As narratively convoluted as James Camerson’s two Terminator films were clean, Terminator Genisys seeks to reconstruct the mythology of the series and lead to a new batch of man versus machine movies. The thing has time travelling to the past and the future, new robots, aging robots and probably Wall-E in there if you look hard enough.
The concept is rather clever at the onset. We all know the basic thrust of The Terminator franchise. Mankind has fallen to the might of Skynet aka robots. Our greatest hope is the leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) They/it send a killing machine that resembles a person to the past to kill John’s mama Sarah (Emilia Clarke). Catching wind of the maneuver, the remaining humans left send a man of their own to protect Sarah. Terminator Genisys begins as these events are coming to pass. It’s at the turn, about twenty minutes into the movie, where things vary from the normal path. Sarah savior Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is out to help Ms. Connor when it’s revealed that not only does she already know what’s happening, but far more. With her own Terminator by her side (a returning Arnold Schwarzenegger) and having been hunted for over a decade already, this timeline isn’t what Kyle expected.
Directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and with a script by Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry), Terminator Genisys isn’t exactly awful. It’s remarkably inept from beginning to end, cruising by on subpar scenes, the occasional bad one and the less often good onse. The main issues stem from two particular choices; the plot’s end-goal and the humor. Despite rearranging the pieces on the board, this is yet another Terminator movie about the good guys trying to stop Skynet from kicking into gear and nuking the world. This road has been done again and again. The need to bring the levity to even the most dour scenes is the greatest sin of Genisys.
Besides the fact that we’re getting pop-culture references that contain the use of the song “Bad Boys”, the filmmaking team seems to have taken the enjoyable – and rare – instance of Arnold’s tough robot learning to make the occasional joke as too strong a signpost. The rare use gave T2 a surprising warmth. In Genisys, that warmth has been overcooked to burnt and is now sickly sweet. A gag about Arnold’s character inquiring on the eventual mating between Sarah and Kyle is amusing. The relentless gags about Kyle having to impress dear ol’ “Pops” Arnold, as if this was a teen comedy, is another matter. It’s an annoying one. One can’t be swept about the danger and threat of mankind’s extinction when people are throwing out jokes every minute. This is the Marvel Movie problem taken to ridiculous extremes.
Not helping matters is Courtney and Clarke. Schwarzenegger is solid as ever here, while Courtney, who tends to be wooden in his previous wannabe breakouts, is just kind of there. A few bad yells exist, but largely he’s forgettable. Which isn’t a big positive for one of your leads. Clarke is worse. Best known for her work on “Game of Thrones,” Clarke is frankly no Sarah Connor. Admittedly, the footsteps of Linda Hamilton are significant. Yet, Clarke carries none of the piss and vinegar Hamilton imbued into Sarah Connor, whom always seemed ready to tear off the head of anyone in her way. Clarke is, like the movie around her, too jovial. When she proclaims that life has never been peaches and cream for her, it lands on deaf ears. Clarke’s Sarah is more perturbed than vicious and too quick to sneak a smile into matters.
Taylor’s handling of action is lackluster too. As he did with Thor: The Dark World, he wields a big budget aimlessly. His action beats are frantic and far too-choppy. Even though a great deal occurs, with helicopters darting between bridges and buses smashing into this and that, it feels small with the context of the frame being so jumbled. The visual cues simply callback the earlier films in the series, while adding little too the proceedings other than a slightly new baddie that is a different color than the famous liquid metal T-1000.
The only beat the Genisys manages to hit sufficiently is the Schwarzenegger one. His place in the story allows him to physically and emotionally age and evolve. The bond between him and Sarah Connor is felt. You get a sense this pair have been running and gunning for years and that Arnold’s reprogramed T-800 genuinely cares for her well-being. It’s a slight gem in an otherwise murky, convoluted concoction.