“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg.” As said by Abe played by Jeff Daniels in Looper. And that same time travel crap will do just that and more with Terminator Genisys as it tries to restart a once great action/sci-fi franchise. And it certainly has a tall order if it wants to be regarded in same light as the original film, The Terminator and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This is especially after the next two sequels underperformed in many ways, including box office and critical reception. But while Terminator Genisys tries to do something different, it really doesn’t offer anything really exciting or worthy of its epic grandstanding. The altered timelines and unneeded exposition only confuse and make you pine for the days when a visionary like James Cameron was taking the reins.
John Connor (Jason Clarke) is the leader of the human resistance who strives to put an end to Skynet, a self-aware artificial intelligence hell-bent on destroying humanity. In his care is Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) a faithful soldier to John who as we already know is the father to John Connor. He enlists to go back to 1984 to prevent the T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from killing Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) who would birth John. But upon going back he notices that the timeline that he thought he was going back to has drastically changed as Sarah is not the weak woman from before but a strong warrior and the T-800 is now her protector. They all work together to change the future and the world from being taken over by the malevolent Skynet.
When it comes to time travel movies, the stories are always the topic of discussion as they have to be seen as somewhat viable even as time traveling doesn’t exist, at least not yet. But with Terminator Genisys the explanation for why everything is happening just seems so superfluous and random. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell happened but eventually I just don’t care because everything else wasn’t given as much thought. The story wanted to be all inclusive and time shifting but it just ends up doing way too much with no real rhyme or reason why everything is going on. The story is by far the weakest of the series and the most static, jumping from one timeline to another and to another. The previous four installments all had a linear way of storytelling that didn’t jump from one place to another.
Another thing that bothered me is that it tried too hard to copy another franchise in its attempt to revamp its once great mythology. The X-Men films are huge blockbusters but like The Terminator films fell out of favor as the sequels went on, the first two being the best. So the latest film with original director Bryan Singer at the helm, X-Men: Days Of Future Past went back in time to the 70s and then when it went to the future it altered the entire cinematic universe and deleted the hugely unfavorable X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine from the canon. Now any future films don’t have to follow the previous films and can do as they please without upsetting the timeline. Terminator Genisys did that also but not as successful and tried too hard to place itself as something new, even after it honored the original. But it just showed that it really can’t duplicate the aura and feel the old films had. It recreated scenes shot for shot in the beginning which is a nice touch I guess but only matters to those who have seen the originals.
It relied too much on its own mythology from the past films and used it to recreate its own mythology. I appreciate the effort to do something different but it just felt too tired and unoriginal. Much like Superman Returns that was a sequel to Superman II, it fell flat and relied way too much on the Richard Donner films. It wasn’t brave enough to blaze a new trail and use the innovations of today’s technology to show something that hasn’t been seen before ever on screen like George Miller did with Mad Max: Fury Road. That franchise also had a film that brought down the iconic character with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome not up to the previous films classic pedigree. The similarity with Singer and Miller is that they both started the franchises and were the reason why they were so beloved and successful. No one else can do what they did as evidenced by the X-Men installments that Singer didn’t direct. Would it have been different if James Cameron went back in the director’s chair? Hell yes it would have been since he knows the characters, stories, the motivations and the breath taking action that he is known for.
When it comes to The Terminator, you don’t need a standard action/commercial director. You need a visionary who puts story, heart and character before action and special effects. It would have made sense to hire someone who is daring, hungry and willing to do something dangerous with The Terminator like how Jurassic World hired Colin Trevorrow, a relative unknown who managed to make one of the biggest hits of all time. That’s why George Miller is so great at what he does and puts many director’s half his age to shame, he is a true visionary who has an appetite for mayhem, chaos and more importantly character. Director Alan Taylor didn’t really impress at all and felt like a standard action flick, miles away from its more well-known and successful counterparts. He hasn’t had much success with films as he’s been more known for directing TV shows for the past 20 years.
But he has directed some of the more popular shows in the last decade with multiple episodes on Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, Mad Men and Sex In The City. So you’d think that would equate to a great directing job with one of the more iconic characters in cinematic history as his TV resume has him directing some of the more iconic characters in TV history. But that isn’t really the case as it’s like he’s a different director all together. It’s as if he had more freedom with TV than he does film as one wouldn't be able to tell that it’s the same guy who directed Tony Soprano, Tyrion Lannister and Don Draper. Those TV shows are full of intrigue, death, duplicitous characters and engaging stories from beginning to end. Terminator Genisys has none of that and is just basically your standard commercial fare that fans of his work wouldn’t even bother with.
He did a fine job on Thor: The Dark World and even if it wasn’t the best Marvel film, it was a lot of fun but only served the duty of being a cog in the MCU. So it didn’t really stand out that much in the end amongst other better films in the MCU. If he comes back for a sequel, I don’t see how it would be any different than what we have already seen. As of now Taylor is alright for serviceable action films that don’t offer much so a different director would be a better choice. But with how altered the timeline is, I doubt that anyone can make sense of what is happening now. Taylor only provided enough narrative to get you to the next action set piece which is the worst way to present an action movie.
