I apologize for the hacky title but the new movie Terminator Genisys is so lazy I really didn’t feel inspired to work up a witty retort. I wanted to like this movie because I’m a fan of Terminator and of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I saw it Thursday night, as soon as I could. But I was utterly disappointed. There are fleeting moments of fun and spectacle, but how could there not be with a massive budget and the background framework to draw on? Below is a brief, non-spoiler review followed by space and a super-spoilery breakdown of the specific issues I had with the movie. Perhaps you’d like to commiserate with me if you are a similarly disappointed Terminator fan.
The movie is told primarily from Kyle Reese’s perspective, a soldier born after Skynet goes online and creates a nuclear holocaust followed by machines working to eradicate humanity. Reese is saved and recruited by John Connor, who was told by his mother about what to expect and led humanity to fight back. Ultimately, on the verge of their victory, Skynet uses a time machine as a last ditch effort, sending a Terminator machine back to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother, before she can give birth to humanity’s savior. Yeah, that’s the plot of the original movie and we slowly get this shown to us, but when Reese goes back in time, things have changed somehow. Terminators have been sent back even further in time – one to kill her and one to protect her. So she’s grown up with Schwarzenneger to protect her. He sends Sarah and Kyle into the future (2017) to destroy Skynet on the eve of its creation. But Skynet has yet another last-ditch plan to prevent them from accomplishing their mission.
Instead of a simple one-way trip or an argument of free will vs. fate, Genisys involves several time jumps and parallel timelines. You can forget any of the other movies in the franchise because none of them have happened in this new rebooted story. That’s okay, but it is strange to keep Schwarzenneger but then recast other characters from the first movie. Still, it’d be easy to get over if they played their roles well. Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is pretty good. She finds a characterization somewhere between the innocent young girl of the first film and the hardened soldier of the second. But Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese is completely wrong. Michael Biehn’s original performance was a haunted, feral soldier who was terrified of Skynet and the Terminators but extremely capable. Courtney is relaxed and befuddled. He went through the same war but it doesn’t seem to have given him too much stress. Just a bad performance.
Schwarzenneger plays a Terminator who is unquestionably good, and may even have learned to experience emotions because he’s been around over 40 years by the end of the film. That’s also their explanation for why he looks different than the previous Terminators we’ve seen – the flesh ages. As he repeatedly says, he’s “Old. But not obsolete.” It’s a decent take but has no room for a character arc. He’s just a protector whose kind of a third wheel that prevents any Reese/Connor romance from getting going. He’s essentially Sarah’s surrogate father and she calls him “Pops.”
All of the action scenes are CG. Helicopters and Terminator robots alike have no real-world weight and the stakes feel low because no one is doing any stunts. Also, the camera ends up in impossible locations, swooshing in and out of scenes so that it can be tough to get your bearings and follow the action. It’s not as bad as super-fast editing and choppy, shaky cams, but it never feels real.
One element that’s pretty good is JK Simmons. He plays a cop who briefly encounters the trio in 1984 and knows time travel and robots exist but everyone in 2017 thinks he’s crazy. He’s pretty good comic relief. This movie isn’t very violent, by the way. It’s only PG-13. It doesn’t feel like it belongs aside the first two films at all.
I won’t say anything about the twist as to who their ultimate enemy is. Some of the trailers have spoiled it. Let’s just say, if you try to scrutinize the logic of what Skynet is up to, it doesn’t make any sense. There are massive plot holes as to where characters get certain knowledge (or why others lack that knowledge) and who sent Terminators back in time before Kyle Reese. The filmmakers must count on a sequel because there are no hints or threads as to why certain crucial story points occur. Ultimately, the film just does not stand on its own as a character piece, a sci-fi idea, or even much of a routine action film. I sadly give this film half a thumb out of three thumbs.
Scroll down to read it. Don’t want to spoil anyone who plans to see this movie.
Seriously, this is plot-spoiler stuff.
Okay, so here’s stuff that just falls flat for me. Your mileage may vary.
Who sent Pops and T-1000 back in time? That seems pretty important but this movie kind of arrogantly seems to think they deserve a sequel where that could be explained. But any of the previous Terminator films, either the fantastic first two or the more troubled third and fourth, definitely stand on their own. This movie feels like a partial story.
It’s a movie built for the more hardcore Terminator fans to reason out. For instance, Skynet seems to know John Connor will win the Future War. But that sort of tracks with info we have in Terminator 3 and the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show. In both of those, Skynet had its origins pushed back instead of destroyed, but it also seemed to know it would lose and created new time travel plans based on what didn’t work the first time. It creates a weird series of causality loops. The one good thing I’ll give this movie is that it follows the continuity of none of the films or TV show but creates a scenario where time travel has created alternate timelines. It’s all canon, basically. Games, books, comics.
For some reason, an old T-800 (Pops) has schematics for building a time machine that allows you to go forward. Okay, the TV show established a similar idea. But then, John Connor in 2017 is still trying to figure out how to build one. When he sees that the trio of soldiers has figured it out, he should be most concerned with getting Pops but he never seems to want to do anything but kill all three.
And how would Skynet’s plan of corrupting John Connor and sending him into the past help them? It could have been a T-1000 for instance. There’s never a real reason for them to want John, at least not AFTER he’s won the Future War.
Terminators gain new abilities as it suits the story. A T-1000 is able to drop some liquid metal into an offline T-800 and bring it back online. Later, Pops falls into some polymimetic alloy as he’s going offline and it upgrades him. Basically, the T-1000 metal has become magic.
Miles Dyson, the Cyberdyne inventor from T2 is back, along with his grown up kid, Danny. Danny is supposed to be some sort of software genius but they only have about two scenes and disappear long before the end of the movie. Since they didn’t bother to use original Miles Dyson actor Joe Morton, why bother to use these characters? They added nothing to the story.
Damage makeup is very inconsistent. In one scene a T-1000 cuts Kyle across the chest. He is shirtless several times after that and does not have that scar, though he has other scars. It’s the difference between a CG cut and the prosthetic makeup. The latter is consistent. In an early scene, Pops has his face punched and he loses half his skin. But later, he jumps through a helicopter’s rotor blades and barely gets any scratches at all!
They ultimately defeat John Connor by tossing him into an unfinished time travel portal and he’s torn apart. But… he obviously went through a time travel portal to get back to 2017. It just makes you wonder how the T-1000s and T-X ever used time travel in the first place.
You know, how did Skynet/Matt Smith even infiltrate John Connor’s team at the beginning. Was he undercover for months? Years? And didn’t bother to kill John in all that time? Or did they just let some random guy walk up to their leader that they’d never seen before?
As long as I’m heaping problems on the film, I gotta say the score sucked. It was just non-existent. Late in the movie they suddenly used the traditional Terminator theme and it woke me up enough to realize I missed some good music. The other films all had good music. Even Salvation had Danny Elfman.
I think the biggest problems, though, are how rushed the story felt. Kyle Reese was not an interesting lead character this time around. There are at least five time travel jumps to account for but only one of them is explained. Finally, the movie just doesn’t have anything to say. For instance, in the first one, it played off of Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation and its inevitability. It also had Sarah and Kyle defeat the Terminator, whose only mission is to end life, by falling in love and creating life. The second movie got into fate vs. free will and played off of fears of the military industrial complex developing weapons we don’t know about. The third at least attempted to update the fears of Skynet to those of the digital age, with Skynet infiltrating the Internet to become self-aware. Salvation doesn’t have much to offer but at least had a few token nods to the idea of terrorist cells and hidden enemies (both the T-600s and Marcus Wright himself) and how we simply didn’t understand our opponents. This one posits that we’re all on our cell phones and tablets too much. It’s just such a light, easy idea we’ve seen done before (even within the franchise, like way back in 3).
Rent it for completionists only. Otherwise, save yourself two full hours.