I genuinely wonder if there’s anyone who still takes the Terminator series seriously. Like Jurassic Park, it’s a franchise that hasn’t been especially great, or even relevant, in over a decade.
There’s a good chance most younger people seeing it now weren’t even alive when James Cameron’s T2 blew everyone away with its ground-breaking special effects and role-reversal that turned a relentless killing machine into a protector and friend.
Every Terminator movie after the second just became one giant retcon after another as the time travel plot lines changed direction, looped back on itself, and generally went wherever the hell the new writer wanted for no other reason than to have the flimsiest excuse to make more films.
Terminator Genisys is the latest attempt to get people to care about the franchise again, bolstered by the supposedly triumphant return of ex-California governor himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although, even this seems like it probably won’t mean much to a big section of the core audience since Arnie hasn’t been a big player in the action movie game in so many years.
At this point it’s probably worth noting that this review would be a lot different if the people who put together Genisys’ trailers had exhibited an ounce of common sense.
It seems pointless to avoid spoilers when the trailer blows its load and reveals the twist that could’ve been its biggest selling point. It’s a damn shame too, because without the surprise of John Connor turning into a terminator there’s really not much else here worth the price of admission.
It’s a disappointing thing to say that Genisys’ first 40 minutes are the best part.
That first act plays out like the most enjoyable scenes from Back to the Future II. It opens with John Connor and Kyle Reese fighting Skynet’s machines in the future, then shows us scenes ripped straight from the first Terminator movie before completely turning the tables as Sarah Connor, our old friend Arnold, and even a non-Robert Patrick T-1000 show up to muck up the established timeline.
Like BttF2 before it, the scenes from the past are so well done that part of me couldn’t decide if they were meticulously recreated or they just used the same stock footage. Given how degraded that stock footage probably is after 30 years, I’m sure it’s the former, but it’s still quite impressive.
Sadly, the enjoyment I had in that first bit only reminded me of the greatness the Terminator series once was before doing its own thing and not making a lick of sense.
In the biggest retcon of all, someone, somewhere decided to send a good T-800 back to when Sarah Connor was eight years old to protect her from the future that was to come. It’s never explained who sent it, why they sent it, what time period they sent it from, or even how Sarah still seems to know everything that’s supposedly happened (will happen?) in the first two Terminator movies when Arnold’s appearance when she was eight means all those events will never come to pass.
You can see where this is going. You don’t sit down in front of a Terminator movie expecting anything less than an abundance of plot holes and paradoxes. Basically, all this time travel facetiousness is there to give them an excuse to have John Connor come onto the scene as his own new-fangled infected-human model of terminator. The second half of the film is basically running from evil John and preparing for the inevitable fight between him and Arnold, while trying to again take down Skynet before it becomes self-aware.
Oh, and it’s called Genisys now…because reasons.
There are elements that have been modernized to fit with how the world has changed in the past twenty years. Since the last time we saw scary metal men battle shape-shifting liquid metal people, social media and inter-connected services like Apple and Google have completely changed how people communicate and work. Genisys uses this idea as a springboard for how Skynet will gain control of humanity’s fate. It makes sense with the current state of the world, but isn’t anything we haven’t seen in countless other man versus AI movies.
For their part, Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney play their roles of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese just fine, but can’t hold a candle to Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. They’re fairly likable, but not the battle-hardened warriors you want out of those characters. Jason Clarke as John Connor has the look to pull off a decent terminator, but because of the way he fits into the plot, he’s way too talkative to bring the gravitas I want out of a cold, heartless robot intent on assassination.
John even has the occasional line of dialogue that’s meant to harken back to a previous film, but it just doesn’t work. A big part of what made Arnold’s character in the first film, and Robert Patrick’s in T2, so terrifying is their lack of emotion or personality. They were stoic, unfeeling, and exacting in their single-minded pursuit. John’s attempts at monologuing villainy are too self-aware to be intimidating.
Fortunately, the brightest spot in the cast is Schwarzenegger himself. He may not look like a world-class body builder anymore and his acting abilities may be a bit rough around the edges now, but at nearly 68 years old he’s still a big guy compared to most adults, and when he turns on the robot facade he can still pull it off.
The Rock may be the new biggest muscle-bound actor in town, but in my opinion no one does the gentle giant better than Arnold.
As a machine, he’s an unflinching, unbreakable bodyguard that will awkwardly attempt to learn a hive-five one minute, then unceremoniously break the legs of anyone who gets in your way and lay down his life for you the next, and I genuinely enjoyed seeing him in this role again.
The fact that Arnold as a terminator still holds up gives Genisys the only other positive quality it has, which is watching him be the blunt battering ram he is. It’s still fun to see him walk into a police station and seek out his target with all the subtlety of a tank. Watching him go toe to toe with newer model robots to defend Sarah and Kyle is still entertaining, especially since special effects have improved and we see John’s in-battle morphing effects in cool new ways.
And that pretty much sums up the only reasons to see Terminator Genisys.
The first act is a neat trip down memory lane for the older folks and Arnold doing what he does best in hot, steamy terminator-on-terminator action is still cool. But beyond that it’s a complete mess and squanders its biggest ace in the hole by spoiling itself before you even start. I kept waiting, hoping it had another trick up its sleeve that would help me understand why the filmmakers would cannibalize its own success. Alas, no such thing occurred, and I was left shaking my head in resignation.
If you really want to milk the fun bits out of Genisys, wait for RedBox or some other streaming rental service. Otherwise, there’s no need to bother.