MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Terminator Genisys’ Is More Than A Bit Rusty

Film: Terminator Genisys
Starring: Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed By: Alan Taylor

“Old, but not obsolete.” This line reverberates throughout the narrative of the new reboot/sequel/studio machination, Terminator Genisys. As the camera lingers on Schwarzenegger’s automated façade, we see that the lines on his face are more noticeable than ever. A sign of passing times, one would say. Time has most certainly passed since director James Cameron built the foundation for the franchise on top of schlocky B-movie tropes like relentless violence, threadbare sci-fi concepts and seemingly invincible villains. But this is 2015, folks – the time when that kind of nutty sci-fi must be over-explained until convolution is achieved. Some things are better left unsaid and under-exploited; however, that isn’t Terminator Genisys’ bag. It’s much more interested in cheaply calling back to its predecessors, sporting a framework indicative of the superhero genre’s increasingly huge influence on blockbusters, and setting the stage for installments to come. This one is programmed to dull.

It’s Los Angeles in 2029 and John Connor (this time played by Jason Clarke) is about to lead an attack that would cripple Skynet once and for all. After discovering Skynet’s major weapon, a time machine, John sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from one of Skynet’s many robot assassins. Things are different though. Sarah has already destroyed the terminator sent back to kill her with the aid of pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger), another terminator programmed to protect Sarah. There’s a new foe in town though and it has raised the stakes.

Terminator Genisys is the perfect example of a film that believes it can use the goodwill drummed up by its predecessors. While that may be true, Genisys makes it clear that those callbacks and references won’t be the only things reused from other films. Akin to Marvel’s most recent effort, Avengers: Age of Ultron, a physical MacGuffin (plot motivator with little explanation) in the form of the new foe is chased around by the trio of heroes so that judgment day can be averted, once again. Nothing in this effort indicates that the filmmakers wanted to develop something interesting in Terminator lore, like an interesting serial that complements the source material. The explosions are big, the chase scenes are endless, and the mid-credits stinger is Marvel-level insipid. The whole film is a product to be marketed, sold and then sequel-ed by people who believe bombastically dull stories will put butts in seats. I think you already know that answer. There’s still a certain dinosaur movie eating up the box office with a vacuous grin.

The performances both save and make the film sadder to watch. Schwarzenegger’s robotic stoicism is intact but his one-liners never land. When humanistic qualities are added to his moments, they feel cheap and never earned. Emilia Clarke is decent as the new iteration of Sarah Connor. This is a different Sarah though. One already battle-hardened and never looked down upon by others for her prophetic looks into a possible destructive future. Jai Courtney heralds back to Sam Worthington’s performance in Terminator Salvation – one replacing vigor and charm with lifeless line readings and robotic attempts at charm. Jason Clarke as Connor is the biggest loss in the film, though. The kind of confliction in the face of violence he showed in Zero Dark Thirty isn’t here. But again, this isn’t the same John Connor we grew up knowing. J.K. Simmons makes a needed comedic appearance, luckily.

What is it about the Terminator series that resonates with audiences? To me, it was all about the practical effects and John Carpenter-esque qualities to the first and second films. 1984’s The Terminator was a seedy action-thriller bordering on horror with enough sci-fi qualities to set itself from the pack. The second film, although being a bit of a slog, is a sequel that expounds upon the thrills of the original while sticking to the mythos set by the first film. The third and fourth films? Well, their respective quality ranges from fine to dull. Terminator Genisys is what happens when those sci-fi qualities trump the B-movie ones. When the origin of your franchise has the sci-fi depth of Philip K. Dick fan fiction, it’s probably not best to expand upon that mythos. That’s exactly what Genisys does. It tries to make camp into some kind of well-informed fiction by way of nutty, convoluted science.

The visuals are all too familiar as well. There are countless sequences of destruction muddled by an orange tinge, unsaturated colors dulled by 3D post-conversion and the constant fetishistic need for the characters to survive some kind of destructive act. All of the action sequences are shot and scored like they have to carry the heft of the finale. Alas though, that won’t be coming for another two hours.

What is Terminator Genisys’ purpose in the summer of 2015? To remind us that Mad Max: Fury Road was here to save us all and the world didn’t pay attention.


Review written by Sam Cohen (follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen
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