Time has totally run out on the Terminator franchise with Terminator Genisys, a movie that can only sputter a half-hearted attempt to justify its own existence. James Cameron’s original 1984 Terminator was a lean and hungry exploitation thriller, and his 1991 follow-up T2: Judgment Day compensated for its own built-in redundancy by amping up the action and making a bombastic special effects spectacle…taking the series and its already-frayed storytelling about as far as it could go. Everything after has been a case of diminishing returns: we’ve had three movies, countless cast and director changes and two reboots, and for what? More of the same, it turns out, as once again futuristic robots travel in time to kill important people in our present to ensure the creation of Skynet, which will take over the world. Been there, done that.
Maybe The Terminator just should not have been a long-running movie series. Despite endless revelations and twists in past movies, those bits are just thrown back into the blender this time as we retread old ground. No matter how many times the humans win, another movie comes along and overturns the results, as the machines just keep on coming. Maybe this is an ongoing attempt to evoke a sense of fatalism, or find strains of existentialist thought, with the Connor family as our Sisyphus and Skynet as our boulder. Or maybe it’s just the mark of a franchise that has its greatest hits on endless repeat.
It doesn’t matter how many Terminator movies you’ve seen, as this one makes zero sense in every available context. Once again, John Connor (now played by a slumming Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (now played by the bland, charisma-free Jai Courtney) back in time to stop a terminator. That was the setup of the 1984 original, and this movie creates a parallel existence where Reese, upon emerging from a time bubble, finds not a cowering and defenseless Sarah Connor but a tough woman (a miscast Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones”) who was raised by a friendly terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), nicknamed “Pops” (yes, really). Pops, who looks about like Schwarzenegger does now, was sent into the 1970s for some reason, and he’s introduced in 1984 by destroying the original terminator (Schwarzenegger again, via de-aging CGI) and saving the confused Kyle, and there’s an additional shapeshifting terminator (Byung-hun Lee) to fight. Then everyone jumps into a time machine to go to the year 2017 to blow stuff up.
If you’re having a hard time comprehending this, than that’s a fraction of what it’s like to watch this movie. Genisys is essentially an attempt to cherry-pick elements from every Terminator movie so far and make a big bowl of Terminator stew, rewriting the original films in favor of its own brand of nonsense (I haven’t even mentioned the insulting and altogether ineffectual twist of who the actual villain is). The movie is filled with long conversations where Kyle and Sarah puzzle out the plot, and so many questions are answered with “Does it matter?” that they must have been screenwriter notes that accidentally got converted into dialogue. The plot is so convoluted and exposition-heavy that it’s practically impossible to know at any given point who is doing what or why or when. It’s a movie where literally anything can happen at any moment, which generates only apathy.
There are overblown action sequences thrown in (a chase on the Golden Gate Bridge, an assault on a software factory, etc.), but they are lazily executed by director Alan Taylor and exist only to isolated islands of action, disconnected from all story. There are lame attempts at jokes, and also some fizzled chemistry between Kyle and Sarah—they are John’s parents, after all, but the movie can’t think of anything to make them do except bicker jokily. There’s no character development, not much of a plot, no energy, and especially no spark of life that populated Cameron’s first two Terminators. Genisys is mainly wall-to-wall violent noise, done without joy or zest…or really much of a point except to make money. That is, sadly, what the Terminator series has become: endless new coats of paint on the same old rusty, broken-down machine.