Following Hollywood’s trend of making 2015 into a revival year (Mad Max, Jurassic Park, Star Wars), we’re seeing the newest entry into the Terminator franchise: Genisys. Genisys looks to retcon the entire film series through the use of a “nexus” creating a different timeline. I know that many people like to complain about the desolate wasteland that is Hollywood creativity, but Mad Max and Jurassic World have earned a collective 1.5 Billion dollars from the box office. So, it looks like we may have a small part to play in Hollywood’s constant rehashing. All gripes aside, Genisys is looking to spawn a trilogy and refresh the franchise…just like Terminator Salvation was trying to do. Can Alan Taylor and Emilia Clarke succeed where McG and Christian Bale failed?
Genisys opens on John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) making an offensive against Skynet’s ultimate weapon: a time machine. Playing out the ending/beginning of the original Terminator film, the robots send back a T-800 to kill Sarah Connor. Knowing that her death would erase the human rebellion, John sends Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect his mother and kill the T-800. Unfortunately, an unexpected event occurs while Reese is in the time machine and he is dropped into an alternate 1984. Instead of finding the helpless waitress, he finds that this Sarah Connor is four inches shorter and has been raised by a Terminator. The twists and turns (that have all been given away in the trailers) continue throughout the film, forcing Reese and Sarah to time-hop their way to destroying Skynet.
Despite its strained attempt to rewrite the history of Terminator, Genisys suffers from the same problem that every sequel after T2 has. The plot is still, “We have to stop judgment day!” To be honest, the concept behind Genisys isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen. It essentially creates a mash-up of the events from The Terminator, T2, and Terminator 3 and twists them into a separate story. Sadly, the execution of this concept falls flat due to awkward dialogue and wooden performances from the leading duo. Relying heavily on crowd-pleasing dialogue, running jokes, and tamed by a PG-13 rating, Genisys is very blunt in its desire to capture as large an audience as it possibly can. Another enormous complaint I have is due to the ham-fisted marketing which ruined any possible shocking twist that Genisys could have offered. The trailers and posters all blatantly display a twist which is supposed to surprise audiences watching. James Cameron himself did a spot before the film started where he says, “The twists are really going to keep people on the edge of their seats” and he then goes down the list and tells you exactly what those twists are. The plot may have been a little more gripping if I hadn’t known everything about it when I walked into the theatre.
Nearly the entire cast of Genisys gives disappointing performances. Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke stumble their way through their romance sub-plot, seeming to be as uncomfortable as the audience watching it. Jason Clarke probably offered up the best performance, but his character becomes puddle-deep in the last half of the film. This is particularly disappointing because his character should have had the most interesting and unique development arc, but that is left in the dust. Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a sort of performing monkey in the franchise. Every four years or so they go into a back closet and brush off the Arnold, bring him to the stage and have him perform the same song and dance. Thankfully, J.K. Simmons brings a small light to the screen, playing a detective who believes Reese and Connor, but is written off as crazy. The role is a cliched one, but Simmons does it well.
Now, I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the visual effects are either fantastic or god-awful. There seems to be no middle ground. The scenes featuring the T-1000, notable for being liquid metal, look about as good as T2 did in ’91. So, I don’t know if those effects were intentionally hokey in order to capitalize on nostalgia or if the the visual effects supervisors were sleeping. On the other hand, young Arnold looked pretty fantastic and the new Terminator enemy was well designed and visually interesting. I can say that cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau wasn’t napping on the job. Although the film seems to be 85% Michael Bay-esque action scenes, Genisys had a surprising amount of great shots.
Terminator Genisys had a lot of interesting ideas when it came to branching the franchise out. It was fun seeing all of the nods to the original films and experiencing some of the same set pieces, but nostalgia simply isn’t enough to carry the film. “Mixed Bag” may as well have been the official tagline for the film, since it checks that box in nearly every category. J.K. Simmons and Jason Clarke performed well, the other leads were awkward. The plot fought to be different, but ended up the same. The visual effects were constantly shifting from top-notch to Syfy channel. Despite the nostalgia train chugging into your local movie theatres, fight the urge to rush out and see Genisys. It certainly isn’t a waste of two hours, but you’ll be more satisfied spending a dollar renting this than dropping fifteen dollars on a ticket.
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