Terminator: Genisys

Posted by Joel Copling on July 1, 2015

Whatever grit the "Terminator" series once had was castrated with its third installment (whose R-rating was mostly due to some heavy violence and not a byproduct of anything approaching "grit") and only partially returned with an almost entirely separate fourth movie (which, for all its faults as a muddled installment in the series' mythology, still succeeded--more than its detractors give it credit for, at least--as an action movie built on atmosphere and expert cuts and beats). The legacy left by 1984's original "The Terminator" as a riveting, ruthless effort in the 1980s craze of ultra-violent sci-fi action thrillers continued in thrilling ways with 1991's even more crystalline "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Now we have "Terminator: Genisys" entirely because of audience demand, and the effect is one of utter confusion: How can a series that once revolutionized the implementation of CGI now contain a movie that uses it in every discernible frame and sequence?

This is a painful experience from beginning (which attempts to recreate shots from "The Terminator," and yes, it seems like a bad joke in execution, too) to end (which crosses timeline streams with what it apparently thinks is complexity but is actually convoluted nonsense), steeped in endless bids for nostalgia that only occasionally work because of the viewers' possible love of the previous movies. On its own terms, any visual callbacks are entirely masked by the plastic, heavily bluish aesthetic that new-to-the-franchise director Alan Taylor brings to the screen. Story-wise, the callbacks mean nothing amid a plot that stops making any sense whatsoever before the halfway mark.

Let's try to follow this: In a 1984-set opening that, as mentioned, seeks to remake the original movie, the T-800 (played by a waxy, disturbing digital representation of Arnold Schwarzenegger), still nude, is interrupted in its attempt to get clothes from a gang of thugs by an advanced version of itself (played by the regular Arnold Schwarzenegger), just before, in 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the resistance against the self-aware computer system SkyNet, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save John's mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke, who does look strikingly like Linda Hamilton and does nothing else interesting with the role), except this time, the Terminator from which she is being saved is the liquid-metal T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) from the second movie, sort of (?).

None of this adds up, and there's more from where that came, plot developments that either go nowhere after being barely established (such as one involving a physical stand-in for SkyNet that is never dealt with in a remotely satisfactory way) or haphazardly handled (such as a "shocking" twist involving John that the advertisements have already ruined for prospective audiences). Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier complicate the series' time-travel conceit so disastrously that it's impossible to follow all the timeline-related references (which jump between at least five different decades during the more than two hours it takes to get nowhere of significance) or technical jargon (which somehow drones on and on despite the film's never-ending sense of relentless forward motion).

The result is easily the nadir of a series that needs to stop before it loses all dignity. It's already lost a shred here, though, and that includes the sight and sound of Schwarzenegger back onscreen in his most legendary role. To be blunt, the actor has aged noticeably and no longer sells the role of an immovable robot (the grunts for breath that the T-800 would not be capable of, for instance). Nearly all others in the cast are expressionless robots--none more so than Courtney, who could not sell pathos if it was the last thing he could do--but at least the great J.K. Simmons shows up as an exasperated detective. As for the action sequences, they have no rhythm and mostly exist to showcase rubbery CGI that doesn't much move past the level of a solid video-game cut scene. "Terminator: Genisys" is pretty grueling stuff.

Film Information

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Guardian), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jason Clarke (John Connor), J.K. Simmons (O'Brien).

Directed by Alan Taylor and written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier.

Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence/gunplay throughout, partial nudity, brief language).

125 minutes.

Released on July 1, 2015.