I’ll sugarcoat this a bit: Terminator Genisys is a bad movie. It’s not a bad that can be enjoyed for how awful it is. It can’t even really be enjoyed because it has robots and electricity everywhere and lasers and lame humor. It’s bad because it is determined to do two things: dulling whatever edge this franchise once had, and, secondly, give its most attentive fans – people who would call themselves Terminator fans – a migraine.
Terminator Genisys was made to revitalize this thirty-year-old franchise and, ostensibly, to bring in new fans. Yet, the only people who have a prayer of following the story presented here, and the only ones who’d understand the references, are those that have been fans of the franchise. It’s those people, the fans, that Genisys will succeed in angering the most. This is an awful film, and a disgrace to the Terminator franchise. Some might say it’s better than Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. Neither of those films helped the franchise, but they each had merits that made them better than this film. Let’s review:
Since Terminator 3 essentially followed the exact same formula as the first two films but was left in less-deft hands than the original, it sometimes came close to seeming like a self-parody (look at those glasses, or how about the female terminator that can make her boobs bigger?). Yet, beyond such obvious posturing, there was a good film hidden in there. There was the crane chase, it had what was arguably the best single action scene of the entire franchise. More than that, the film knew exactly what it wanted to accomplish. When the film paused somewhere in the middle so Arnold’s T-800 could tell us exactly what was going to happen, while letting us know that the characters were experiencing judgment day right now, it turns out that everything that he said would happen actually did happen. It all happened despite our heroes best efforts to stop it, and this self-fulfilling prophesy made the film as a whole resonate. It’s a bit better than it’s reputation.
With Terminator Salvation there’s less to recommend, but casting Christian Bale as John Connor was a sound choice; he was believable as a man who would one day rise up to turn the tide of the war and smash the machines into junk. Anton Yelchin (as a young Kyle Reese) actually wasn’t too bad. The story of a man who doesn’t know he’s a machine is an interesting one, but while it failed in its execution, there was at least some effort put into making it work. Mainly, the film can be enjoyed as a somewhat generic yet satisfying post-apocalyptic adventure more than a Terminator film.
We all know, however, that both of these films stretched the franchise beyond the breaking point. Genisys attempts to go back to the beginning and give us some nostalgia, all before ripping our heads off, sucking our souls through the neck and then reattach our heads again,in the hopes that we can make sense of of all of the new time loops…
Time travel doesn’t make sense. It never does. The reason it does work at all is because the filmmakers make it work, through a lot of hard work, try to find that simple through-line that all of the audience can relate to. Viewers who have never seen a time travel story before can still relate to Sarah’s need to protect her son in Terminator 2. The original film had the simplest yet one of the most perfect love stories ever seen in film: Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor. He had a photo of her, and was fascinated by her sad expression. He memorized every line and curve, and always wondered what she was thinking when that photo was taken. It turns out, that, after going back in time to protect her, they had a love affair (during which John Connor was conceived). As it turns out, we see that every photo being taken at the end of the film, and it turned out she was thinking about him. Amid all of the special effects, the high concept, and the action, the love story was really made this film work. It was simple and powerful, regardless of whether the actual time travel mechanics made sense or not.
Genisys doesn’t care. It’s awful. It mocks the significance of the photograph and the common destiny shared by the two leads. The time travel mechanics not only do not make sense, but the film also lacks that human story, that through-line that might give the audience a bit of a reward for at least trying to make sense of all the new time lines. I won’t summarize any of them here, save for the basics. In the future, we see the final victory of resistance. They’d won, but they find that a Terminator had been sent back to 1984 to kill the mother of John Connor. Kyle volunteers to protect her. We knew all of this before; somehow it was more compelling imagining these scenes than seeing them. They are flatly directed and don’t really add a lot of punch to the story.
When Kyle (played the dull-as-dishwater Jai Courtney) arrives, we see 1984 almost exactly as they played out in the original film. That doesn’t last long. One of the random patrol officers is now a T-1000. What’s more, the original terminator arrives as he did in the original film and once again, tries to get some clothes from some punks (shame Bill Paxton couldn’t reprise the role) but things are different when he is confronted by another Terminator and a fight breaks out.
About here, I started thinking: if the film is trying to bring in new fans that haven’t seen the original film, it’s failing: they won’t appreciate any of these scenes. What’s more: those that love the original film would be even more frustrated that the new film has defaced the old one.
This is not the first time that a film has been rebooted from within continuity: JJ Abrams, knowing that the fan-base won’t forget over a thousand hours of live-action productions (a good portion of which are considered classics) rebooted Star Trek in 2009 so new adventures could be had that could deviate from the canon, but that canon still serves as the backdrop for the franchise. It was clever, and the film was a lot of fun. Like Genisys, that film used time travel to accomplish this feat.
To be sure, the Terminator franchise has always used time travel in order to tell – and retell – it’s own stories. Yet, this film is so convoluted that there’s no reason – and no reward – for trying to figure out how all of the time-travel shenanigans fit together.
At some point in this new film, the leads time-warp their way from 1984 to present day. The conception of child that’s supposed to happen between that time didn’t happen, as far as I can tell. Maybe it did. Then we find out that the the savior of humanity is also working for the machines, and all of that before (or maybe after, who can remember or even care) J.K. Simmon’s character actually makes himself known. By this point, i jut didn’t care. I had a headache. I was angry.
There was no elegance to the story telling, and no elegance to the special effects. There was no through-line to the story.
While making Terminator 2, James Cameron waiting until “magic hour” (when the sun was setting an left a kind of orange glow over the proceedings – a phenomena that lasts maybe a half hour in ideal conditions) to film the scene where the child version of John comes to realize that his new protector is, in fact, a Terminator. That’s because, at his best, Cameron was as much a craftsman and a storyteller. I don’t think they cared enough to shoot any scenes in Genisys at “magic hour,” and if they did, they probably simulated the unique lighting conditions using their computers. This was a film set, produced, and made by a committee. It was made not please the tried and true fans – or even potential new fans – but the studio accountants.
My rating: 1/5. Watch the first two films The next twio after that don’t life up, but they are still entertaining. Yet Genysis, will always be awful. The star is for Emilia Clark as Sarah. She played a believable version of Sarah, and she tried her best to try to make us believe in this story.