After the abysmal Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation, I had virtually no expectations going into Terminator Genisys – it could hardly have been worse than those two movies, right?
Well, right – but not by nearly enough to warrant a $170 million budget. Even with Arnold back and some great performances ( by Emilia Clarke and Jason Clarke), Terminator Genisys falls short.
The script – by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier – takes the time travel funhouse of the franchise’s first two movies (ignoring the last two completely) and tries to amp it up by adding additional stops on the time travel train and a second timeline; with both timelines being remembered by a major character. If you haven’t seen T1 & T2, you will be hopelessly lost here; if you’ve seen them, you’ll only be moderately at sea.
Terminator Genisys opens with some lovely, pastoral shots and a voiceover by Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). It shifts, abruptly, to the future of 2028, where human forces under the command of John Connor (Jason Clarke) are making a two-pronged attack to wipe out both the last of Skynet’s machines and Skynet itself. Though they are successful, Skynet manages to send a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).
John sends Kyle back after it – and is attacked by an infiltrator his forces had missed. The 1984 that Reese appears in is not what he expected. For one thing, a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has already destroyed the T-800 sent back to kill Sarah – when she was nine-years old! Second, Sarah is already something of a warrior – trained and guided by the T-800 unit, whom she calls Pops.
There’s a T-1000, too – Asian this time – that has to be taken care of.
In this greatly altered timeline, Sarah has been told that Reese would be her mate and their son would be John Connor – but she’s sick to death of it and, naturally enough, doesn’t tell Reese what she knows. Once things shift into yet another time, 2017, things get really hectic and Reese’s memories of events he never lived come into play.
Reese notes that time travel makes his head hurt; Pops gets to say, ‘I’ll be back’ – though far too late for it to carry any impact; the big build to the revelation that John Connor has a major shift in perspective falls flat (mainly because it’s in all the trailers – and I’m trying to be circumspect for those audience members who haven’t seen them), and Skynet’s physical self (and earlier cybernetic self, too, later) as played by Matt Smith, is an arrogant twit whose sole contribution to the movie seems to be as a vocal countdown device. There’s even a school bus gag that we’ve seen in at least half a dozen other movies…
If not for a very brief tag just after the main titles section of the closing credits, Terminator Genisys would have a more or less satisfying conclusion and, really, the series should have ended there.
Even allowing for a few great performances (I’m still waiting for one from Jai Courtney), this is a lumbering movie that feels much longer than its 126 minutes. Unlike T1 and T2, Genisys has no real edge to it – the first two movies were notable for having some deeper meaning and satiric moments, while this one has a some (decent enough) surface humor but no wit at all.
Alan Taylor (Thor 2: The Dark World) does fairly well with the film’s lighter moments – J.K. Simmons is great as a cop whose confusion about the situation mirrors our own, and Arnold still makes a solid T-800 – but the drama falls flat despite the efforts of Clarke and Clarke.
The special effects are exceptionally well executed, but here, too, Genisys doesn’t quite work because we’ve seen better VFX design in far too many movies over the last decade.
Fortunately, though Genisys pales in comparison to the first two movies, it is several orders of better than T3 and T4 – planting it squarely in the average range. There’s too much going on for it to be boring per sé, but I did finish two large Coke Zeroes well before the credits rolled – which makes it a disappointment, but not a terribly big one.
Final Grade: C