More than any other sequel in the series, Terminator: Genisys is truly going to make franchise fans question if now isn’t a perfect jumping off point as it’s clear that everything worth saying and doing with the series has already been done much better and far more interestingly.
The main problem with the series is subsequent filmmakers still haven’t brought much new to the franchise since James Cameron departed after the second movie. ‘Genisys’ is the biggest offender as it seeks to tap into nostalgia rather than establishing an entry the equal to the first two films. For the record, I like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation, but understand they’re an acquired taste.
On the eve of yet another last battle against the evil Skynet and its army of cyborgs, John Connor (Jason Clarke, The Great Gatsby) has to send his loyal lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Divergent) to the past. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke, ‘Game of Thrones‘) from a Terminator sent to kill her thereby preventing John from ever being born and leading the resistance.
Reese is shocked upon arriving in 1984 and finding Sarah is not the meek waitress he was dispatched to protect, but a cunning warrior fully capable of taking down Terminators with the help of her own guardian T-800 Terminator she calls Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Sarah is somewhat aware of her role in the future and is conflicted at what Reese’s emergence means as far as her ability to have any say in her life since it’s all seemingly etched in stone.
We’ve seen time travel and alternate dimensions successfully used to kickstart a franchise with the exceptionally well received 2009 Star Trek reboot. And to a lesser extent, the X-Men films stand poised to make good on its own time adjustment.
Genisys screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, the scribes behind Alexander and Drive Angry respectively, fail to embrace all of the various possibilities that come from altering the timeline.
Instead of really playing with the potential tools in the Terminator sandbox (what would happen if Sarah were a lesbian or Reese was impotent for example?) Kalogridis and Lussier take us through a stroll down Terminator’s greatest hits while further convoluting the series’ continuity. For example, John Connor sports the same facial scar he received at the end of ‘Salvation,’ but his first meeting with Reese here was much different.
The series’ time travel element has always been problematic. In essence, Skynet is the worst type of video game opponent as it always wants to ‘run it back’ one more time until it finally wins.
Midway through, Kalogridis and Lussier seem to get just as frustrated trying to make sense of it all and ditch the temporal talk in favor of action and basic character development. It was probably a smarter way to go all along.
As the fifth film in the franchise, Genisys needed to deliver much more than just a strong sense of deja vu. In 2015, there’s nothing revelatory about a liquid metal Terminator doing the same tricks the T-1000 did in 1991 with T2: Judgement Day or Terminators constantly going Mano-a-mano as in the underappreciated Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Even on the character front, the film feels far too familiar. A shotgun toting Sarah Connor who can more than handle her own in combat was groundbreaking in T2 yet it’s presented as an entirely new dynamic here. Ditto for a Terminator trying to use modern slang and acting human.
I’d still love to know how ‘Pops’ is able to effectively hang with the newer model Terminators since he would essentially be a iPhone 2 trying to keep up with iPhone 7s. It shouldn’t be much of a contest at all.
The one significant change — not necessarily for the best is more emphasis is placed on the predestined relationship between Sarah and Reese. Courtney is miscast in the heroic role and he has little chemistry with Clarke, who easily handles the task of channeling Linda Hamilton.
By far the best aspect of the film is Schwarzenegger, who prevents the film from being a total temporal trainwreck with some well-timed goofy expressions and stiffer than usual line delivery. While Salvation managed to tell a Terminator tale without him, Schwarzenegger’s involvement in Gensisys was crucial as it would be DOA in his absence. Commendably, the film has a welcome diverse cast including Byung-hun Lee, Courtney Vance, Sandrine Holt and Dayo Okeniyi.
When he can just focus on the action and ignore the shaky plot, Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) injects more of the trademark spectacular excitement to the film with just a minimal amount of soft CGI effects. Don’t bother catching this in 3D. Annoyingly, the trailers revealed most of the film’s signature action sequences as well as the main villain, which would have been much better as an unspoiled shocking twist.
Meant to kickstart a new trilogy, there barely seems to be enough left to say beyond getting back on the seemingly endless Skynet time travel loop. Just say it won’t be back.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions