I know it’s not the most popular opinion, but I always preferred the original 1984 Terminator in the entire franchise. I thought there was never really a need for having a franchise because even Terminator 2 felt like a stretch in order to happen, not that it takes away from how great it is. Now we’re five films into the franchise, with the latest being Terminator: Genisys (no, I did not misspell that). It’s been a longtime coming since a new Terminator film has been in development since Salvation came out back in 2009. This has already been a year full of films that try to breathe life into old franchises. One was good (Mad Max: Fury Road), one was bad (Jurassic World), and some we’ll have to wait and see (Vacation, Creed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). So, where will Genisys fit?
Terminator: Genisys follows Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) who is sent by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to save his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) in the year 1984 in an effort to stop Skynet from killing his mother with a Terminator. However, things do not seem to be the way Kyle expected and he finds himself working with an already capable Sarah Connor and her “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a reprogrammed T-800 to stop a program called Genisys from going live, which will cause Judgement Day.
Given the heavily critical response to the film’s marketing, it’s not hard to see why Terminator: Genisys was dreaded by so many, but I wanted to give it a shot. I like the franchise overall, even if I’m not crazy about the previous two installments, and I really want Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career to be back in full force. I was more than willing to give this a shot, but once it was over, the one thought that came over me was that Genisys is definitely the worst in the entire franchise.
I honestly didn’t mind some of the ideas they were going for. It reminded me of what the 2009 Star Trek reboot did as well as the recent X-Men: Days of Future Past, in that they took all the best elements of the franchise, but go in their own direction to the point of doing an alternate timeline of sorts. I get that, and I think it’s a solid idea for a new Terminator film, in theory at least. The big problem is that Genisys is a convoluted mess that is so obsessed with its continuity and the first two films that it feels like a big budget fan film more than a legitimate Terminator film. There are countless callbacks, references and even scenes remade shot-for-shot from the original film and beats from the second film as well. In the film’s efforts to tie up loose ends, answer questions that were better left unanswered, the movie ends up creating a whole slew of problems in its timeline, internal logic and consistency. I honestly found it a bit confusing at times, which is strange considering how repetitive the film actually is.
Adding to the problems is the casting. I feel really bad for Jai Courtney, I think he gets so much unnecessary hate towards him simply because he has the luck of being in a lot of bad films (none of which would have been made better with someone else cast in his position, by the way). I’ve seen him do legitimately good supporting roles in stuff like Felony, Jack Reacher and Water Diviner (and I think he’ll do great as Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad), and he’s made films like Insurgent more watchable because of his performance. But yeah, he’s pretty terrible in this. It doesn’t help that his Kyle Reese does not feel like Kyle Reese, he just feels like a generic guy who constantly whines and complains. He also has zero chemistry with Emilia Clarke. Speaking of, Emilia Clarke, who does great work on Game of Thrones, is terrible in this too. It’s not necessarily for the lack of trying, but she is really out of her league and completely lacks the physicality and presence that Linda Hamilton (or even Clarke’s Game of Thrones co-star, Lena Heady, on the Sarah Connor Chronicles) brought to the role. Seeing Emilia Clarke in the film is like watching a cosplayer, again adding to that fanfic feel. Most of the other actors come off slightly better, but it’s either because they never really leave an impact or they are at least having fun. Jason Clarke isn’t good as John Connor, but I can at least tell he’s having fun chewing come scenery here and there. Matt Smith is a non-presence, as his screen time is only a few minutes at best. The two actors I actually enjoyed watching were J.K. Simmons and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they were also the only ones who could actually pull off some of the humor in the film.
Alan Taylor is the director here, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. He’s known mostly for his work on TV, though he has done films before (most recent one was Thor: The Dark World). He’s basically a for-hire director, he doesn’t seem to have a particular vision he wants to go for and there’s no flair or style in his direction that separates it from any other bland summer blockbuster. Even the VFX in the film aren’t that great. They feel cheap, cartoony and look remarkably fake compared to the effects in the first two. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film wasn’t loaded with so much CGI, but whatever.
You remember that scene in Looper where Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, meets his older self, played by Bruce Willis, at the diner? They are having this confrontation and young Joe is asking Old Joe about the specifics of how time travel works in their particular situation, but Older Joe doesn’t feel like it’s relevant and wants to move on to something else. Terminator: Genisys is the kind of movie that is obsessed with those nitty-gritty, nuts n’ bolts details with its time travel and continuity, and it comes at the sacrifice of strong, emotional character building. I never buy into the whole “the movie ruined [insert franchise here]” mindset that I see whenever there’s a sequel or reboot that is horrible, but Terminator: Genisys is literally the closest I’ve seen a sequel/reboot that goes out of its way to essentially rewrite the previous installments. I’m not that mad really, the film is watchable enough and it moves at a decent enough pace; it’s just not a good film on any level. There is an awkwardly placed mid-credits scene that opens things up for a sequel that, at this point, I’m simply indifferent towards. Who knows, maybe it’ll go all meta and be about going back in time to stop this movie from happening.