It often fell flat where you aren’t really engaged with these characters that you have known for years prior. The pacing for me was a little long in the tooth and it dragged somewhere in the middle or maybe near the end. I was waiting for it to end because not that much was exciting enough for me and hasn’t shown me anything new. With Terminator 2: Judgement Day at a running time of over two hours and twenty minutes, I was enthralled with every minute and didn’t want it to end. With Terminator Genisys at a running time of just over two hours, it took its toll on me for a bit. Cameron not only directed but wrote and produced the first two Terminators and his deft touch for character and story is shown all throughout. But with generic writers and directors taking the helm, it just feels like your average time traveling apocalyptic story. Co-writers in Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier do more damage to the story and mythology of The Terminator than anyone else who has written previous Terminator films combined. But I shouldn’t be all that surprised from the writers and directors of Alexander, Pathfinder, Drive Angry and My Bloody Valentine.
The eventual plan to take down Skynet was no different than the plan to take down Skynet in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Sarah Connor along with a male who doesn’t really know her and The Terminator blow up a building housing technological advancements, get in a helicopter chase, the Terminator copies a person and a standoff ensues to find out who is the real person is and eventually prevent Judgement Day. Or so they think. But anyone who has seen a Terminator film knows that Judgement Day is unpreventable in every sense of the word. There is always something lingering around that makes a sequel possible which begs the question, how many times can they extend this series knowing full well that the apocalypse will always happen no matter what.
This was already explained in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines where John Connor realized that Judgement Day was unavoidable and he couldn’t destroy Skynet once and for all. Although it’s no longer canon, the point is already made. Eventually you just want to see a new story that doesn’t involve stopping Skynet from nuking the world and just move into the future already. But that already happened with Terminator Salvation which was met with horrible reviews from basically everybody but I liked that they took a chance and didn’t resort to the same storyline as before. Even the eventual and unlikely weapon that would doom humanity felt overused from previous films and really lazy. Almost as if it were insulting my intelligence as they couldn’t come up with something smarter and creative.
The dialogue was overly cheesy for the most part and you didn’t feel interested in what everyone else had to say. And it didn’t really have that much to say at all. There wasn’t much that stuck with you unlike Sarah Connors monologues about the future, robots learning humanity or her mental state completely breaking down. It was too bogged down and complicated with time travel and alternate realities that the only way I can possibly explain what is going on is “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey...Stuff.” Back To The Future Part II was set in three different timelines and one alternate reality, but made much more sense than Terminator Genisys ever could. Even Kyle Reese was confused by saying how much time travel made his head hurt.
You could tell that there was a lot of effort in the script but not much effort was made to make it make sense or have it flow seamlessly. It just lazily went on and you’re just expected to go along for the ride and forget all the craziness that you just witnessed. And I don’t want even to start with the time paradoxes here as they really shouldn’t happen and it only causes to create more mayhem possibly. I could feel Doc Brown having a conniption fit at the ridiculousness of Terminator Genisys. And there’s also the point of them being caught by the police and taken into custody so everyone knows who they are and they caused destruction all over Los Angeles. Who’s to say that they don’t get picked up again and put into jail by the authorities? It’s clear they stick out like a sore thumb and with technology as advanced as it is in the film especially Skynet, they’d have to be virtually invisible to evade any and all authorities. The action looked great as it should but the set pieces let a lot to be desired. There were some great action films already this year with Mad Max: Fury Road setting the bar insanely high and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jurassic World and Spy all providing equally creative and innovative ways to show amazing action. But it just felt so uninspired here as if you’ve already seen it all before from not only other Terminator films but other action films in general. The first two Terminator films had some of the most iconic action sequences in history with The Terminator plowing down a station full of cops, Kyle and Sarah battling The Terminator in a high speed chase and ending in a factory a high benchmark.
The sequel would out do it in many ways with the first meeting of the T-800 and the T-100 in the mall, the battle in the mental hospital and the three piece climactic action sequence starting with the explosion at Cyberdyne Systems and ending in a steel mill. Each one was different but they all engaged you that watching it again and again is a clear requirement. No action set piece stood out that would cause you to see it again and with action films being somewhat boring for the most part, it takes more to rattle the audience. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road three times and was excited every single time as the rewatching didn’t hinder my excitement for me and still felt new. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before and something I wanted to revisit again and again. There is no such feeling with Terminator Genisys and falls below the mark of other more praise worthy action films.
