The Terminator franchise is an odd animal isn’t it? Now encompassing 5 movies, a tv show, 3 entirely different genres (horror, action and post apocalyptic) and wildly varying quality levels, from classic to garbage, the franchise is getting to the point where bad entries begin to degrade the credibility of the franchise as a whole. Two good entries, no matter how good, can only sustain a franchise so long.
Still, when those two original entries are classic pieces of sci-fi cinema, those two entries can sustain it longer than you might expect, but it also means that the bar for being considered ‘Good’ is higher than usual. Still, after the incredible stupidity that was Rise of the Machines and the dreary slog that was Salvation, not to mention a somewhat subpar summer blockbuster season, I was in the mood to be forgiving to Genisys…theoretically.
Positioning itself as combination reboot and sequel, Genisys begins pretty standard for the franchise. We start out in the future, where after the supercomputer Skynet (designed for missile defense) was turned on, it decided it needed to wipe out humanity via nuclear missiles to ensure it’s survival, which means it at least took it better than AM. John Connor (Jason Clarke) is the leader of the resistance against Skynet’s robot armies, alongside Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney).
As the plot begins, John is leading the final (successful I might add) attack on Skynet, and Skynet in a final desperate move, sends one of it’s titular Terminators, a human-like robotic assassins back in time to 1984 to kill John Connor’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) before he’s born. Kyle Reese is sent back to protect her.
If you’re at all familiar with…well media in general, you might recognize this as the plot of the 1984 film The Terminator. But here comes the twist; When Kyle Reese arrives back in 1984, he finds that Sarah Connor has been under the protection of another Terminator she nicknamed Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) since she was 7, and is now prepped for both this Terminator’s arrival, Kyle’s arrival, an attack by a liquid metal T-1000 and even has been making preparations to head into the future to stop the activation of Skynet. And that’s about all I can sum up without spoiling a couple of ideas and twists that the movie plays like surprises but have already been spoiled in the trailers.
When reviewing a film, I have several ways of dictating how I approach it, but by far the most important is my tendency to try and find something to grab onto. This can be anything from a memorable visual, a fantastic action beat, a good bit of acting or even just a strong emotion I felt. In this case, the thing I grabbed onto was the fact that, in the middle of the third act, I pulled out my phone to check the time. When the movie was supposed to be at its most intense, I was bored enough to just want to know when it was going to be over.
This isn’t going to be an easy thing to unpack, but I’ll do my best. I think the major issue is the movie lacks anything resembling focus or urgency. The movie moves along in starts and stops, never getting enough of a good pace to get me involved. This is half due to generally wonky pacing, and half due to a screenplay that never manages to get its priorities in orders.
You’d think a movie franchise whose approach to time travel makes Back to the Future look like Primer could skimp on the exposition, but apparently not. Huge chunks of the movie are devoted to exposition about how parallel timelines work, how Skynet is building, not to mention re-establishing details from previous movies, and between that, and all the time eaten up by action, and the characterization winds up getting reduced to nil.
The actors might be able to salvage this a little, but they’re clearly not up for the task. Jai Courtney has been bad in basically everything I’ve seen him in, and this is no exception, all glower and no personality. That’s no real surprise (an actor who is bad in things is bad, shocker) but I’m kind of shocked by how dull Emilia Clarke’s performance is.
There’s a recognizable human emotion in the character (irritation at having her future planned out) but the movie isn’t too interested in exploring it in any real way and she seems pretty bored throughout. Arnold is a little weirder, but no more engaging; The idea seemed to have been to try and find a middle ground between Arnold’s ‘Loveable oaf’ persona and the cold emotionless persona of the Terminator, and the result is an odd unfocused performance.
None of them however can compare to the villain (who wikipedia has informed me is called a T-3000, and whose identity I won’t spoil, despite being in the trailers). The actor they chose is terrible, the script makes him talk far, far, far too much (robbing him of any menace or interest) and his power set is basically just a less interesting version of the T-1000. It takes him until the final fight to finally do something cool with his powers and by then it’s too little, too late.
This is the moment where the action and effects work might step in, but the film seems determined to drop the ball in that department too. Most of the action beats are such clear and desperate attempts to recreate moments from the first two films that it eventually becomes distracting. There are a couple of decently realized moments (the helicopter chase has an entertaining ending and the way a couple villains go out are interesting) but without any sense of dramatic engagement, it all falls flat.
Even the effects fall pretty flat, although we can’t blame the script for that for once. The T-1000 somehow looks worse than it did in 1991, although I can’t nail down why. The visualizations of the T-3000’s powers are all incredibly boring, and the way they finally choose to put Skynet on the screen (a bad choice from the word go, but never mind) is incredibly stupid.
Terminator Genisys is ultimately the hardest kind of bad movie to review; The kind that makes no impression. Many much worse films are easier to review simply because they managed to evoke a strong emotion. Genisys on the other hand barely registers at all. I wanted to go into more detail about how bad the script is, but even as I sit here writing this, I can’t summon a single line from my memory. And no matter what else you say about a film, it can’t possibly be good if my brain decided to erase it before the weekend even hit.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and those of you seeing this movie for Matt Smith are gonna be disappointed.
– a couple of well structured action scenes
– I guess it’s funny a couple times?
– J.K. Simmons is also in it
– boring, flat characters
– awkward pacing
– terrible script