Film Review – Terminator Genisys
When it comes to writing reviews there is a certain word I try to avoid at all costs, but in the case of Terminator Genisys (2015) I’m afraid I can’t turn away from using it. This movie is boring. Up and down, from beginning to end, the fifth installment of the Terminator franchise is an uninspired drag. This incorporates the very worst of blockbuster filmmaking – there’s a lack of creativity, ingenuity, and overall enjoyment here. Not only is it a shameless money grab, it also tries to one-up its predecessors by attempting to wipe them clean, essentially erasing the visionary work of James Cameron’s first two entries while doing little to reinvent itself. This is a series that has overstayed its welcome far longer than any of us expected, or wanted.
It’s saddening to type that previous sentence. The idea James Cameron brought to The Terminator (1984) was clean, precise and straightforward. An unstoppable killing machine is sent to the past to kill the person who would give birth to a futuristic hero. This narrative allowed Cameron to play with memorable characters and set pieces, wrapped around what is essentially a horror story. With each sequel – including Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – the threads started to unravel in terms of consistency. The biggest sin Genisys commits is continuously reminding us how convoluted the structure has become.
Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier wrote a screenplay that runs around in circles trying to explain how the war of 2029 still exists, and why an older T-800 (again played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is now teamed up with Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) in 1984. Gone is the weak, scared character Linda Hamilton played in the first film, replaced by the tough badass we remember from T2, basically undoing the character development that made her so interesting. This time, when Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back by John Connor (Jason Clarke), Sarah no longer needs saving. Under the protection of the T-800 (which she so lovingly names “Pops”) Sarah is already locked and loaded to fight whatever danger is flung her way. This time, it’s Sarah who tells Kyle the famous “Come with me if you want to live” line.
But wait, why is there an older T-800 helping Sarah in 1984? Oh, what a rabbit hole we’ve got. The writing loads the characters with heavy expositional dialogue. Characters frequently explain how things happen, why they happen, and how it’s going to affect the future. Events occur in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s to set the stage in a mish mash of plot holes and loose strings that are introduced but never dealt with. The constant explaining brought the energy down to a standstill. What’s worse: despite characters pummeling us with exposition to the point of nausea, at its most fundamental, this is no different than what we’ve seen before. Once again, the main characters must fight against time to stop Skynet from becoming self-aware. There’s even a literal ticking clock to show how suspenseful this is all supposed to be. How much difference can a person really make if they’re just going to do the exact same thing in a future installment?
Alan Taylor directs with a competent but flat approach. Taylor is a veteran of television, but imbues Genisys with no distinct style or personal touch. Action scenes are dull and lifeless, filled with poorly rendered CGI. One scene features a chase between two helicopters, and both the camera placement and physics of the scene does nothing but highlight the artificiality of the moment. The most convincing shots are taken from The Terminator and blended into new footage early on, possibly because Cameron directed the original shots. How far has technology really come in filmmaking? In 1991, seeing Robert Patrick transform as the T-1000 was astonishing. Now, when the new T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) does the same thing, it’s no longer impressive – it may very well be less convincing. There’s no weight or substance in the direction, this could have been a cartoon.
The performances do little to guide us through the story. Emilia Clarke is great as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, but as Sarah Connor she lacks the edge and desperation to make her come alive. She appears to be “playing” the role instead of “being” it. Jai Courtney is a blank slate. Just like in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Courtney does not have the charisma or screen presence to draw our attention. There is no nuance or detail in this incarnation of Kyle Reese, he is simply reciting lines and hitting his mark. Of the supporting cast, J.K. Simmons leaves the best impression, but his screen time is sadly limited to a few minutes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has played (and parodied) his most iconic role so often that he could do it in his sleep. Pushing nearly seventy years young, Schwarzenegger admittedly looks good at his age, and wears the role of the T-800 like a second skin. He seems to be the only one in on the joke, aware that any level of earnestness in this series has fallen off the rails. At this stage of his life and career Arnold looks like he’s doing the actor’s version of a karaoke performance, but at least he’s doing it with the charisma and charm his younger counterparts fail to bring.
Terminator Genisys is a sad outing for all involved, including the audience. Its biggest accomplishment is pointing out the greatness that once was. We should’ve said “hasta la vista” to this franchise many years ago.