Terminator: Genisys (2015) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language
Running Time: 125 min.

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Byung-hun Lee, Courtney B. Vance
Director: Alan Taylor
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier

Review published July 2, 2015

"I'm old, not obsolete," says Arnold Schwarzenegger (Maggie, The Expendables 3) about the fact that he is an aging Terminator that is still highly functional despite his appearance (his human tissue still ages, even if he doesn't underneath).  Unfortunately, if the franchise is going to go down this road in its attempt at a brand new trilogy built upon the storyline introduced in The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I'd say that it's an interesting case of something that may be both old and obsolete.  They say that those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, but Terminator Genisys definitely hasn't learned about what made James Cameron's first two entries some of the best movies ever made, but they definitely did not repeat them in quality, despite copycatting whole scenes from them throughout.

Terminator Genisys starts in the year 2029, with the end of the rebellion against Skynet HQ, which makes it, essentially, both a prequel and a sequel to The Terminator, as we see the T-800 originally played by Schwarzenegger (recreated here with a body double and CGI face) go back to 1984 and try to assassinate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones"), to make sure her son, John (Jason Clarke, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), will never be born, and therefore, not be able to lead humanity to victory against the machines.  Following not long behind to keep this from happening is Kyle Reese (Courtney, Insurgent), who soon discovers that he and the the killer cyborg aren't the first ones to travel to the past in this timeline, as he is soon met by an older form of a T-800 that was sent even further into the past to serve as Sarah's protector (earning him the nickname, "Pops"), as well as an even more dangerous T-1000 out to take them all down.  Sarah, who is fully aware from an early age on what to expect will happen in the year 1984, barely needs protecting, and might only be interested in keeping Reese around because he is also needed to create John in the future. Together, they seek to keep the Terminators from killing the seed of Resistance in Earth's future, while the humans seek to stop the creation of Genisys, the seed of what will eventually become Skynet -- it's a race against time through time.

Someone, somewhere, must have looked at the Cameron Terminator films and thought, "Hmmm.  These movies are hugely popular and well-regarded.  People really LOVE really paradoxical and nonsensical time travel story elements.  How about we make an entire movie built around these conventions, only make them even more paradoxical and nonsensical? That will surely mean it will be even more successful than these examples!"

Actually, what's brilliant about the first two Terminator films is that they did not make sense at their core, and yet still feel like intelligent, thoughtful, philosophical fare, even though they are high-powered action movies at their core.  We suspended our disbelief because everything else had been firing on all cylinders such that we trusted Cameron with also having his ducks in a row when it came down to his time-travel hook, in addition to being so enthralled by the action and thriller elements that barely gave us time to think about how John Connor could possibly exist if Kyle Reese hadn't been there to conceive him the first time. 

Plus, those movies weren't really about time travel, even if they used it as a plot hook.  They were about the fear of technology, artificial intelligence, and the onset of a connected world where humanity becomes completely reliant on computers and data servers, to the point where, if somehow this entire world grid were to gain sentience, we could be responsible for sealing our own fate. And they were about being entertaining, scary thrill rides we'd want to visit time and again.

The problem with Terminator Genisys is that it is all too much about the time travel, forcing us as viewers to wonder what's going on in each particular scene, trying, mostly in vain, to try to piece together logic from the time line, eventually getting to the point where explanations like "nexus points" and "multiple future timelines" completely lose our ability to keep apace, and yet this never stops the creative minds at work from continuing to try to dazzle us with their commitment to cleverness.  Creating flow-charts to keep track of plotlines while watching movies is fun, right? From my point of view, this is akin to stating that what the game of baseball needs to be even more fun is to add a whole bunch of additional rules to the playbook, which would now require a multi-volume encyclopedia to keep all of them together.

The Terminator and Terminator 2 get free passes because they deliver big whenever and wherever it counts most.  If you want fantastic action, there are few better.  If you want gripping sci-fi, they are among the best and most influential of films ever made.  If you want spine-tingling chills, nail-biting thrillers, some choice relief, state-of-the-art special effects, and a splash of romance, it has all your bases covered, and then some.  It also had big ideas and big themes -- an action movie with a lot on its mind about the current, potentially grim trajectory of human existence.

Terminator Genisys has none of these. There's almost no real build-up involved to the story, and never a sense of palpable danger to anything going on, leaving prolonged action sequences feeling dull and leaden, even with as much special effects as they could muster with a nine-digit budget.  The humor is relegated to just a recurring joke that Pops doesn't know how to smile despite repeated efforts.  And in terms of relevant themes, there's nothing really to be found, as this end-of-world scenario is not so much built on the ominous warning of the danger of reliance on advanced technology so much as just a plot point to force onto the rest of the movie in terms of potential end-game, win-lose scenario.  In place of moral implications we get more and more complications, as the narrative is content to spin its wheels to get a whole lot of nowhere, except to give plenty of fan service through trite homage.

And there are so many call-backs to the Cameron gems that you might as well write down all of the things you remember from those films, from classic lines to key movie moments, and then prepare to check the box off of every one of them as they predictably get their moment.  one wonders, given that Paramount has already given the go-ahead to make two more cinematic sequels after Terminator Genisys, what they can do for future entries, given they've completely shot their wad in terms of quotes and scenes they can call back to in this first entry in their new trilogy.

Terminator Genisys has one thing that its most immediate predecessor, Terminator Salvation, lacked, and that's the participation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He's a welcome face here, but he's the only thing in the movie that gives the film any franchise cred, as the rest of the production feels off.  Emilia Clarke feels woefully out of place as Sarah Connor, exhibiting very little screen presence, perhaps only cast because the director is Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), who worked with her on "Game of Thrones", where she is infinitely more captivating. (Trivia: Sarah Connor has now been played by two "Game of Thrones" cast members; Lena Headey played her in FOX-TV's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles"). 

I'm not a Jai Courtney hater, but he's so outclassed by Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese that it's painful to watch try to fill the shoes; as with all films he is in, he's a generic hero placeholder.  Jason Clarke, no relation to Emilia, does make for a formidable John Connor, but what they do with the character of John Connor here is out-and-out atrocious.  J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Matt Smith (Lost River) shouldn't even be in the film at all, probably injected to set up for the next movies in the series, the latter perhaps only chosen in order to tie in a "Doctor Who" into another time-travel franchise.

Without any sense of stakes, and without interesting characters, humor, tension or any reason to exist save to try to squeeze out more profit from a franchise that has yet to find its way back to greatness in Cameron's absence, Terminator Genisys feels like a hamster caught in a wheel, running and running and running without actually going anywhere except back to where it came from.  Like the T-800 itself, it might wear the skin of a living, breathing, thinking, feeling entity, underneath it's all mechanics and artifice, unfeeling, existing only to mimic something merely enough to gain an opportunity for success. In the next entry, if these characters do travel back to 1984, I hope they walk in to a screening of James Cameron's original Terminator film so we can just watch that instead.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo