Movie Review: Terminator – Genisys
(Rated PG – 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language)
In the last decade, film sequels have grown in prominence, as one of the most important types of films in Hollywood. While many lament and complain that the studios should invest in something more ‘original,’ many studios just keep to the old tried-and-true, of making sequels until the series crashes and burns…and when that happens: re-boot!
That was what happened following films like Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, and 2007’s Spider-Man 3. In recent years, a number of films have taken familiar properties from decades before, and toyed with altering their timelines. 2009’s Star Trek took familiar characters, and shifted our viewing of them to an alternate reality. In 2011, the re-imagining of The Planet of the Apes, threw us into an origin story taking place in our own time.
One series that has often been fickle with its timelines, is that related to James Cameron’s Terminator films. With his first two films, Cameron largely kept the idea of nuclear annihilation as a looming threat, but the films made after he chose not to return, just seemed to imply that the public had to get to Judgement Day, and beyond, along with the stipulation that Arnold Schwarzenegger…would be back.
After the success of 1991’s Terminator 2, Hollywood attempted to take the series further 12 years later, with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The sequel performed marginally well, but its 2009 follow-up, Terminator: Salvation, failed to kick-off a new series of films.
6 years spanned between those last two sequels, and now, 6 years after Salvation, a new production team (and film studio), has attempted to make what was old, new again, with Terminator: Genisys.
The film starts in 2029, wherein we finally see what has often been talked of for over 30 years: the scene in which John Connor (Jason Clarke), sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984, to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).
To those of us who saw The Terminator, the story starts to diverge from our knowledge pretty quickly. Once he arrives in 1984, Kyle is accosted by a liquid-metal T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), and finds that Sarah is not a frizzy-haired waitress, but a pony-tailed weapons master…thanks to a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) who was sent back in time years earlier to protect her (by who? Your guess is as good as mine). Sarah also considers this cybernetic organism her guardian, and has nicknamed him, “Pops.”
Much like Jurassic World, Genisys beckons us in with touchstones and things we’ve seen before. While it may be cool to see an older T-800 battling his younger self, a lot of the timeline shifting soon gets to be a little cumbersome, as we go from 2029, to 1984, and then forwards to 2017.
Kyle is also plagued by strange flashbacks, and thanks to the T-800 having information that he deems ‘classified,’ Arnold gets to spout lots and lots of technical time-travel jargon, that made me long for Doc Brown to come along, and make sense of it all!
Speaking of our main characters, I just couldn’t find myself getting invested in them. No matter how I tried to accept Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke (as well as Jason Clarke), their acting just didn’t seem believable to me. I almost felt like I was watching a community theater troupe, trying to tell the Terminator series in their own words.
Emilia Clarke’s take on Sarah just didn’t cut it (she looks like a little girl playing dress-up at times), and Courtney just seems a little too ‘bland’ regarding his role. The script tries to even give them ‘character-building’ moments where they start yelling at each other, but the film just never makes these little arguments believable (I had to hold back chuckling at a few of them).
Jason Clarke’s role as John Connor also gets tiresome pretty soon, as it seems he just cannot seem to ever shut up! Heck, I don’t think even in his whinier moments, Edward Furlong’s interpretation of John got this eye-rolling.
The filmmakers try to throw in a small supporting role for actor JK Simmons as well, playing an officer who ran into Kyle in 1984. However, why they got someone like Simmons to play such a thankless role, is beyond me. His character could very well have been written out of the story altogether, and it feels like it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Of course, the bean counters know that most audiences could care less about the fate of humanity. If the low numbers surrounding Terminator:Salvation were any indication, it was that audiences would not accept a Terminator film, unless Arnold Schwarzenegger had a prominent role.
The T-800’s role in the film is really the only highlight (and most likely, the main reason millions around the world will be seeing it). Given that he has been among humans for several decades, this T-800 has had plenty of time to acclimate himself, though the film conveniently explains how this cybernetic organism can look like a 67-year-old former California governor.
Arnold definitely gets the meatier supporting role in the film, taking his role as a guardian several steps further than what we remember from Terminator 2. This T-800 seems more like a father figure, as we see him eye Kyle Reese as if he’s considering if the man would be suitable dating/breeding material for his ‘daughter.’
While the first few Terminator films strove to make the threat of Judgement Day seem ominous and threatening, it feels like that ship has sailed a long, long time ago. Such talk about stopping the impending doom seems little more than a joke. As well, the concept of John Connor being the most important person in the world, seems to have also lost its weight on the story.
The writers have instead, attempted to make John something that only the early drafts of Terminator: Salvation fathomed (but were too afraid to go through with). Maybe they simply felt they had gone as far as they could with the concept of the character, and in this case, decided to throw him under the bus (literally in one scene!).
Another area where the film suffers, is in its attempts to say that this is ‘just the beginning’ of a brand-new saga for the Terminator series. As such, it makes it hard to really accept that anything the characters do is concrete. As it stands now, the studio is banking on the film doing well enough to do a sequel or two, before the Terminator rights default back to James Cameron, come 2019.
On the note of time-travel, one series that my Dad and I love, is Back to the Future. When we were discussing the three films of that series one day, my Dad stated that he preferred Part III over Part II. His reason? There was too much time-jumping in the second film.
I could see where he was coming from with that thought, and in a sense, his feelings towards Back to the Future Part II, mirrored my thoughts regarding Terminator: Genisys. The film almost feels like it’s afraid to slow down, as if its audience will get bored if it even has any small, meaningful moments. However, in the first two Terminator films, it was those slower moments that allowed us to connect with the majority of the characters.
In the end, Genisys will probably be seen by many as a slate-wiper for the last two Terminator films, much like how Jurassic World wiped out thoughts of Jurassic Park’s two sequels. Even so, it doesn’t really do much besides picking-and-choosing out some of the more memorable moments of the films that have come before, and trying to snap them into something that will hopefully appeal to the most jaded Terminator fans. As well, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of people real soon, trying to make further sense regarding how these new timeline anomalies tie into the previous films.
If there is one saving grace to the parade of fan-pandering that is prevalent throughout Genisys, it’s that we are spared anyone in this alternate timeline, teaching “Pops” to say, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Terminator: Genisys” attempts to rewrite its own future, but comes out as little more than a convoluted excuse to bring Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his most iconic role. The fate of mankind’s future carries little weight, as we get little more than a ‘greatest hits playlist’ of past film moments. It’s an action film that wants to be as thrilling and smart as its early predecessors, but is too deeply mired in its franchise-possible future to succeed)