by Patrick Bromley
I love the first two Terminator movies, both written and directed by James Cameron and two of the best action movies of all time. The first Terminator (1984) is a perfect movie and among my all-time favorites, while 1991's T2 is near the top of the list of my favorite sequels. But as Adam Riske pointed out this week, each subsequent film in the series has gotten worse, a trend that continues through Terminator Genisys, the low point in the franchise and a stupid, wrongheaded movie.
I'll be honest. I normally spend about a paragraph describing the plot of the movie I'm reviewing. I don't feel like doing that here. Genisys spends its first 10-15 minutes recapping Judgment Day and Skynet and everything we have heard for four movies now. This is the fifth Terminator movie. WHY are being told these same events for the fifth time? The only change this time around is that it's told from the perspective of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, the world's luckiest slab of laundry), who catches us up on Skynet becoming self aware and destroying the world (which, thanks to the wonders of CGI technology, we get to see in full detail despite the fact that James Cameron pulled it off much more efficiently and effectively with the shot of Sarah Conner holding on to the fence in T2, a haunting image with a human cost and the sort of thing that's nowhere to be found anywhere in Genisys) and the war with the machines and John Conner (Jason Clarke) leading the resistance and winning the war and a terminator gets sent back in time to kill his mom Sarah Conner in 1984 (now played by Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to John but then John sends back Kyle Reese to protect her and seriously why are we still seeing all this stuff play out in the fifth retelling of the same shit?
But I don't come to Terminator movies for logic, because no time travel movie can hold up to much scrutiny. That's the beauty of time travel plots. My issues with Terminator Genisys have much more to do with bad writing, bad performances, uninteresting action staged with computers, plot developments that are stupid (the biggest of which has been spoiled in much of the marketing but which I won't reveal here, even though it's not any advancement or new spin on the story; it's just a dumb choices that, again in the words of Adam Riske, is shit that's made up just to make up shit) and a tone that feels all wrong.
Every character in this movie bickers like they're in a cutesy comedy. It's wrong. It lowers the stakes. It gives everyone the same voice. James Cameron takes a lot of shit as a screenwriter, and while I'm the first to admit that his dialogue can be atrocious and his characterization simplified, at least he writes distinct characters and understands how they relate to one another. T2 isn't just a great film because of its breathless action and its state of the art effects that, almost 25 years removed from its release, still feel 10 times as special in anything in Genisys. It's a great movie because of its characters. The triangle at the center is truly wonderful: we see how John relates to the Terminator, we see how Sarah relates to the Terminator, we see how Sarah relates to John. All three of those relationships are distinct and interesting and make that movie what it is. In Genisys, everyone just talks to each other like smartasses and makes jokes no matter how much danger they are in. Even the love story between Sarah and Reese -- once intense and tragic and deeply felt -- consists of them being annoyed with each other and bickering. It doesn't help that Jai Courtney doesn't create a character so much as take the name of a familiar character and Emilia Clarke is like if Sarah Conner was shrunk down to a little girl. She is, to put it nicely, miscast.
And he's good in the movie. He's underused and turned into the dog who tags along with the fighting lovers -- that is, when he's not just asked to deliver long stretches of exposition -- but he's the only actor in the film who manages to create a character, and he does it without hardly ever changing his expression. I like how the movie deals with having him age, despite the fact that his outdatedness is never really a theme of the film. Again, T2 does a good job of establishing a conflict between the lumbering, heavy T800 and the quick liquidity of the T-1000 -- it's analogue versus digital. Here it's Schwarzenegger versus CGI (sometimes Schwarzenegger versus CGI Schwarzenegger, which is a horrible scene and further proof that that effect is not there yet) and it's all weightless and meaningless. He's got what might be the only good scene in the film, though, in which he reloads ammunition and Sarah discovers some proof of how he feels about her. It's touching and an honest to goodness character beat in a movie devoid of them. Too bad it's just a recycled character beat from T2, except in that film it was Sarah looking on at the T800 being a father figure to her son and now he's a father figure to her. Because this sequel is totally new and different!
Jurassic World -- Terminator Genisys is filled with callbacks and visual references to past Terminator movies, though only the first two because those are the only ones this sequel acknowledges. Are they there to remind us of better movies we would rather be watching? To pat us on the back for getting them? We're at the FIFTH Terminator movie. We're on board for the franchise. All it really represents is another lazy way of tapping in to the nostalgia frenzy of the current generation of movie geeks. It's like the greatest hits of the Terminator movies, only way worse.
It brings me no joy to dislike the new Terminator movie. As a lifelong and somewhat obsessive fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I wanted nothing more than to see him step back into the role in a film that justified trying to revitalize the franchise. What I got is a poorly paced, uninvolving, unexciting retread that defines itself by existing in the shadows of better films. It ends, of course, with the potential for another sequel hanging overhead -- this despite the fact that it leaves only one real question left unanswered (who sent back that first Terminator?), the answer to which truly does not matter in the least. Alas, such is the state of blockbuster filmmaking in 2015: worry about the next one, not this one. Get them coming back for more even when you give them garbage the first time. I don't know if I'm ready to declare Genisys the worst Terminator movie even though it probably is, but such gradations don't even matter. There is the first movie, the sequel and the very good FOX series Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Everything else is degrees of bad.