If I’m being honest with myself, I went into Terminator: Genisys expecting not to like it. Sometimes it’s really hard to approach a movie completely without bias and the best thing to do in these situations is to just be as upfront as possible about it. So, the truth is I think that Terminator should probably never have become a franchise. The first movie was truly great and the second managed to be a pretty good sequel, mixing things up but staying true to the central conceit. But after that we got two more films that were really just poorly done retreads of the previous movies. Because that’s the secret behind the Terminator films, all of them are really just telling the same story over and over again. With Terminator: Genisys it’s over again…again and it’s gotten really tiresome.
This film is what happens when you have a bunch of studio executives sitting in a boardroom trying to make a movie. They white boarded a list of all the things that they figured people liked from the first Terminator films, threw them into a sack with “plot” written on it and hoped it would all come together in the end. But the sack was old and worn and everything just fell apart.
There are so many things wrong with Terminator: Genisys, but the script is by far the worst one. Just like in the previous films, judgement day has come and machines have taken over the earth. A human resistance led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) has battled back and is on the verge of finally winning the war. The machines in a last ditch effort send a Terminator T-800, a robot designed to look like a human back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), John’s mother, thus preventing the savior of humanity from ever being born. In order to stop them, Connor sends his most trusted soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to kill the Terminator and save the future. This is the basic set-up of the very first movie and Genesys follows it almost to the letter.
But as soon as Reese is sent back, things start to change. Instead of an innocent, wide-eyed Sarah Connor, Reese finds a gruff battle-hardened woman with a Terminator caretaker of her own, played as always by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Turns out “Pops”, as Connor cringingly calls it, was sent back to when she was 9 to save her from another Terminator model T-1000 (the liquid metal guys from T2) and has since become her de facto father, raising her and preparing her for the events of the original Terminator. I actually liked this set up. It’s an interesting shift on the original story, but it’s executed terribly.
The thing about time travel plots in movies is that they’re really confusing. The more you look at time travel, the less sense it makes. Terminator wisely kept it to a minimum. Kyle Reese went back in time to save Sarah Connor’s life, fell in love with her, and eventually ended up fathering his future general and friend John Connor. It’s a fairly straightforward plot and if you don’t think about it too much, it works. Each successive film, however, has gotten more and more into the details and has muddled the plot. By the time we get to Terminator: Genisys we’re shining such a big light on the time travel portion of the plot that you realize that none of this actually makes any sense.
At one point Sarah and Kyle have to go forward into time from 1984 to the year 2017 to stop Genisys (basically just the new Skynet). They’re in a rush and “Pops” can’t come because his arm has been damaged and there’s not enough time to wait for his skin to regrow (time travel rules say that anything not surrounded by living tissue would be destroyed). So, Pops has to stay behind and meet them in 2017 by going “the long way.” Except none of this makes sense. If they’re going forward into the future, they literally have all the time in the world. If you’re going to a specific point in time it doesn’t matter when you leave. They could have patiently waited for Arnie’s skin to regrow and then all left together. Also, why do you have to wait until the day before Genisys comes online to destroy it? Why not go forward to like 2010 and then collect information on what it is and ensure you have plenty of time dismantle it? This is what happens when you focus a plot on time travel; everything just collapses under its own weight.
But that’s not even the worst of it. The script has a running b plot that involves “Pops” Terminator as the untrusting father of Sarah Connor constantly butting heads with her new boyfriend Kyle Reese. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Terminator, I think of awkward, unfunny sitcom level gags.
Jai Courtney, in a continued attempt to prove he’s a relevant Hollywood actor, is terrible as Kyle Reese, but it’s hard to say whether this is really the fault of his performance or more problems with the script. Courtney’s Reese is not the battle-hardened soldier who’s secretly in love with Sarah Connor that we got in the first Terminator. Instead Courtney plays him as a plucky, charismatic hero, constantly spouting off annoying one liners. “I didn’t sign up for this,” Reese exclaims as he fights off a Terminator. Actually, Kyle, this is literally exactly what you signed up for. We’re told that Kyle Reese is in love with Sarah Connor, but the script just has them bicker back and forth for most of the run time of the movie. Courtney plays Reese as a guy who’s generally annoyed with everything that’s happening. We have to save the world….UGH!
Emilia Clarke is, unfortunately, no better. She’s trying to play Connor just like Linda Hamilton’s Terminator 2 version, but without the benefit of a good script. What’s more, Clarke’s character is an attempt to fuse both Sarah and Edward Furlong’s young John Connor (again from T2) so we get a rough, warrior badass that also calls a machine “Pops” and tries to teach him how to behave more human. It doesn’t work. I love Emilia, but she drowns in a script that seems unwilling to do her any favors.
The one bright light in this whole thing is Arnold back in the role that made him famous. Schwarzenegger has been in “I don’t give a shit” mode for the past few years, basically doing whatever he wants. This includes making a YouTube show where he just runs over shit in a tank:
He’s wonderful here, obviously having an absolute blast back in this character. Even at this age, Schwarzenegger’s charisma is infectious and you can’t help but watch him every time he’s on screen. In a testiment to his skill the T-800 is still an absolute badass despite a script that relegates him to an angry old dad.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough. Terminator: Genisys is a confusing, messy, and boring movie. I went to an 8:30 showing on opening night and the guy sitting next to me fell asleep in the middle of the climax of the film. I enjoyed his snoring more than anything else on screen. With the embarrassingly bad performance last week (the 28.7 million it brought in was the lowest opening weekend in the franchise since the original, even before adjusting for inflation) it might finally be judgement day for Terminator. And that’s probably a good thing.