Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Gunplay throughout, partial Nudity and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Lee Byung-Hun & J.K. Simmons
I’m going to be totally honest with you. I didn’t have high expectations for TERMINATOR: GENISYS. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’m a fan of the series. I appreciate the first TERMINATOR as a fun, cheesy piece of 80’s science fiction. I adore JUDGEMENT DAY and believe that it’s one of those rare perfect sequels that improves on its predecessor tenfold. In a perfect world, we would only have two TERMINATOR movies. Instead, the studio decided to cash in with RISE OF THE MACHINES, which is easily the worst movie in the franchise. In 2009, a throwaway effort was made in SALVATION which came off as a very flawed, slightly entertaining piece of fan fiction that somehow made it to the screen. It’s now July 2015 and the summer movie season keeps chugging along with a fifth TERMINATOR film. Where does GENISYS lie? It’s somewhere between the so-so SALVATION and the godawful RISE OF THE MACHINES.
The year is 2029 and John Connor has led the resistance in the war against the machines to this final night. The war is coming to an end and Skynet has failed, but not before sending a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (John Connor’s mother) in order to prevent John’s birth. When devoted soldier Kyle Reese volunteers to travel back to the 80’s to save Sarah, it seems like GENISYS might become an out-and-out remake of the first film, but things get a little wonky. Instead of finding the fragile waitress he expected, Reese discovers that he’s somehow wound up on an alternate timeline and Sarah is now a gun-totting bad-ass aided by a Terminator (whom she annoyingly named Pops) that saved her as a child. With various machines hunting them and new memories from this alternate timeline planted in his mind, Kyle discovers that there might be a way to stop Judgement Day from happening with the help of Sarah…and Pops (it pains me to type that name).
There’s no beating around the bush on this one, GENISYS has a really stupid plot. However, I could sense that there were kernels of good ideas at its center. I dug the whole alternate timeline explanation and even a couple of areas that the film strays to during the second half. However, they’re not executed well. The movie throws the explanation of this being an alternate outcome thanks to events in the original TERMINATOR timeline and then doesn’t go on to explain certain other plot developments. I’m not a guy who needs every single detail spoon-fed to me, but there were a lot of plot holes in this script. In a groan-inducing moment, it becomes apparent that Skynet has changed from a 2003 computer virus (from the poorly aged third installment) to an app (which I’m sure will age just as horribly in a few years). I’ll refrain from spoilers (even though the marketing hasn’t) and just say that most of my major complaints with this screenplay come in the latter half of the film.
Besides having a ridiculously convoluted story, GENISYS plays out somewhat like a TERMINATOR Greatest Hits album. There’s the T-800 from the original movie and call-backs to that first film. However, there’s also a T-1000 for some reason that’s never explained other than this movie needed a liquid-metal T-1000. Mercifully, the T-X (from the terrible third film) is nowhere to be seen. The special effects range depending on the scene. The liquid metal on the new T-1000 looks good and there are a couple of really enjoyable action sequences (a helicopter chase and a fight in a school bus stand out as my two favorite moments). This being said, the main villain (won’t reveal the spoiler in this review) looks very cheesy, especially in a final confrontation with Robo-Arnie. There’s also a battle sequence near the beginning that looks like PlayStation 2 graphics were distractingly inserted into the film too.
The performances are hit-or-miss. Arnold Schwarzenegger nails his role as the Terminator (his aged appearance is explained in one of the more original twists in the script). He’s not to the degree that he was in JUDGEMENT DAY, but he’s far better than he was in RISE OF THE MACHINES. Arnie also delivers the only comic relief in the film that works aside from J.K. Simmons in the fun role of a baffled cop. Jason Clarke goes into over-the-top territory as John Connor. To me, Kyle Reese has always been a bland character, but it’s safe to say that Jai Courtney’s Reese is easily the blandest take we’ve seen on this already bland hero. In a surprising turn of events, Emilia Clarke is well cast as Sarah Connor. Though she can come off as too forced in moments, Clarke mostly owns the role of bad-ass heroine in a far more competent way that I was expecting.
TERMINATOR: GENISYS is not the worst TERMINATOR movie. That disgraceful title still belongs to TERMINATOR 3, but GENISYS is the second-worst installment in the series. Everything in this movie is a mixed bag that has slightly more negative than positive. Some performances are enjoyable (Schwarzenegger, J.K. Simmons, Emilia Clarke), while others aren’t so good (Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke). A few of the effects look solid (those two aforementioned action scenes), while others look like cheap video game graphics. Finally, the script has interesting ideas and fails to execute them in a satisfying way that makes sense. TERMINATOR: GENISYS is a watchable, but useless fifth installment in a franchise that should have quit after the second film.