As far as I’m concerned, the Terminator franchise is the movie equivalent of the term “fetch.” If you don’t know what fetch is, it’s a term from Mean Girls. In that film, one of the popular girls coins this term and tries to make it cool by saying it to describe everything. Eventually she is told to stop trying to make it happen because it’s not going to happen. And with two failed sequels, a cancelled TV show, not to mention a property that has passed through the hands of at least three major Hollywood studios, I think I speak for many Terminator fans when I say, “Please, Hollywood, stop trying to turn The Terminator into the next big franchise. It’s not going to happen.” And providing further proof that this is true is Terminator Genisys, the third cinematic attempt to reinvigorate the franchise since James Cameron reinvigorated the action film with The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
I enjoyed Terminator Genisys up to a point. There were some neat ideas, cool looking action scenes, and it’s good to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role that made him a star. But Genisys subscribes to the “kitchen sink” school of filmmaking where writers and directors throw every idea they can think of into one movie instead of focusing on one idea and developing it thoroughly. Some clear examples of this would be The Chronicles of Riddick, essentially a trilogy condensed into one movie, or the Justin Timberlake flick In Time, which tried to be both a social commentary on capitalism and a Bonnie and Clyde flavoured loved story. In Genisys, we are thrown into not one, not two, but three different time lines that all act as alternate universes to the previous four Terminator films. What director Alan Taylor and his screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have done is not unlike what JJ Abrams did for his 2009 Star Trek. Terminator Genisys fully acknowledges that the previous films – or at least the first two – happened, but in a different timeline. This allows Genisys to remake the franchise in its own image, an opportunity it ends up wasting by adding way too many plot elements that don’t add up and are never fully explained.
To describe the plot of this film would be to create the most convoluted sentence ever, so I must tread carefully. The story opens in Los Angeles 2029 where John Connor (Jason Clarke) has led the Resistance to victory against the machines controlled by Skynet. However, having lived through the events of the first two films, he knows that Skynet has sent a terminator through time to kill his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), one of Connor’s soldiers, who has fallen in love with Sarah from a picture of her, volunteers to go back to 1984 to protect her. If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because Genisys recreates the opening of The Terminator almost shot for shot. Then, something happens that puts the film in a new direction.
This new direction often confuses rather than excites. No effort is made to explain why Reese has entered this alternate past. Supposedly, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who Sarah refers to as “Pops” was sent back to protect her and not young John when she was 9 years old. Since then, they have been preparing for Kyle’s arrival as well as to stop Judgment Day from ever happening. But it’s never explained who sent this T-800 back in time. Also inexplicably present in this alternate 1984 is a T-1000 (Byung Hun Lee) and a time machine that allows Sarah and Kyle to travel to 2017, days before Skynet – disguised as an operating system called Genisys – is about to download onto every electronic device in the world.
I won’t divulge any more of the plot, particularly a mid-movie plot twist that was spoiled by the idiots who cut the trailer to market this film. Seriously marketing team, your film had one wild card going for it; revealing this twist out of context in the promotional material just served to piss off fans and cast Genisys in an even more negative light. It’s becoming harder for me to judge a movie separate from its marketing campaign because so many trailers and TV spots nowadays spoil way too much about the movies they’re trying to sell you on. Genisys could have had its audience talking amongst themselves after its twist had taken them by surprise. But thanks to the trailer, the film’s only subversive element has already been spoiled for everyone.
Terminator Genisys doesn’t hurt the franchise any more than the previous installments have, but it can’t quite stand on its own, which means it may still have a hard time connecting with a newer, younger audience. While it creates its own timeline, it relies heavily on the viewer’s familiarity with the original films. Scenes recreated or altered from The Terminator will only be noticeable if viewers have seen that film, otherwise, they will just be disoriented. And because Genisys is consistently making reference to Cameron’s films, it’s hard to look at this film as a reboot or separate entity. But as a follow up to The Terminator and Terminator 2, Genisys pales in comparison, and not least because of its PG-13 rating. The performances by Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney can’t escape comparison with the original’s lead stars either. The script gives the actors moments to add depth to their characters, particularly a scene where Sarah must explain to Kyle that she can’t love him because she knows that if they get together, he will die. But Clarke and Courney aren’t able to hold candlelight to the charisma and depth both Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn brought to the same roles respectively.
Terminator Genisys is entertaining enough if taken as a brainless action picture, watched solely for its special effects and action. None of the action scenes are mind-blowing as they’re stitched together with too many cuts and close ups, but they’re still fun to watch. Arnold’s dialogue falls flat at times, mostly because the jokes are terrible or he’s forced through exposition scenes to explain time travel as part of quantum mechanics. But he manages to get a few good one liners, particularly in the opening thirty minutes. The film is certainly steps above Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was nothing more than a parody of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and is a masterpiece compared to Terminator Salvation, the worst film Michael Bay never made. But is this really the kind of film we want from the Terminator series? Having my expectations lowered upon entering the theatre, I wasn’t disappointed but my mind remained unblown. It was an enjoyable ride while it lasted but if the film fails at the box office and this planned new trilogy doesn’t move forward, I would not care.