Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Audiences may rightfully ask for a lot out of their movies, but there is an unwritten golden rule that a movie should not ask too much out of its audience. Science fiction films like the now-thirty-year-old TERMINATOR franchise have always asked audiences to buy into high concepts of time-travel and killer robots, but there was always a limit to how much they were selling or how difficult it was to buy into. TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fourth sequel in the franchise, does indeed ask a lot out of its audience, which is the very least of the mistakes it makes. 

In the future, mankind has been nearly obliterated by the Skynet supercomputer and its army of mechanical Terminators. Sensing defeat, Skynet sends a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who is destined to give birth to John Connor (Jason Clarke), the future leader of the resistance. After the Terminator is sent back, Connor sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), who is destined to become his father, back in time to protect Sarah. But when Reese arrives in 1984, he finds that Sarah already has a protector; another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). 

The opening moments of GENISYS take place during the events of the first TERMINATOR film and recreates those events nicely; there is a great feeling of nostalgia present as audiences can relive the moments of that classic film. Once things begin to unfold, the first big item that GENISYS is looking to sell becomes clear; this is now an alternate timeline which wipes out the events of the original TERMINATOR movies. Just how much fans of the long-running franchise can buy into that goes a long way into how much they can enjoy GENISYS. 

While the first time-jump to 1984 complicates things, it’s nothing compared to yet another time-jump which sends the characters ahead to 2017, where the film becomes a bag of pretzels. John Connor shows up having made a time-jump himself with a whole mess of his own secrets, and much of the film is spent unraveling who sent whom to what year for what purpose. It becomes way more convoluted than it needs to be and nearly requires a scientist drawing on a blackboard to keep up. On top of that, despite all of the time-travel gobbledygook, by movie’s end it becomes clear that GENISYS is nearly a carbon-copy of the first film in structure in broad strokes, as characters wind up doing the same things they would have done prior to all of the time-jumping. 

The heavy-lifting involved to get through the overcomplicated plot can be forgiven, but where GENISYS fails completely is its blocky narrative structure; it’s action-scene followed by talking followed by action-scene followed by more talking. It’s clunky and has no chance to develop characters, depth, or any sort of emotional weight. While the action-scenes are well constructed by director Alan Taylor, in the end they don’t mean very much other than filling time. Visual effects are a treat, with the highlight of the film taking place in the early going when a 1984 version of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator dukes it out with the 2015 version. 

Acting is a mixed bag. Emilia Clarke gets to play tough and does it very well, but is never given the opportunity to show any emotion beyond that. She spends most of her time bickering with Jai Courtney, who does nothing to shed his reputation as a human doorknob. J.K. Simmons shows up as the only cop in the world who knows what’s going on and he is great comic relief but is grossly underused. And speaking of underused, Arnold Schwarzenegger barely feels like a character in his own movie. He is basically used to explain things to the audience and doesn’t do much else. 

After a an overlong end-battle in which its easy to forget who is trying to do what, the film settles into a nice ending which offers a final resolution to the humans vs. Skynet problem…and feels like a satisfying wrap. All that is negated when a second ending appears out of nowhere, which then makes the events of the film GODDAMN POINTLESS despite the new timeline and clean slate; everything winds up the same no matter what. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, TERMINATOR GENISYS has nothing of value to sell. 


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