‘Terminator: Genisys’ Review: Guess What, He’s Back

'Terminator: Genisys'

Movie Rating:


‘Terminator: Genisys’ is technically the fifth film in the 30-year-old franchise, but as James Cameron or anyone who was actually involved in the project will tell you, it’s really the third official movie in the series. You see, the first two ‘Terminator’ flicks remain rowdy action/sci-fi classics, while the subsequent two haven’t been mentioned since release.

Much like the almost inexplicably successful ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Genisys’ is built on nostalgia while serving as a franchise retcon. It’s a relentless attempt to revive the ‘Terminator’ series by acknowledging how far off the mark things have gone and essentially removing the last two flicks from continuity. It also feels like watching at least three ‘Terminator’ movies at once, in ways both good and bad.

Things kick off with another trip to the apocalyptic future. John Connor (now Jason Clarke) leads a victorious final battle over the machines with his best bud Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), only for them to discover that their efforts might have all been in vain since Skynet was able to send a Terminator back to 1984 right before losing the war. Connor then sends Reese back to save his mom and become his father, as we already know from the first ‘Terminator’ movie. However, everything plays out almost shot-for-shot the same until an elderly Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator shows up to battle a CGI-enhanced younger Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator. (Say what?!)

Much like ‘Back to the Future Part II’, the timelines get all messed up when the events of the new movie interact and interfere with the events of previous movies in the series. 1984 Sarah Connor is already a badass warrior who was raised by a Terminator since childhood and calls him Pops. Then a T-1000 shows up to make the film a remake of ‘T2’ as well. Then Reese and Sarah Connor decide that the fractured timeline has screwed things up so thoroughly that they need to take a trip to 2017 to stop a new Skynet that’s about to take over the world via some sort of super special operating system/social media network/search engine/whatever called “Genisys.”

That’s a whole bunch of plot and yet it somehow only encompasses less than half the movie. ‘Terminator: Genisys’ has been rattling around studio development hell for years now and boasts a messy Frankenstein script to prove it. The movie is all over the place, serving up fan service remake material for 20 minutes, hamfisted internet-as-Skynet social commentary for 20 minutes, future war epic for 11 minutes, snappy future-lover rom-com for 6 minutes, convoluted time-travel math movie for 12 minutes, aging Arnie comedy for 10 minutes, Terminator-daddy melodrama for 9 minutes, ludicrous CGI clusterfuck action flick for 25 minutes, and a few more movies I’m forgetting for the rest of the running time.

The sequel tries so hard to be so many things for so many quadrants of the audience that the filmmakers never settle into a single tone that makes it unique. At times, the thing devolves into a convoluted mess. On the plus side, if you ever find yourself irritated, bored or confused, all you have to do is wait a few minutes for the next mini-movie to kick in.

The best section is likely the retro-‘Terminator’ remake, which pushes nostalgia buttons hard and delivers some wonderously absurd action sequences. (Want to see a rocket launcher blow up a T-1000 and a police car mid-chase, or a metallic T-800 skull fly towards the camera in IMAX 3D? Your prayers have been answered.) That’s when ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ director Alan Taylor has the most fun and is the in the most command of the serpentine plot and endless action. Like the folks behind ‘Jurassic World’, the filmmaker gets away with not being able to match the shock-of-the-new of the original movies by referencing hard, increasing scale, and cracking irreverent jokes about the irrelevance of the project.

Aside from that section, ‘Terminator: Genisys’ is pretty hit-and-miss. The action scenes remain consistently entertaining and the gags about Arnie’s ancient machine being an “old but not irrelevant” father figure serve up some fun. The rest is all over the place. It’s hard to judge the performances of Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney since their characters suffer the most from troublesome rewrites. When they aren’t stuck spitting out as much time-travel exposition as their mouths can muster, they’re either speaking somberly about fate or cracking wise about their mutual attraction in awkwardly clashing ways. Any sense of character that those performers drum up is the result of past associations to other, better ‘Terminator’ movies. The script they’re stuck with gives them no human roles to play, just cogs in an overwritten machine.

As for all the time-travel rigmarole, it really doesn’t add up to much other than an easy narrative device to shake things up every few minutes. There’s some attempt to speak to themes about the nature of fate and the inevitable fallibility of man, but not in a way that makes sense or means much. While ‘Terminator: Genisys’ might be big, expensive and unexpectedly entertaining, it’s really nothing but a dumb summer sequel despite all its desperate attempts to transcend that label.

Ultimately, the fivequel proves just what a good pop filmmaker James Cameron truly is. Sure, it’s pretty easy to mock Cameron’s kick-to-the-groin sense of thematic subtlety and cornball dialogue, but his two ‘Terminator’ movies managed to deliver wild entertainment, groundbreaking special effects, digestible time-travel narrative gymnastics, and even a little commentary on fate and redemption in a pleasing popcorn package. ‘Terminator: Genisys’ tries to do all those things and more in such a clumsy and nakedly manipulative way that nothing much registers beyond the boom-boom entertainment and nostalgia. The movie is still goofy fun and decidedly better than any ‘Terminator’ movie since 1991, but sadly that’s not saying much.

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  1. cardpetree

    That’s the same rating you gave Jurassic World. The only conclusion could be that Terminator is going to gross a billion dollars and be really fun. Lol

  2. I can’t believe Cameron gave his blessing for this. I think he was flattered that they re enacted a lot of scenes from his previous movies. Kind of like when a four year old makes you a picture and its adorable. I think Cameron was probably thinking,”awww, that’s so cute.” I thought it was very entertaining, but really dumb. Unfortunately, this one isnt worthy to hang out with 1 & 2. Will it make great eye and ear candy on blu? Yes it will. The 3d was also very good. It was pretty much what I expected.

