Terminator Genisys never did sound like the greatest of ideas: a reboot/sequel of James Cameron’s 80s franchise that would recast and re-write the original films in order to produce a brand new story. Specifically, one where Kyle Reese travels back in time to find not a Sarah Connor in danger from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, but one who has been raised by him (and who she now calls “Pops”). Again: It sounds like a bad idea. But on screen, it’s somehow worse.
Here’s five reasons why you should probably give it a miss.
The time travel is nonsense…
The original Terminator films pivoted around time travel but weren’t necessarily enslaved by it. Instead, it functioned more as a means to an end, a way of setting up the simple action film premise of ‘killer robot pursues woman/man/kid, woman/man/kid must try to survive .’ Genisys, however, is like every episode of Doctor Who happening at once.
It begins in the far-future, with John Connor having just destroyed Skynet, but too late to stop it sending back the T-800 of the original 1984 film. This, of course, prompts Conner to send his good friend Kyle Reese back in time to save (and bonk) his mother. So far, so familiar. But it’s when Reese gets there that we learn that (for some reason) the timeline has split in two, with Reese now suffering flashbacks from an alternative universe in which he never grew up under the machines. (The flashbacks, conveniently, tell him that they need to travel to 2017 in order to stop Skynet.) This all leads to a timey-wimey speech from Arnie’s (now ageing and good-hearted) T-800 that is essentially him trying to justify the the ‘/’ between reboot/sequel. It’s not fun. It’s the most transparent and contrived attempt to reboot a franchise yet; a square peg crammed into a plot hole.
…and the rest of the plot isn’t any better
Terminator Genisys is so obsessed with building a franchise that it forgets to tell a story. For example, who sent the alternative T-800 (“Pops”) back in time to save Emilia Clarke’s nine year-old Sarah Connor? You won’t find out here. Presumably, it’s being saved for a sequel, which itself will be a prelude to some sort of wretched ‘cinematic universe’. It’s not just poor storytelling, it’s the filmmakers taking the audience for mugs.
But beyond the plot holes – of which there are many – there is also the fact that for a film so complicated, there is just something so utterly stupid about Terminator Genisys. It’s in the little details. Why would the machines in the far-future – who’ve invented time travel – need to drive their own vans? Isn’t it weird how, at the beginning, all the resistance fighters are just standing in front of the time machine, gawping at Kyle Reese’s cock and balls? And who the hell pre-orders an operating system?
The script is boring and unfunny…
You can forgive a stupid story if the script is funny and entertaining (Jurassic World could barely tie its own shoe laces but at least it had pace and personality). Terminator Genisys is brutally dull. It’s a big dumb lump of a thing that just sits there, waiting to die.
This radiates from everywhere. The action scenes offer nothing new. The script is cliche after cliche. Beyond a half-decent knob gag from Arnie, it’s bereft of humour. Which is not to say it doesn’t try to be funny – it does. But Terminator Genisys’ idea of a gag is saying something like “time travel makes my head hurt” after a long, jargon-filled piece of exposition. They may as well have had Arnie throw in a “I’m getting too old for this shit” and be done with it.
Nothing is earned, either. You are told – as per the originals – that Connor and Reese fall in love, but not one scene shows it. In fact, most of its thematic beats are bizarrely shallow. What was it like to be raised by an unfeeling machine? To be told that your life has been stripped of choice? Even towards the end, when Skynet presents itself as a holographic human (Matt Smith), you’d at least expect it to open up some sort of conversation – something that hasn’t been done before. Why does the AI want to wipe out humanity? Could it be reasoned with? Could it be understood? No, they just shoot at it.
…which then affects the actors
More often than not, actors are only as good as the material they’re given. This is especially true for Emilia Clarke, who might as well be juggling sand. With so little to work with, she seems to overcompensate; her (rather good) Linda Hamilton pout breaking apart only to bark action cliches lines like “rule this!” in the style of someone who’s never said “rule this!” in their life. “Old, but not obsolete” Arnold Schwarzenegger fares better, giving the film its only flashes of personality and humour; which, considering that he plays an emotionless robot, is saying something.
From Die Hard 5 to Jack Reacher, Hollywood has been trying very hard to make Jai Courtney a thing. But, as Kyle Reese, he might have reached his nadir as the blandest actor working in film today; a man who could take any role and turn them into Some Guy. With Genisys it’s no different. In fact, it might even be worse. At least in previous films he didn’t have a bloke playing an actual robot that you could compare him to.
It doesn’t know who it’s for
Terminator Genisys is so needlessly complicated that it will only make sense to those who’ve seen the original films. That, of course, would be totally fine if it was a direct sequel, but it’s being marketed as a fresh take on the franchise. As it is, Genisys is basically a diluted version of the first two films, one that trades upon their iconography without actually adding anything of its own.
First, there are the more obvious aspects: in its first third, scenes from the original 1984 film are eerily recreated shot-for-shot and prop-for-prop, with a CGI Arnie once again showing the punks what’s wrong with this picture (it’s a novelty that sounds far more fun than it actually is). But then there’s stuff like the T-800 being recast as the loveable good guy – treated here as revelatory but done so much better already in 1991 sequel Judgment Day. Even its finale – a last-gasp assault on Cyberdyne – feels far too similar to the final act of Judgment Day and the superior (yes, superior) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Too incomprehensible for newbies, too derivative for fans. Just who is Terminator Genisys for?
Terminator Genisys is out now