Terminator Genisys review: A time to kill and a time to forget
If you are a fan of the Terminator series, but felt that the first two James Cameron films were a little too heavy on the character development and originality, then good news!
Terminator Genisys is a weird film to describe. Not because the plot is overly complex, far from it, but more because it is the type of film that you’ll forget as you’re watching it. It fulfills the obligations of not being a bad movie by the sake of playing it so, so safe, and in doing so it becomes a generic action movie steeped in the lore of a better series of movies.
And that really pisses me off.
The sad thing is that the stupidly named Genisys offers constant homage to Cameron’s original 1985 Terminator and his 1991 sequel, while completely missing what made them great. (The new film ignores the third and fourth Terminator films, just like everyone else.) The original Terminator and Judgment Day both took risks. The first was a thriller with a touch of horror movie thrown in, while the second was an action film with a thriller backbone that wasn’t quite like anything anyone had seen before. Genisys is almost the exact opposite of that.
Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Game of Thrones) feels like more of a manager than a director. This is a film by committee without a touch of personality. It could have been directed by a dozen others, and you wouldn’t know the difference. It is completely unremarkable direction, albeit competent.
Now, generally this is where I throw in a platitude about the film, something along the lines of “it’s forgettable, but fun.” But I can’t. I won’t.
I grew up a huge Terminator fan. The first film scared the crap out of me as a little kid, and the second was the best action movie I had ever seen when it came out (and it still holds up). I even endured the two bad sequels that did their best to kill the franchise, and I still dig the property. But this film tests me.
Genisys is the Olive Garden version of a Terminator film. It has absolutely no personality, none at all. It checks the boxes for neat visuals and it is well paced, but it is wholly unremarkable. And that’s forgiving the massive, glaring, and even somewhat arrogant plot holes the film creates.
Terminator Genisys positions itself to be the flipside of Terminator, with the focus initially on Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke), instead of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). It begins with the final days of the war between the humans and Skynet, which leads to the use of the first tactical time weapon. Skynet sends back the T-800, and Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah just like in the original. Then things go sideways.
Reese returns to 1985 to discover Sarah is already a badass, having spent most of her life under the tutelage of a different T-800 nicknamed Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Rather than protecting Sarah, Sarah protects Reese as they deal with the CGI-ified Schwarzenegger and a liquid metal T-1000.
The time travel hijinks serve to create an alternative timeline. In a stupidly unimaginative decision, the group decides to go into the future – 2017 to be exact – to stop the launch of a new software OS known as Genisys, which is actually Skynet. Naturally in dumb generic Hollywood fashion, they elect to ignore the fact that the have a freaking time machine, and so they decide to arrive about a day before the end of the world, because planning is apparently for pussies.
Along the way another, even more advanced Terminator shows up. If you’ve seen the trailers you know the twist – which was a terrible move from the studio to spoil that, by the way – but I won’t. This movie had one major surprise, and the studio revealed it in a late trailer months after they released the first trailer.
For the most part, the film manages to explain away the plot inconsistencies by citing timey wimey wibbly wobbly, but there are still major plot holes left unexplained, beginning with how the timeline changed in the first place. Here’s where the arrogance comes in.
Genisys is set up as the start of what is meant to be a new trilogy. This question will probably be answered in future films, but it’s just one more example of the film not really giving a shit about being great. It is fully content to be adequate, banking on the audience to be docile enough to be swayed by seeing old Arnie fight young Arnie, and Khaleesi blow things up with John McClane’s already forgotten son taking beating after beating. Even with the time travel, even with the constant man vs machine themes, there is absolutely nothing beyond the surface in Genisys.
And dammit, I’m mad about it. I wasn’t at first. I walked out of the theater having forgotten an alarming amount of it, but it wasn’t offensively bad or anything. But it was just another action movie with more explosion than development. There may – may – be one or two scenes where the characters actually talk to one another about things other than how best to make buildings go boom, but that’s it. Seriously.
The more I think about it, the madder I get. The cast is solid – great even. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, some other stuff) is charismatic, and Jai Courtney (every movie that needs a tough supporting character) has that Channing Tatum charm that is one part dumb and one part pretty. I really liked him in Spartacus, so I’ve been rooting for him, but he keeps being cast as a gritty action hero, and it keeps failing. Courtney is adequate in the role, but he is no Michael Biehn.
The two have a love story, or so the film tells us. It isn’t a lack of chemistry between the two that’s the problem, it’s just that Genisys spends zero time to develop this. In that, it’s sort of an accurate representation of the film as a whole. You’re just supposed to go with it, but the movie never earns it. Genisys earns nothing.
The plot holes surrounding Schwarzenegger’s character are fairly gaping too, but they are easily overlooked and well worth it to get Arnie back in the mix. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is also criminally underused. His story could have been really amazing, but it takes a generic turn early on. Even then he could almost save it, but the film actively holds him back and stunts his potential. Matt Smith (Doctor Who, what more do you need?) also has a cool role, but it is barely developed.
If you are determined to make a generic action movie with no depth or development, picking great actors is a smart move – at least until you begin to wonder what else they could have done with the part.
Terminator Genisys review conclusion
During the writing of this review, the more I wrote about Terminator Genisys the madder I got. Genisys is nothing more than a cash grab. It adds nothing to the franchise, and doesn’t stand on its own at all. If it wasn’t a Terminator film, it would be instantly forgotten
There will be a lot of people that leave content, and that’s a shame. Genisys could have been so much more, but instead the studio decided to play it safe and build a new franchise from the ashes of a better one. What a huge waste.
Terminator Genisys is rated PG-13, with a running time of 126 minutes.