When did the Terminator franchise become more about punching and ineffective gunfire and less about the threat of robot overlords and the extinction of humanity? Yeah, Terminator Genisys has aspects of the latter. It even has some rather interesting ideas at play, but the plot is mired in futile action sequences and hackneyed dialogue to the point any originality in concept is lost on one routine scene after another. It also doesn’t help the film’s marketing spoiled a major plot point that takes place midway through the film, after which the plot boils down to a “race against the clock” scenario. Oh no, I wonder if they’ll manage to complete the job before the clock hits zero?
Utilizing a convoluted, alternate timeline that’s not even worth explaining, Terminator Genisys begins in the future where John Connor (Jason Clarke) is leading the human resistance against the machines. Harkening back to the original Terminator, Connor sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Only, just as Reese is being sent back something happens that changes both the past and the future, altering Reese’s objective, though not without more than a few nods to both 1984’s The Terminator, but 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in the process.
Surprisingly, at least to me, the nods to past Terminator films not only work narratively, but are rather fun to watch as they’ve been tweaked a shade for the new timeline. Reese is confronted with a liquid metal, T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) upon his arrival. Elsewhere, the original T-800 model Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger has also arrived in 1984 only to be met by an older (at least I think “older” is the proper descriptor here) version of the same Terminator. Classic lines are heard, punching and gun fire take place and a new story begins to unfold.
Within the first 30-45 minutes it seems Genisys may actually deliver a sequel worthy of its predecessors, but you soon realize that’s only because we’ve been given a taste of what’s already been successful. Once it settles into its own narrative it’s little more than an extended chase sequence for over an hour. Terminators punch one another, bust through walls and crack corny one-liners. To that point, I think I actually laughed more than was wowed by Genisys. Schwarzenegger’s attempts to crack a robot smile are mildly amusing — the first time — but like everything in this movie, each scene feels no different than the one before it.
Even newfangled Terminators aren’t much different than their liquid metal predecessors, at least in terms of the difficulty in fighting against them. How many bullets must we fire at these things before we realize it doesn’t stop them? And then we get a piece of artificial intelligence, that’s really nothing more than the Red Queen from the Resident Evil video game and movie franchises. Add to that the forced sexual tension between Reese and Sarah Connor and Sarah’s daddy issues, which manifest in her adoration for her Terminator protector, whom she’s nicknamed “Pops” and serves as an easy lay for geriatric jokes galore.
Truth be told, the silliness actually works, but it works once. At some point the story needs to be more compelling than the quips, or at the very least the action needs to deliver the “wow” factor, but the tension of a ticking clock combined with futile punching and gunfire doesn’t deliver outside of the opening moments.
Beyond the nods to previous Terminator films, however, I did enjoy the performance of J.K. Simmons whose character I won’t spoil since so much of the film has been spoiled already. That said, he works as both comic relief and in ways I wish the film explored a little further and dialed back on the chase sequences. Otherwise, Arnold was Arnold, Jason Clarke is fine as John Connor and even Jai Courtney worked as Kyle Reese whereas I’ve always had a hard time finding Courtney even remotely believable in any role.
Alternatively, Emilia Clarke seemed the wrong choice to play Sarah Connor. She just isn’t nearly as imposing as Linda Hamilton, which isn’t to necessarily compare the two actors, but more to comparing their performances. Sarah finally gets to deliver the “Come with me if you want to live” line and almost immediately you aren’t really buying her in the role.
Perhaps Clarke wouldn’t seem so miscast if the film didn’t come across so ham-fisted with cheap attempts at drama. It does utilize plenty of humor and even has some moments of self-awareness, but it’s not necessarily a matter of being self-aware considering the plot isn’t necessarily far-fetched in terms of plotting, more so only in terms of tech. Even then, if this is to be considered a sequel to the previous films, we’ve already accepted a world in which not only killer robots exist, but also time travel. So why does Terminator Genisys waste so much time explaining itself and beating us over the head with its dramatic love story and father figure issues?
There are some interesting ideas at play here. While they may be a little obvious and will have people patting themselves on the back for making comparisons to Apple and Amazon, it’s far more interesting than watching one robot punch another robot in one scene only to have them rinse-and-repeat in the next. Genisys seems to forget it actually has a story to tell and, at the same time, doesn’t seem to realize its action sequences all feel the same.