go to either Jason Clarke or Courtney), and it’s Schwarzenegger that disappoints the most. His return to the big screen since his failed time as a politician has left a lot to be desired, but this might be his laziest turn yet. He’s not acting like a Terminator, he’s acting like Arnie play-acting as a Terminator. It raises the question of whether this is all a choice by the Austrian and he’s playing up to the humanised version of himself that we caught a glimpse of in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but there is every chance he’s just phoning it in and not trying. His performance is so bad, that you might often forget that he’s actually supposed to be an endoskeleton wrapped in living human tissue. Thank God we have J.K. Simmons to raise the bar of quality. Leave it to the Oscar winner (and best thing in most movies he’s in) to bring some levity to proceedings, even if his plot line goes literally no where. And if you paid to see former Doctor Who Matt Smith or Byung-hun Lee, you may feel a little bit ripped off. Oh, and the only two black actors in the movie have even less screentime than those two.
Terminator Genisys is really, really long, really, really dumb and really, really boring. It has no respect for its audience and actually thinks its delivering a clever piece of science fiction, but it’s not. It’s the frantic ramblings of a Terminator fan-fiction writer who didn’t proof read their own work and then somehow got $170 million to make it. The film makes no sense when you give it the slightest modicum of thought and the tiresome action set pieces do nothing to help it. Alan Taylor can complain all he wants about how the movie’s trailers spoiled half the plot, but there really wasn’t anything worth spoiling. Outside of a fun opening 20 minutes, Terminator Genisys is this year’s first true big budget dud.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
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