Just a few weeks ago, Universal Pictures shocked the world with Jurassic World, a long-awaited franchise reboot that has quickly became one of the biggest box office success stories of the year, grossing more than $500 million domestically in only 18 days. Now Paramount is attempting to follow suit by also resurrecting a beloved series whose last good installment was released in the early 1990s. Can they also pull off a miracle?
Not likely – terribly written and woefully miscast, Terminator Genisys is an absolute disaster in nearly every conceivable sense. Characters that were compelling and charismatic in James Cameron’s original films have been replaced by poor imitations, whose dialogue delivery has about as much emotion as the T-800 Schwarzenegger portrays. The expressionless face and robotic speech patterns are fine when Arnold does it – after all, he’s playing a cyborg – but it’s hard to become invested in your protagonist when he speaks with as much enthusiasm as someone being forced to read a page out of the phone book.
But let’s start at the beginning – as if this film’s convoluted time-traveling plot has any real sense of where that might be. In the near future, John Connor (Jason Clarke) and his closest ally, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) are preparing an assault on Skynet, the artificial intelligence program that has enslaved the human race. Their mission is largely successful, but they arrive just a bit too late: Skynet has sent a T-800 back to 1984, programmed to track down Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and kill her before she can give birth to John. Sound familiar?
In an effort to safeguard the resistance, Reese volunteers to travel back in time and protect Sarah from the metallic murderer. But just before he vanishes, Reese watched helplessly as John is attacked by another soldier (Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith, in a completely wasted role) who turns out to be a new type of Skynet operative posing as a human.
This attack results in an alternate timeline, which leads us to the film’s only great moments: an impressive recreation of the opening scenes from The Terminator. We see the original T-800 model arrive in the same parking lot and stroll up to engage with the same group of street punks, and we see Reese appear in the same alleyway and steal a pair of pants from the same homeless drunk. It’s a very well-done homage to Cameron’s sci-fi classic, but the sense of nostalgia is obliterated when both Reese and the T-800 encounter new challenges and new foes.
It’s not long before Reese tracks down Sarah, who turns out to be anything but the damsel in distress he expects. The alternate timeline Sarah crashes through a department store window in an armored truck, wielding firearms and barking orders as though she’s had extensive military training – which, as it turns out, she has. You see, the new and improved Sarah Connor has been raised from the age of 9 by a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) that she affectionately refers to as “Pops,” and she knows all about the war against the machines and her role in the future of the human race.
It’s around this point that Terminator Genisys devolves into confusing, headache-inducing madness. Using a time machine that she and Pops have constructed in a warehouse, Sarah intends to travel to the year 1997 to prevent Judgment Day from happening. But in this new timeline, Skynet doesn’t launch its assault on the humans until 2017 – Reese knows this because the skewing of the timeline resulted in an alternate set of memories popping into his head. So not only do they decide to travel to 2017, but they arrive less than 18 hours before the attack begins, which doesn’t exactly seem to be stacking the odds in their favor.
Sarah and Reese’s arrival in 2017 also marks the point where the film’s villain finally reveals himself. The concept itself is actually one of Terminator Genisys‘s best ideas, but thanks to the overzealous marketing team at Paramount, this surprise was ruined months ago in the trailers and TV spots. And if you somehow managed to avoid having this spoiled for you, don’t worry – your local multiplex is almost certain to feature a poster or a standee which showcases the villain in all his cybernetic glory. Warner Bros. made a similar mistake with Sam Worthington’s character in the marketing for Terminator: Salvation, and it’s a shame to see it repeated here.
I won’t bother getting any deeper into the plot, especially since most of it doesn’t make sense to begin with. Instead, let’s discuss the amount of drugs that must have been consumed in order for someone at Paramount to become convinced that Jai Courtney belonged in this role. There are plenty of moments where Terminator Genisys tries to evoke the spirit of the earlier films, but Courtney’s performance is nothing like the character Michael Biehn played in the original. This version of Reese feels less like a battle-hardened veteran of war, and more like some young hotshot trying to prove how much of a badass he can be. Also, was Courtney absent on the day charisma was being handed out? Because he has none.
Emilia Clarke fares slightly better – unlike her co-star, she’s proven herself to be a solid actress – but there’s never a point that you actually believe that she’s Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton carried herself with poise and intensity in the first two films, a fearsome survivor who would stop at nothing to protect her loved ones. Meanwhile, Clarke’s portrayal is hampered by a sloppily written script that finds her and Courtney trading dialogue that sounds like it belongs in a straight-to-DVD Twilight spinoff. There’s zero chemistry between the two “lovers,” but the movie spends a great deal of time trying to convince us otherwise.
Schwarzenegger is the only person onscreen worth watching, easing back into one of his most iconic roles without missing a step. The repeated time-hopping allows us to see multiple versions of the character throughout the ages, and even though the makeup and effects are a bit shoddy in some places, the idea of the cyborg’s flesh aging and decaying over time is interesting. But the script once again throws up a number of roadblocks, with far too many attempts at using the T-800’s social awkwardness to generate laughs – all of which fail spectacularly.
But don’t worry – you won’t have much time to think about the terrible writing, because the film also features a steady barrage of actions scenes where Sarah and Reese battle different models of the Terminator, or Pops battles different models of the Terminator, or Sarah and Reese and Pops all battle different Terminators together. All of these sequences are entirely too long, and most of them are boring – there are only so many ways that two robots can punch and kick each other before it stops being entertaining, and the film continues well past that point.
With a nearly unintelligible plot, a pair of leads whose onscreen romance generates about as much heat as a pile of wet leaves, and too many big, loud action scenes that feel like we’ve already seen them, Terminator Genisys is a 2-hour, $200 million catastrophe. Not only does it lack the soul and spirit of the original films it so desperately tries to evoke, it barely feels like it even exists in the same universe. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to travel back in time a few days and try to prevent myself from watching this crap.