The acting from the main cast was clearly less than stellar and is somewhat distressing that the most entertaining aspect of the movie is a 60 year old aged action star that is playing a robot over the younger cast. Arnold knows the role more than anybody and it’s still entertaining to see him as the robotic warrior, even if his previous performances were much better. As the franchise moved on, Arnold played The Terminator to more and more parody, becoming more sillier than before and going for gags and laughs. It’s weird to see him this way and takes you out of the moment of the film for long stretches. It felt a little like watching a sitcom at times and I expected a 90s TV show theme and opening credits to just pop up in the middle, with the Terminator trying to adjust to 21st century society, does something dopey and Sarah Connor laughs at him.
But at Arnold’s age, playing for goofs and laughs is mainly the name of the game now. It’s the reason why The Expendables films were so fun and incredibly dumb as he’s playing up his legacy against other action legends from his time. It goes a different route here with Arnold being a protector and guardian over decades instead of a few days, and aging like he is now. If they wanted to bring him back, there aren't very many options out there and this seemed like the most viable. But the edge he previously had was lost unlike “Mad” Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road who is now being played by Tom Hardy. Previously played by Mel Gibson, Tom brought him back to life flawlessly and played the role beautifully where he didn’t lose his ferociousness, madness or quiet, brooding intensity.
It was a revamp that worked on every level but with Terminator Genisys, The Terminator just feels like a hallow shell. Arnold looked like he was having a lot of fun if that’s worthy anything and ill usually see him in anything but who knows how long the new Terminator franchise can go. J.K. Simmons also had some fun as a detective but that’s to be expected coming from one of the more well-known and talented character actors out there right now. He didn’t have much to do but played up the eccentricities of a washed up cop, then he just disappears near the end where his presence doesn’t seem to matter in the end. Clarke looked badass and took care of herself but she is surely no Sarah Connor who couldn’t really get into the needed sentimentality and obsessive mentality to make her truly come to life. Linda Hamilton did an exceptional job as the waitress turned heroine where you really believed in her fear of a robotic killing machine or that she could break your arm if you looked at her wrong. I don’t buy Clarke as a badass who would take on a T-1000 and cock a shotgun one handed while having a stab wound in her arm. And there also was the loving aspect of her personality whether it was for Kyle Reese or her son John Connor. That motherly/loving aspect of her was used very well in the first two sequels and made the stories and her character that much stronger. She had great chemistry with Michael Biehn, who played Kyle Reese and was a tough as nails, no nonsense mom to Edward Furlongs John Connor.
They all played well off of each other and the emotions felt real. Jai Courtney could hardly muster any emotion to play Kyle Reese and felt even more robotic than the Terminators all over the film. There was no intensity, self-doubt or pained anguish that Biehn brought to the role before and was basically your average action role that could have been named anybody and it wouldn’t have mattered. His character and acting was no different than John McClane Jr. in A Good Day To Die Hard which also wasn’t that great and an unforgettable chapter into a once great and iconic action franchise. John Connor was never really played well by anybody in the previous three Terminator films and Clarke adds to that collection in a rather normal performance as a leader of the human resistance and eventually as a villainous human/robot hybrid called the T-3000.
He didn’t really make for a compelling villain even when he was able to talk in complete sentences unlike past Terminators. You could only go so far with updated, more advanced models of Terminators but it just feels so silly here, like you would expect him to shoot lasers from his eyes and fly with jet packs on his feet. I even liked the T-X from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines more than I liked the T-3000. The only person who really looked the part like John Connor was Michael Edwards who played him in Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a brief look into the future of 2029 and he didn’t have any lines at all with only a minute of screen time. Everyone else was really subpar with Nick Stahl and Christian Bale turning out very unforgettable turns.
As weird as it sounds, I liked Terminator Salvation more than Terminator Genisys for several reasons. Even though it technically didn’t feature Arnold as the Terminator, it offered a full vision of the post-apocalyptic future that was only shown in brief scenes in all the other films. The production design was very well done and I loved the look of all the machines from the motorcycles and the human gathering machine. It had a great feel for the apocalypse and destruction from the machines. Bale overacted for many of his scenes and never really was the right fit for Connor but Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin put out some good performances and brought a different dynamic than what we are used too with these films.
I wanted to like Terminator Genisys but knew it wouldn’t be able to replicate the first two classic films of the franchise. They both already went so above and beyond that it would have been nearly impossible. It tried to present itself as something epic and different but often felt a little boring at times. The acting from the trio of Clarke, Courtney and Clarke left a lot to be desired and it felt a little too dopey and cheesy from Arnold and that’s saying something as he’s been known to be dopey and cheesy in some of his films. There were some fun aspects but not enough to make it worthwhile or notable in the Terminator canon. Much more tongue in cheek than before, it didn’t mesh well with the previous mythology of The Terminator films. With other reboots/sequels being successful this summer, Terminator Genisys falls below the mark and doesn’t add much to the once exciting and great franchise that inspired so many directors and films today. Arnold may be back once again, but I’m not sure if I want him back anymore. One and a half confusing explanations for time travel, alternate timelines, time paradoxes and enough rifts in the space time continuum that will leave your brain melting out of five.