Terminator Genisys is like that bully on the school playground who takes your favorite comic book, opens it to the best splash pages, and rips the pages to shreds right in front of you. And no matter how much you try, he can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And this bully absolutely will not stop, ever, until you give him all of your lunch money.
The fifth installment in the franchise, Terminator Genisys leans heavily on the first two films for its story, and still, it topples over. In this entry, Kyle Reese (played by Jai Courtney) is sent back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (played by Emilia Clarke) from a robot assassin, only to find that Sarah doesn’t need saving. The timeline of events has been altered somehow, and what follows is a blend of old and new with our rebooted cast interacting with shot-for-shot recreations of scenes from the original Terminator. The recreations are well done, and for a brief moment, they almost trick us into enjoying this movie. In fact, had this movie not asked our heroes to time-jump again to 2017 in order to stop Skynet, the artificial intelligence responsible for an apocalyptic future, from being unleashed in the form of a smartphone/tablet app, Terminator Genisys might have been slightly more enjoyable.
I say “slightly” because there are plenty of elements wrong with this installment. The recreations, however, are done right, drawing us back into the mythos once more. Dipping into that mythos is a stroke of pure luck, and in Genisys’ attempts to recapture the magic of the original film, these throwback moments inadvertently rebuild that slower paced, mysterious science fiction ambiance Director James Cameron was a master at. Unfortunately, this ambiance is fleeting. Alan Taylor, the new director, isn’t as adept at maintaining that hint of mystery, and without the continued aid of Cameron’s magic, Terminator Genisys simply feels like it’s running on autopilot.
The plot is convoluted and boring. The expository narration is sleep-inducing. The cast, aside from the exceptional J.K. Simmons (who is the sole bearer of charm in this movie), is static. The action sequences are uninteresting. Even the backdrop for this two-hour romp of mechanical mayhem is uninspiring — an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge again, Hollywood?!
Terminator Genisys feels like a movie. It has all the elements of a movie, but there’s something soulless and machine-like about it, as if this film was just another model number off of Skynet’s Terminator assembly line. The supposed “human” actors feel digital in this movie, as if they’re three-dimensional figures Skynet whipped up, which were then given names like Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke to make us think they were real people. J.K. Simmons just happened to inadvertently show up on shooting day, and Arnold Schwarzenegger only managed to get into the picture because Skynet tricked him into thinking the set was just another gym where he could lift. The rest just feels like an attempt at relevance.
In order for Skynet to ensure its survival, it has to reboot its own franchise. It has to release another film to show its virility and gets its name out there again because the only thing that could really stop this apocalyptic future isn’t another looming technological innovation further down the road. It’s not the halting of a stupid phone app; it’s people. It’s a younger demographic with no recollection or familiarity with The Terminator as a brand. If the kids, hopped up on superhero movies and dystopian teen dramas, are unaware of its existence, then Skynet ceases to be.
Final verdict: If you’re keen on opening Pandora ’s Box, at least have the patience to wait for Terminator Genisys to hit any number of digital streaming services.