Movie Review - Terminator: Genysis
By Matthew Huntley
July 6, 2015

Can't imagine why people didn't want to see this.

The narrative alterations introduced to the longstanding Terminator saga in Terminator: Genisys aren’t so much a sign of creativity and cleverness as they are desperation - desperation by the filmmakers and studio to try anything and everything to keep this franchise alive. But, to play on the title character a bit, this is one series whose battery power should simply be allowed to die out. Many would agree it’s already gone two movies too long and despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return in this fourth sequel, and his repeated line throughout it, “I’m old, but not obsolete,” it’s become of little use to us as moviegoers.

Of course, the classic man vs. machine story behind The Terminator series is about how Skynet, the self-aware and omnipotent artificial intelligence system, sent a killer cyborg back through time to assassinate Sarah Connor, mother of John Connor, who would eventually lead the human resistance against Skynet and save humanity, before John was born. In response, John, in the future, sent his own warrior soldier back through time to protect her.

Most of us already know this story by heart, but Genisys begins by showing us the future - Los Angeles, 2029 - when both sides actually use the time portal to send their respective fighters back to 1984 (this is something we’ve never seen before, and although it was kind of neat and nostalgic to watch, it wasn’t exactly necessary). The movie then partially recreates the opening scenes from James Cameron’s original Terminator (1984), complete with a computer-generated, younger version of Arnie, before skewing into its own - but far from stimulating - narrative tangent.

It was probably at this point when the makers of Genisys started to think they were putting a crafty spin on the classic story as we know it, but they were unfortunately mistaken. All they do, really, is recycle familiar concepts, scenes and characters from the first two films, including our liquid metal friend, the T-1000, perhaps in hopes that fans might recall their favorite Terminator moments and invariably link them to this installment, thus giving it a pass and making us think it’s better and more relevant than it really is. But all their strategy and the resultant movie do is underline the idea that Genisys isn’t as assured or competent in its narrative execution as its predecessors and it quickly falls flat.

I guess that’s both the strength and weakness of allowing time travel into any story. On the one hand, storytellers can change just about anything and justify it with the characters traveling through time, thus giving rise to new events. On the other, storytellers can change just about anything and justify it with the characters traveling through time, thus giving rise to new events. They need not follow logic and are often free to ignore paradoxes, inconsistencies, outstanding questions, etc., which leaves us asking, “Then what’s the point?” How can we really invest in the saga as a whole when things can change so suddenly and easily whenever the studio feels the need to churn out another sequel? The problem is we can’t, or in this case, don’t.

Screenwriters Laeta Elizabeth Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier disrupt the classic narrative by telling us that Skynet, knowing about its forthcoming defeat, decided to send another T-1000 back through time to off Sarah in 1973 but that she was rescued by the same kind of machine (Schwarzenegger) later meant to kill her in 1984. After her parents are killed, this T-800 model, whom she names “Pops,” becomes sort of her surrogate parent while also informing her of her pre-ordained destiny. So by the time the events in 1984 begin to take place, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) is already privy to them and ahead of the game.

This comes as a surprise to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), the soldier whom John (Jason Clarke) sends back from 2029 and who eventually becomes John’s father. Sarah, who’s been prepping herself for Kyle’s arrival and already aware of future events, now plans to travel to the future in 1997 via a new time machine built by Pops and destroy Skynet before it has a chance to attack the human race.

But wait, the writers toss another wrench into the mix. Given the new timeline and its ramifications, Kyle catches a glimpse of different future events altogether in which he, as a child, learns about Genisys, an all-encompassing operating system that eventually evolves into Skynet (this is an obvious nod to modern-day, omnipresent companies such as Google and Facebook, but the screenplay doesn’t really do anything with this correlation except make it, even though a biting social commentary would have been nice). These visions tell him that he and Sarah should actually travel to San Francisco 2017 to dismantle it, and it’s here where they meet up with Pops and do battle with a new Terminator-human hybrid, the T-3000, which seems virtually indestructible.

If you followed all that, great; if not, it doesn’t matter, because Genisys merely slaps its shaky plot together so that it can get to the all-too-standard gun battles; car chases; Terminator vs. Terminator brawls; and the blowing up of the Cyberdyne Corporation, which funds and oversees Skynet. This last scene essentially retreads the climax from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, only it’s not as effective. Plus there’s the inevitable (and now tired) catch-phrases from the other movies: “Come with me if you want to live”; “Get out”; and, of course, “I’ll be back.” We’re also served jokes about Schwarzenegger’s age, which the screenplay works into his character, but we’ve already heard these in other movies like The Expendables and The Last Stand, so they’re not as fresh here.

True: some of movie’s lighter moments and humor deflate its ego and it doesn’t claim to be more important than it really is, but even so, Genisys still feels like a futile exercise in spending an obscene amount of money (it carries a reported price tag north of $150 million) for relatively little payoff. Director Alan Taylor seems too content with simply rehashing what we already we’ve experienced instead of giving us something new and different.

The underlying problem with Genisys, as either a Terminator movie or an action film in general, is that none of it feels original. It merely goes through the motions of its franchise and genre and we end up watching it passively and unenthusiastically. Is it a terrible experience? No, but it’s certainly not an exciting one. There was a time when a Terminator sequel was a big deal, but such a time has passed, or at least it would seem so with this latest incarnation. Genisys suggests we’ve now entered an era when a Terminator movie can just be boring.