Review: Fun, Idiotic 'Terminator Genisys' Can't Do Its Franchise Justice
by Jeremy Kirk
July 1, 2015
Heavy on hardware and low on CPU, Terminator Genisys blasts onto the screen marking the return of one of the action genre's kings, both in terms of star power and franchise. The fifth film in the series, there doesn't seem like much room to continue expanding on the inevitable war between man & machine. If that's your thinking, you've forgotten about the wonders a little time travel can do for a blockbuster franchise. You're also forgetting this is 2015, and the mantra of "bigger is always better" is in full swing. It's a shame that bigger usually means dumber, too. Terminator Genisys is both, briskly limping along the rails its idiotic script has laid down for it. Not even Arnold, welcome return as he is, can justify this film's presence.
Not that another entry in the Terminator series needs much justification. The best ideas this franchise had left with James Cameron after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that's not stopping it from threatening to be back time and time and time again. This time around, the war between those that survived the nuclear attack brought on by Skynet and the machines the network has built for defense is raging on and nearing its end. John Connor, the savior of the post-apocalyptic human race played this time around by Jason Clarke, is leading his soldiers on their culminating battle against the machines. The robots, sensing their defeat, manage to send a single T-800 back to the year 1984 in an effort to take out John's mother and wipe out any resistance before it can get started. Fortunately, the humans send one of their own to stop the T-800 and become the mother's protector.
Sounds familiar, no? If nothing else, Terminator Genisys knows all the familiar territory the franchise has traveled before. It seems to thrive on fan service and taking all we've seen before and turning it on its ear.
When Kyle Reese, played here by the lumpy and wooden Jai Courtney, travels to 1984, he doesn't find the sweet, innocent Sarah Connor getting ice cream dropped into her pocket during her waitressing job. Instead, the Sarah Connor, played by Emilia Clarke, he finds is already in T2 mode, pumping shotguns, reloading clips, and generally looking badass while sitting behind the wheel of a very large truck. Her premature survivalist skills are all thanks to another T-800, a good T-800, also played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, sent back to her own childhood to protect her from the futuristic dangers.
Who sent this other T-800? Who knows? It's just one of several lame questions Terminator Genisys raises and doesn't answer for the sake of future story lines. When Genisys isn't wallowing in fan service - Schwarzenegger's good T-800 doing hand-to-hand combat with the original T-800 from Cameron's first Terminator is an early treat - it's asking questions it has no intentions of answering. The time displacement equipment used throughout this franchise is running around the clock this time around, machines getting sent to all different points in history, our heroes even finding a machine of their own to jump around time in an effort to stop Skynet once and for all.
The movie could be played off as a brainless blast of fun if it weren't so dead set on rewriting the Terminator universe rules. Director Alan Taylor, best known for his "Game of Thrones" episodes and Thor: The Dark World - has no problem keeping the pace up. Terminator Genisys starts fast and barely lets up for the much of the film. All the action, digitally created as it all is, keeps the entertainment level high, as the movie jumps from set piece to set piece. Unfortunately, most of these are typical. The Golden Gate Bridge can take a hiatus from blockbuster films for awhile. All the action moments are finely put together, though. It's almost enough to keep it all interesting.
That screenplay, though, buries any chance this film had of working. With the new Star Trek series and the direction the X-Men franchises is headed, Hollywood has been no stranger in recent years to completely retconning a series' timeline for the sake of future stories. The Terminator Genisys way of dealing with this is probably the most obvious yet most convoluted way imaginable. The screenplay's one, interesting turn, the identity of the film's true antagonist, has most likely been spoiled for many of you. Its placement within the context of the film, though, is weak considering the "twists" this franchise has taken before. It is also a huge disservice to the franchise, something you don't want to be doing if you're one, true love is fan service.
Just put Schwarzenegger's entire performance in that fan service category. As "Pops," the kindly, giant robot who traveled through time to save a little girl, he amps up the mechanical charm the best he can. If you laughed at him shooting the thumbs up and quipping "Hasta la vista" in T2, you'll be rolling every time he attempts a toothy grin. Schwarzenegger is at ease in the action, much more so than any of his fellow cast members. The best to be said for any of them is that Clarke certainly looks like Linda Hamilton in some of those shots. Also J.K. Simmons as a former cop who becomes a believer in the time-traveling machines brings the film its only, real sense of humor. Even he seems like a refugee from another film entirely.
Which is all to say Terminator Genisys is a blended heap of a mess. Its dumpster fire of a screenplay cobbles pieces of the previous, four films together like a jigsaw puzzle out of gravel, and it's all brought to cinematic reality by way of all the digital creations money can buy in 2015. Spoiler alert: none of it is ever as photorealistic as the first time we saw that T-1000 in 1991. With Genisys as its example, the Terminator franchise has proven once again that bombastic explosions will always trump interesting storytelling in the studio's eyes. If this is the best they can do and the direction of this series' future, let's just hope Arnold won't be back.