By James Hancock June 30th, 2015
There has not been a good Terminator movie in over 20 years and there never will be again until filmmakers stop picking over the creative bones of James Cameron’s concept and instead come up with something as original and groundbreaking as James Cameron’s now classic films The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). With Terminator Genisys, director Alan Taylor and screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier try and fail to reinvigorate the Terminator franchise with an ill-conceived soft reboot that consistently confuses plot twists with ideas. There is not one beat, one detail in the entire film that isn’t simply a rehash or new spin on concepts that Cameron thought up decades ago. The reason why James Cameron’s first two films worked so well was that we had never seen anything like them before. In the 1980s, James Cameron combined action and science fiction better than any other director alive. The original R-rated The Terminator was a dark, often terrifying film with a unique style and mood that needed only a paltry $6.4 million budget to deliver a chase movie that holds up far better today than the lackluster Terminator Genisys that I just watched. The only silver lining from tonight’s experience is that I love seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger back in action. I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and I count Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Terminator (1984) and Predator (1987) among my favorite action movies. That said, my sentimental side only goes but so far and if Arnold is ever going to appear in another good movie, we have to be brutally honest about which movies of his are sub-par. Furthermore I have no sentimental affection for director Alan Taylor and with every frame of film in Terminator Genisys he underlines just how far short he falls of following in James Cameron’s footsteps.
I had a suspicion that Terminator Genisys would be lousy after seeing just how much the trailer gave away. I tried to keep an open mind but rightly assumed that something was wrong with the movie if they were willing to give away so many spoilers. If you missed the trailer, the movie builds from the foundation of the first two movies and pretends Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) never happened. In the year 2029 as John Connor and Kyle Reese lead the human race to victory over the machines, Skynet makes a last ditch effort to survive by sending a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother. John sends Kyle back in hot pursuit to protect his mother (and sire John Connor) and it is at this point that Terminator Genisys shuffles the deck with several plot twists that feel familiar but push the story in new directions. First and foremost, as Kyle is sent back, John Connor is attacked and altered by a type of Terminator we have never seen before. In addition, an unknown benefactor who is never identified manages to send yet another Terminator even further back in time to protect Sarah Connor as a little girl resulting in her growing up to be a badass instead of a waitress. There are a lot of additional wrinkles such as a T-1000 being sent back to intercept Kyle Reese upon his arrival. Long story short, Sarah, her Terminator guardian and Kyle quickly team up and defeat the two Terminators. Kyle starts recalling memories from an alternate timeline and they realize that the future is now in a state of flux. Using a time machine that the Terminator guardian has been building for years, they travel forward in time to 2017 to destroy an alternate Skynet that will take over the world using the launch of a new product called Genisys as a trojan horse. There, our heroes encounter John Connor who has traveled back in time to stop them. He has become a human-machine hybrid who now instead of being the savior of the human race wishes to be the savior of Skynet. But wait, you might be thinking, if John Connor kills his parents then wouldn’t he inadvertently kill himself? You’d be right but clearly some smart intern pointed this out about halfway through the production so the movie includes a ridiculous throwaway line that explains how John, Sarah, and Reese are no longer part of the timeline and therefore John can do as he likes. Cue the eyeball rolling in the audience.
If you have not died from boredom from that tedious description of the plot, I assure you that the movie is far worse. One of the most consistent sources of annoyance is the portrayal of Kyle Reese by Jai Courtney. Contrary to the incredibly dynamic performance by Michael Biehn in the original film, Courtney has about as much personality and charisma as your average paperweight. Emilia Clarke gives the movie her all but honestly the Linda Hamilton of Terminator 2 could murder Clarke’s version of the character with a simple withering glance. Linda Hamilton’s transformation in the sequel was nothing short of remarkable and it is embarrassing watching this new film try and retread this familiar territory. The fatal flaw of the film is the screenplay. 90% of the dialogue consists of childish bickering and juvenile one-liners between the three heroes and I quickly lost all interest in the characters. The action is downright bad. When I think of the action scenes of the Terminator franchise, I remember classic moments like Reese swatting the head of the Terminator repeatedly with a pipe, I remember John Connor being saved just before being run over by a truck, and best of all I remember Sarah Connor breaking out of a maximum security looney bin as two Terminators converge on the facility for a serious smack down. There’s nothing like that in Terminator Genisys. The hand to hand combat completely fails to integrate CGI with the practical effects leaving us with lifeless looking facsimiles of the characters who throw each other around like cartoon characters from another movie entirely. The shortcomings and inadequacies go on and on. I’m watching the original film while writing this review and I am just in awe of how cool it is. The sense of dread and mystery from the pulsing score alone is enough to make me fall in love with The Terminator all over again. The concept of the first is so simple that it requires only one title card to set up the story. There’s some exposition but always in the context of the action of the story and one never feels as if the movie is pausing to explain what the hell is going on. The film has more horror, sex appeal, atmosphere and creativity in a single frame than all of Terminator Genisys combined. I would have given my right arm during Terminator Genisys for just one moment as cool as when Sarah Connor in the first film says, ‘You’re terminated, Fucker!’.
I think I’ve ranted enough at this point. There were members of the audience who were laughing and having a good time so if there are enough audience members out there like them, we’ll be seeing a lot more of these terrible movies in the future. There’s a twist at the end that provides the perfect explanation for including Arnie in any and all future Terminator movies. Personally I could not care less. Rather than spoiling the original two movies for me, this latest installment has only underlined just how amazing the first movies are. Time to kick back, finish watching the first film for the one millionth time and pretend like this new movie never happened.
I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel:
A Little Taste of the Greatness of the Past: