Ever since James Cameron departed the director’s chair in the Terminator franchise the film series has struggled to try and find its vision. If Genisys, the latest sequel/reboot of the franchise, is any indication then Skydance Productions ought to hand Cameron a blank check and let him do the series properly. Why? Because in anyone else’s hands it’s become so obnoxiously bad that one genuinely hopes it doesn’t have the same box office that Jurassic World did. Genisys may not be the worst film of all-time … but it has a chance at being the worst film of 2015 when all is said and done.
Fairly complicated premise, even for a Terminator film.
We start out at the end of the great war between man and Skynet, as we find ourselves in the moments before the events of The Terminator. The humans have taken down Skynet … but not before the machines sent a terminator back in time to prevent the birth of John Connor (Jason Clarke). Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to be sent back in time, to 1984, to be her protector and save her. But things are different as this Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is a badass warrior type raised from birth by a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and not the weak waitress played by Linda Hamilton from the original series. The timeline has been changed, as well, and the two team up to meet Schwarzenegger’s aging terminator in 2017 to stop Skynet from coming into existence. But there’s a wrinkle in the plans as John Connor himself has come back to the time period to prevent them from destroying Skynet, as well.
And that’s ultimately the problem as the film is so cluttered and complicated that it essentially takes what could be an easy film to make, of a new take on the 1984 original, and turns it into an ultra-violent but marginally cohesive episode of Dr. Who. To be fair the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, is around in a pivotal role.
The film’s main problem is that it doesn’t know what kind of Terminator film it wants to be. It’s not a proper sequel, as this film essentially wipes out the entire canon in the opening 10 minutes. It’s not a reboot because it alters the timeline in significant ways, as well. It’s trying to eliminate the entire franchise with the Star Trek style “alternative timeline” type of reboot/remake/sequel but it has so many callbacks and insider references to most of them that it gets bothersome after a while. The only thing that wasn’t explicitly referenced was “You could be mine” by Guns N’ Roses, it seems, as the franchise wants us to remember the good films and forget the non-Cameron sequels.
The other problem is that with a new timeline reboot comes an entirely new cast … one that doesn’t the sort of spark any of the prior ones did. One of the great things about rebooting a franchise is that you’re able to bring fresh faces and do interesting things with known characters. It’s interesting to see Sarah Connor thrust into a different role, of the person questioning her fate, than the damsel in distress she played in the first. It’s one that Nick Stahl, Edward Furlong and Christian Bale all played with their versions of John Connor and his mother always got short shrift. It’s a fairly brilliant take, of Sarah being the one trying to come to terms with her life being on a set path, but a film focusing on this like Rise of the Machines did with Stahl and that version of John Connor’s story would’ve been more interesting than what is presented.
There’s no spark between Courtney and Emilia Clarke, who look photogenic together but the sort of star crossed lovers they are supposed to be never comes though. There is no chemistry between them unlike Michael Biehn and Hamilton in the original; one of the unsung things about that film was that Biehn and Hamilton meshed so well in their interactions. Clarke and Courtney don’t and that end of the film, one that matters so profoundly and powerfully, doesn’t work. Courtney does a good job of bringing Reese the soldier into the mix but the film wants everyone to look good for the camera instead of grimy and muggy, like the original film series did. There’s too much glitz and glamour as everyone looks ready for a photo shoot; if you’re going to ape the original in spirit then going all the way. Jai Courtney looks like he’s getting ready to play soldier in the future, not a soldier sent from the future to save the past.
What we get overall from a story perspective is a sort of half mix of Sarah grasping her faith and a Michael Bay style action film. It’s visually impressive, including early on when CGI allows for an older Schwarzenegger to face off against his 1984 self, but there’s no heart to it. It’s a Transformers film with time travel, nothing more.
Director: Alan Taylor Writers: Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd Notable Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Matt Smith