James Cameron turned into something of an overnight sensation in the 1980’s. His first true director’s credit came in the form of 1984 classic The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the iconic title character. Soon after came Aliens, The Abyss, and in 1991, Cameron returned to the looming threat of Skynet with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was both bigger and better than the original, and stands as one of the greatest action films of all time.
However, much like the Alien franchise that Cameron played a part in, the Terminator films to follow suffered an inevitable decline in quality. 22 years and two lazy sequels after Terminator 2, the franchise returns with Terminator Genisys (I hope I’m spelling that right). Acting as an X-Men: Days of Future Past continuation and reboot to the series, the film is intended to jump start a brand new trilogy of Terminator films. And as a huge fan of this series, if this is how they want to start that trilogy, I have no hope for anything that’s going to follow.
32 years after the occurrence of Judgment Day, the resistance led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) against global network Skynet is in its final stretches, but is shaken up when Skynet sends one of their Terminators back in time to kill his mother Sarah as a last resort. Fellow soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back in time to protect Connor’s mother from the threat, but finds that the original timeline has been drastically altered. Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is no longer the once helpless waitress she was, but now trained as a soldier by an older T-800 model (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The three team up to take down an upcoming app codenamed Genisys that acts as a universal operating system, but once initiated, will launch Judgment Day itself.
Before pressing forward, I feel it necessary to address the lead up to this movie. Before the movie was even released, it was subject to heavy criticism for its embarrassing marketing campaign, most of which revolved around a specific trailer that spoiled a major twist midway through the film. Despite it being an open secret, I won’t dare spoil it if you’re one of the three people lucky enough to avoid the film’s advertising, but all of this showed just how desperate the studio clearly was for this film to be a hit, almost as if they had no faith in it on its own.
Perhaps they had every reason to be, for Terminator Genisys is a terribly written film. Weaving in the concept of multiple timelines, the film is littered with countless loopholes, inconsistencies, and logic gaps that are best not dwelled on for too long for fear of inducing a migraine. The film attempts to bring the franchise into the new generation with poor results, with Genisys itself providing a shoehorned allegory of the growing technological evolution. It essentially paints these things as little more than things to be feared and despised, with Skynet itself embodied by Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame, and forcing the “godlike” powers of the internet and technical advancements with cartoonish simplicity.
The film is riddled with numerous callbacks and tributes to the original two Terminator films, including shot for shot recreations of famous scenes such as the opening scene of the first film, and an appearance from a brand new T-1000, played here by Byung-Hun Lee. However, these callbacks come across as completely vapid in execution, feeling like forced in fan service that relies too heavily on what its predecessors did rather than differentiating itself, and leave one yearning to instead watch either of those two movies. Nowhere is the writing more flawed than during the aforementioned twists of the film, for whether or not the element of surprise had not been sacrificed in its trailers and advertising, the fact remains that they would still be awful as the actual motivations make absolutely no sense on reflection. By the time all is said and done, the entire thing reads like high-budget fan-fiction, and while the Terminator films have had their questionable time travel logic, never have they been taken to this much of an extreme.
This silliness even works its way into the action and characters. The film, directed by Alan Taylor of Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World, has little sense of balance going on, and fails to elevate the poor material in any way. The action is often clunky and poorly shot, and riddled with over the top stunts that require too much suspension of disbelief. A sequence involving a bus on the Golden Gate Bridge feels like the filmmakers watching the truck flipping scene from The Dark Knight and the opening sequence of Uncharted 2 for the PS3, and saying “we can make that more extreme.” As extreme that heavy CGI that largely casts aside the seamless animatronics and puppetry of the originals can be, that is. Couple that with a weak sense of humor - a lot of which is provided by JK Simmons as a bumbling detective - and you won’t find yourself laughing as much as groaning, such as a scene where the trio of leads are arrested and taken for mug shots while the song “Bad Boys” plays. Seriously! That happens!
Despite the always welcome presence of Schwarzenegger as the title character, the rest of the ensemble cast doesn’t leave the same impact. Jai Courtney makes for a bland and uninteresting leading man, Jason Clarke’s John Connor eventually turns into a full on ham, and despite Game of Thrones mainstay Emilia Clarke’s usually powerful presence on that show, what makes her successful in one project doesn’t necessarily do the same thing in another. Now walking in the shoes of Linda Hamilton, she feels badly miscast and out of place. However, that’s not to say it's entirely her fault, because while I won’t be harsh enough to label her as terrible, the role is, as it feels much weaker in comparison to the original interpretation.
Perhaps it seemed like such a disastrous idea to begin with that I can’t really call Genisys a disappointment, but that doesn’t excuse all of the heinous faults with the film. Little more than fan-fiction on the big screen, the film criminally wastes an enviable amount of talent on a preposterous set up and execution, and makes Rise of the Machines look good by comparison.
By the time all is said and done in this movie, you’ll be wishing that this now struggling franchise would wish us all “Hasta la Vista, Baby” for good.
*1/2 / *****