Total system failure: “Terminator: Genisys”

June 28, 2015

[NOTE: This reviews contains some spoilers, though nothing that wasn’t given away in the trailers for the film. Still, if you’re totally unspoiled about Terminator: Genisys you may want to avoid this review.]

Few things are worse today than the were in the early ‘90s: music, fashion, technology are all much, much better than in, say, 1991. If you don’t believe me, just take a wander down memory lane that is the Internet and behold that INXS-rocking, tortoiseshell glasses-wearing, Discman-listening-to moment in history and you’ll likely feel the same immense relief at being alive in this point in time as when you read an article about, say, medieval medical practices. But there is one thing the early ‘90s had over today, at least 24 years ago we could get a decent Terminator movie, as opposed to the one Hollywood just coughed up. Yep, I’ll just say it: Terminator: Genisys is even dumber than it’s title.

So, this latest attempt by Hollywood to cannibalize its past in an effort to stave off total creative bankruptcy initially attempts to follow the events of the first Terminator film completely from Kyle Reese’s perspective (Reese, this time through, is played by Jai Courtney, and ugh…). We’re present when the human resistance finally breaks the back of Skynet’s future dystopia and the realization that someone must go back in time to prevent Skynet’s hail-Mary plan of sending young Arnold Schwarzenegger back to the ‘80s to kill a pre-shredded Sarah Connor (this time played by Emilia Clarke, and sigh.)

Jai Courtney "acting"

Jai Courtney “acting”

Oh, and I’m just assuming you know what happens in the Terminator movies, because anyone who hasn’t seen the first two Terminators is probably a member of ISIS or something, and I’m sure as hell not making like easy for ISIS.

Anyway, Reese gets to 1984 and discovers that—surprise!—Sarah is already waiting for him with a late-middle age Terminator she calls “Pops” (sigh…yes he’s called Pops). Whoa! What happened? How did the timeline get altered? (Spoiler: I don’t know and neither does the movie).

After fending of a couple more terminators, the trio decide they have to travel to the future time of 2016 to prevent the launch of Genisys, a fancy new OS pioneered by Cyberdyne. Seems Reese has phantom memories of a divergent timeline, and they’re telling him that Genisys is actually Skynet. But, wait! How will the intrepid trio travel 30 years into the future? Oh, yeah, they built a time machine. Because, fuck logic.

This image pretty much says it all.

This image pretty much says it all.

Once in 2014, this group—who is utterly unfazed by 30 years of progress and exhibiting absolutely no culture shock at all— sets out to blow up Cyberdyne. Again. Only this time, someone is waiting for them: John Connor himself, and he has been converted into a super mega banzai terminator which…uh…they don’t actually explain all that well. Pops explains, “He has been converted at a cellular level,” which…uh, yeah. Anything is pretty much that thing on a cellular level.

And it goes like that, playing out more or less how you’d expect but much, much worse.

It’s been almost 25 years since we had a good Terminator movie, but T:G is such a slog it makes one long for the mediocre workmanship of Rise of the Machines. Director Alan Taylor (who previously made the similarly uninspired Thor: The Dark World) is incapable of staging an exciting action scene to save his life. The action is PG-13, which itself is not a deal-breaker (the Terminator movies were never very bloody, and most of the violence this time is robot-on-robot), but his reliance on CGI gunfire makes the action sequences seem insubstantial. The actors look like kids pointing toy guns at each other and saying “bang!”


Totally not a green screen...

Totally not a green screen…

But even more deadly for this movie is the fact that it is attempting to rewrite two films that had tight scripts and iconic acting with one that has a baggy, nigh-nonsensical plot and atrocious acting. Jai Courtney’s utter lack of talent or charisma is by now well-documented, but I was totally unprepared for how bad Clarke is. On the basis of her sub-WB caliber acting I can only assume she’s such a popular character on Game of Thrones because she’s flanked by dragons. That or showing her boobs in Season One went a real long way.

Whatever James Cameron’s faults as a filmmaker and human being, he writes, tight scripts with an attention to detail (recall the scene when the T-1000 oozes through the bars at Sarah’s mental hospital, only for his Beretta to get stuck). This film, by contrast, just doesn’t care. The characters even call out one plot hole when they inform Evil John that if he kills them he’ll cease to exist, and John basically says, “Uh, I don’t think that’ll happen.”

Get used to this goddamn joke, since the move hammers it into the ground.

Get used to this goddamn joke, since the move hammers it into the ground.

But this movie’s main selling point is the return of Schwarzenegger to the role for the first time since Rise of the Machines (his CGI visage was seen briefly in Terminator Salvation), and it’s a welcome return. Not simply because he’s the one decent actor who’s given appreciable screen time (pros like Sandrine Holt and J.K. Simmons show up only to be pushed aside to make room for John and Sarah’s tepid relationship), but also because as Schwarzenegger showed in The Last Stand and Maggie, he’s embraced his age and carries the melancholia of maturity into his roles now. He gives his aging and obsolete T-800 real pathos.

But on top of that we have:

* As you can see in the trailer, the action in this movie makes no damn sense outside of a computer. A motorcycle drives atop a school bus? I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure school bus roofs aren’t designed to withstand that weight.

* Similarly, the bus then flips end-over-end in a ripoff of The Dark Knight, except, unlike in that film, there is no physical reason for the bus to tumble that way. Physics is not this movie’s friend.

* Clarke and Courtney are so bad they are even incapable of landing a joke.

* I’ll give her this, though: Clarke does bear an uncanny resemblance to young Linda Hamilton.

* The VFX are pretty bad, but the nighttime chase between helicopters through downtown San Francisco looks like the opening of a Vivid Videos feature (uh…everyone remembers that, right?)

* As John Connor, Jason Clarke is okay, but the facial prosthetics he wears interfere with his ability to emote.

* Matt Smith’s gets about five minute of screen time. because you never want people who can actually act to show up too much in your movie.

* Left unaddressed is how Sarah and Pops can build a time machine in 1984, but Cyberdyne in 2015 can’t quite do it yet-despite having Evil John advising them.   

So, that’s Terminator: Genisys. They cancelled The Sarah Connor Chronicles but they made this. Go figure.

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