(dir. Alan Taylor)
“This is all wrong.”
Any self-respecting Terminator fan knows that the franchise should have ended after James Cameron tied everything up in T2: Judgement Day. But just because a film is unnecessary doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. At the very least, that’s what most of us fans were hoping for with this fifth installment. Taking a page from the time travel reboot hijinks of Star Trek and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Terminator: Genisys attempts to reset the franchise. Once again John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and ultimately father him. But this time around Kyle doesn’t find the frightened waitress, but a battle ready Sarah Connor with her own aged T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), ‘Pops’, who has raised her since she was nine. Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator travel to 2017 to prevent Judgement Day (this time in the form of a data Cloud-based program known as Genisys), only to find out that John Connor has been sent back from the future as a new kind of Terminator.
Upon leaving the theater my reaction went a little something like this: “well that wasn’t too bad. It was better than Terminator 3 (not a high bar). There were some good parts (as I struggled to think of good parts). There were a lot of bad parts (as I remembered lines of cringe-worthy dialogue and cheap effects work). And the plot didn’t really make sense…what did John Connor want? Can I even explain what happens in the film after the first act? Is it really any better than Terminator 3?”
So that may give you an indication of where this review is headed. I wanted to like this movie, despite the fact that every single piece of marketing material was borderline atrocious, I hoped that maybe I would be surprised and my low-expectations would be surpassed. As I watched the movie I realized how hard I had to try to find the positives, how many excuses I had to come up with to smooth over every lazy scripting issues, every generic fight scene, and every forced joke. When the house lights came on, all those thin tethers began to dissipate and it began to dawn on me that what I’d just seen wasn’t decent, mediocre, or disappointing, it was just poor filmmaking all around.
Although Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World is one of the lowest films on my Marvel totem pole, I do credit it for some imaginative designs and action set pieces. None of that exists in Genisys. Every set piece looks generic and drowns in gray cinematography. Even the cityscape shots of San Francisco look poor, like establishing shots used in CW shows. The action is equally generic, gun fights with flashing muzzles and no sense of impact, hand to hand fight scenes where one Terminator throws another Terminator into a wall (again and again), and chase scenes (one with a school bus and another with a helicopter) that throw physics and solid special effects work out the window. In many ways it’s hard to believe this is the same director who made The Dark World (though he touts he had more control over this film than Marvel gave him). Worse yet, it’s hard to believe this is the house that Cameron built.
The first act is actually pretty enjoyable, if only because it’s basically using all the character work and shots from The Terminator. Once John Connor is sent to 2017, the film starts to go off the rails. Jason Clarke does a decent job as the Connornator (T-3000) and his design is undeniably cool, but screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier give him no motivation to work with. His plan is to convince Sarah and Kyle to join the machines (WHAT?) and when they refuse him he goes to Cyberdyne Systems to help create the technology that will ensure the future. So he creates T-1000s and a time machine in 2017 because…I don’t know. Truly, the script is an absolute mess and not because time travel is wonky, but because everything is inconsequential and nonsensical. Even something as simple and seemingly concrete as Judgement Day and Skynet are beaten into balls of tinfoil. The idea of Skynet gaining control because of a program that allows humans to link all their technology together wouldn’t be bad if this movie had been made in 1995. But we already have the Cloud, so the idea of people getting excited about Genisys (and its chinsy looking countdown clock billboards all over the city) is a far stretch. Add in the fact that Genisys is personified by a creepy little boy hologram and you have a product that no one would want, and a story that could never happen.
Although Genisys fails at its big ideas, it seems plausible to expect they could at least deliver on the familiar characters and storylines we’ve seen played out before, right? Unfortunately, no. After the first act, Sarah and Kyle dance around each other like high-schoolers in a juvenile mating game featuring post-time travel lines like “Just because I held you when we were naked, doesn’t mean anything,” Emilia Clarke isn’t bad, and she’s quite likeable despite the bad romance, but she isn’t Sarah Connor in the least. She’s basically a different character altogether, and the same goes for Kyle Reese, played by the dependably unvaried acting skills of Jai Courtney. Gone are the weary, stray dog looking resistance fighter, and the fully capable, slightly crazy, badass mother, and instead we’re left with their attractive, depthless replacements. Even old reliable Schwarzenegger doesn’t come away untarnished. He’s easily the best part of the movie due to a few solid jokes, but he’s underutilized and given little to do except stare and stand in the background. In a franchise in which he’s the standout character, he has no standout lines or moments.
There are very little positives to find with this movie, and the more I think about it, the lower it sinks. Paramount has already announced two sequels to be released in 2017 and 2018 and the film sets itself up for one in what may be the least impressive post-credits scene since X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Amazing Spider-Man. There are likely seeds for the future installments scattered across the film, but honestly I don’t know what’s plot set-up and what’s just poor filmmaking. Even if a sequel does get made, I’m not sure it could untangle itself from the mess it created here, but ultimately it matters very little. The future may not be set, but I guarantee you that by tomorrow, I will have forgotten this entire ordeal.