I can distinctly remember watching the first two Terminator films for the first time. I'm proud to say that these James Cameron masterpieces have helped fuel my inspiration to becoming a filmmaker. As someone who's grown up on Transformers, Fast and Furious, and other mindless explosive adrenaline fest's, I still prefer my action served with a side of smarts. James Cameron is one of those few directors who gets their audience members to think, even after they've left the theater, whether you're contemplating whether that door could've supported Jack and Rose in Titanic, or fathoming how much computer power it took to render Avatar. From the minuscule to the complex, Cameron has your noggin churning. So one can imagine my reaction to the mindless, soulless (and might I say nonsensical) CGI mess that is Terminator Genisys.
This newest installment opens with Kyle Reese time traveling to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, just like in the original Terminator. However, Sarah Connor is no longer a petrified waitress fleeing from a humanoid cyborg, but a hardened soldier brought up by one. With a rift in the timeline, they must time travel to 2017 to stop Judgement Day which will now be triggered by the computer program (Skynet duh) Genysis. This here is the most concrete synopsis I can provide you. The whole narrative ends up being very clunky, in-cohesive, and overall confusing. The involvement of alternate timelines creates numerous plot holes that fail to be addressed, and erase existence of all previous Terminator stories. The only purpose the story serves is to set up the next action set piece, and within these are gaps where characters spout out lines of exposition instead of taking the time of being the character the actors are supposed to embody.
Arnold returns as the T-800 robot, and it's quite evident he still loves playing this character after all these years. Yet, he still doesn't have that powerful presence he once had, and that blame goes to Alan Taylor's weak direction. Instead of including scenes that exhibit his abilities, he is used as a tool for comedic relief, the centerpiece of action scenes, and loads and loads of exposition, something I found very surprising from a machine who's sole purpose is to either protect, or kill. Emilia Clark plays Sarah Connor; while she make look the role, her interpretation of the woman warrior comes off as subpar compared to Linda Hamilton's strong performance. Jason Clarke is the seventh actor to portray John Connor, and he adds nothing new to the role. While most of these performances seem to be by the number, Jai Courtney takes the cake in playing himself. I say this because in most of his films roles from Divergent, to Jack Reacher, and the horrendous A Good Day to Die Hard, he gives off the same tired performance of a half-assed action star just filling out a paycheck. Now in my defense, I don't hate these actors, even Jai Courtney. The source of error is their embodiment of characters the audience is already familiar. In J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, the entire cast from the original series of movies was replaced. That film works not only because the actors respected the character they were portraying, but they injected their own personal unique touch too them. They are able to become the character without being an imitation, and that is what Terminator Genysis failed to accomplish. I'm don't feel like I'm watching Sarah Connor or Kyle Reese, I feel like I'm watching someone trying to play them.
The first two entries in the series are not only considered sci-fi classics, but are engrained in our culture. Arnold's leather clad, sun glasses wearing, machine gun wielding hunting machine is an image we can all recognize. Quotes such as "I'll be back" and "Come with me if you want to live" seem commonplace. Film studios however use these little trademarks in their bait and hook approach. Notice in the latest trailers for Genysis, much on the concentration is focused on Arnold, the famous quotes, and iconic imagery from the Terminator saga. The films depends so much on the previous two entries that it forgets to be its own thing. Any attempts to reveal original story elements end up revealing spoilers that effect the moviegoing experience. A character depicted usually as a hero in all the other movies, is now turned to the villainous side. Regardless how you feel about the choice, the surprise is ruined. Any buildup leading up to that reveal is decimated because of poor marketing. This even happened with the Terminator Salvation, which also revealed one of the films biggest twist in the trailer. Audiences watch movies to be surprised since they want new things. If anyone is wondering why the latest entry in a well established series is underperforming at the box office, look at the marketing, look at the reviews, and listen to the people.
James Cameron himself has given the film his approval, placing strong emphasis on the films twist and paying respect to the other films. While it seems like his opinion contrasts with the majority, we've got to remember that sometimes directors see their franchise differently than others (George Lucas and his prequels). For all we know, Cameron could've made the movie himself and would've been happy with it. Since he gets the franchise rights back in 2019 (also the year when his final Avatar film comes out), we may finally get to see Cameron have a stab at his beloved story one last time. Then again, with each sequel doing poorer than the pervious one, maybe it's a hint to the studios that sometimes, a series needs to terminate as well. Just because Arnold says "I'll be back" doesn't mean he has to be coming back again, and again, and again.