    • David C.

      Cameron also said Salvation was good when it came out… his word doesn’t mean anything. Arnold’s a good friend of Cameron’s so he’s stumping to give Arnie a box-office hit.

      • It was Terminator 3 that Cameron sort-of endorsed. Schwarzenegger wasn’t in Salvation, except for that CG’ed version of his younger self that shows up briefly.

    • Charles M

      Arnold is a great friend of his. He probably gave Arnold his blessing as a favour to him.

      Say what you want about the man’s ego, but I like the fact he doesn’t trash other people’s films all that much all at least is very diplomatic about it. Plus, I think he doesn’t care all that much and doesn’t take it all so seriously. Fans always take things more seriously than the film makers do.

  3. Ralph

    Thing is for me I felt they should have continued where Salvation left off, this whole thing screams HELP!
    Having to retread both earlier movies?!? That’s pure nonsense. I was excited about what the future held. To bad. I wont waste money on this and Jurassic World WAS a train wreck, but audiences are starving for anything not related to beefy men and women in super hero tights. Blame Marvel for that.

    • Elizabeth

      I have to say I’m disappointed by how well Jurassic World is doing. It says something that I can’t remember a single character’s name. I mean the only likable character was Chris Pratt’s character. I guess it’s the new Transformers; a bunch of crappy sequels that make a lot of money.

      As for Terminator, it seems you need 3 ingredients to make a good one:
      1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
      2. Linda Hamilton
      3. James Cameron

  4. I find it kind of amusing that we’ve gone from one Game of Thrones star (Lena Headey) playing Sarah Connor in the Terminator TV series to a younger Game of Thrones star taking over the role now. Check back in a few years for one more prequel/sequel where Maisie Williams takes the reins.

    • Timcharger

      Terminator TV series connection? That’s weak.

      But if Linda Hamilton shows up in the next season of GoT,
      then you might have something there.

      And there’s something “hot” about Sarah Connor. The
      whole “guns” in her arms, and armed with guns thing,
      that does something for Terminator fanboys. And you
      bringing up little Maisie?! That’s all wrong. Mood spoiler.

  5. Chris B

    Sounds like a real piece of shit. Way to invalidate and fuck up the legacy of two of the best action movies ever made. Say what you want about Salvation, at least it tried to move the franchise forward. All this does is mine existing characters and ovely familiar plot points for even more money. What’s next? Another reboot only THIS time Sarah Connor helped found Cyberdyne and it’s up to Kyle Reese to kill her before the T-1000 impregnates her and their half-human half-cyborg can lead the machines against himself in an alternate timeline!!?! Plus….there’s unicorns!!! I refuse to watch it…rant complete.

      • It already has a title: ‘Terminator ReSpawn’. Production has just been greenlit for a scheduled 2017 release. Budget approved at $240 million. No script written, but that never stopped anybody from making a movie. Shooting starts Monday morning. 🙂

        • Chris B

          Directed by Terrence Malick…since all he does it wing it nowadays…

          Seriously though Hollywood; quit fucking with things that are awesome until they’re not awesome anymore. I would rather go watch Magic Mike XXL this weekend. At least it doesn’t fuck with continuity annnnnddd I get to ogle Amber Heard. Albeit, in-between gratuitous scenes of male stripping.

          • Trond Michelsen

            Isn’t the entire premise of the Terminator movies continuityfucking?

            The point of sending a Terminator back in time to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance, is to change the course of history, so that Skynet can win the war in the future. Seems odd to complain that the future actually changed in future movies.

          • Chris B

            I disagree, just because time travel is a central part of the plot, that doesn’t make it ok to basically dissolve the established events of previous installments in the franchise.

            I’ll probably end up watching it eventually, I just refuse to pay money to see it in a theatre. Maybe there are elements to enjoy sure…it just kind of stings a bit.

          • Chris B

            Finally saw this last night (for free thank god) and turns out I was completely on the money with my assertions about it being a total piece of shit. What a fucking insult to Terminator fans. Another touchstone of my youth ruined by greed and a lack of creativity. How anyone could possibly defend this soulless bowel-movement of a a movie is totally baffling to me.

  6. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, summer fun and a nice re-boot for one of my favorite film series. I’m hoping it makes enough $$ to justify another film that will hopefully be tighter script wise.

    As for the T3 and the other one we don’t mention, I’m still not sure at least T3 doesn’t apply. I rewatched it the other day and while I did enjoy it more than I did previously, there are some moments where Arnold seems to be scoping John Conner to see if he’s actually human (just after the crane chase scene when he’s checking his head). Watch it closely.

    There’s also another moment in the film where I actually questioned if T3 Conner was human. With all the Wibbly Wobbly Timey Whimey timelines in Genisys I’d be ok if T3 was still canon.

  7. Aaron Peck likes it. I have great faith in his opinion. This movie is probably excellent. Then again, I also have great faith in Phil Brown’s opinion. Now I’m confused.

  8. theHDphantom

    Saw it last night (in a 35mm print viewing) and thought that it was pretty good for what it was. Very entertaining. I’d give it at least a 3.5 out of 5. Schwarzenegger was great in it. Can’t wait for the next two!

  9. I enjoyed this movie a lot…while it’s not as much fun as the first two films, it’s worlds better than the last two and really feels like the third part of a trilogy we never got. I actually enjoyed this almost as much as JURASSIC WORLD and for many of the same reasons – yes, parts of it are rather stupid, but the movie is entertaining throughout.

    I would have given it one more star than Phil did, or a B+ rating.

  10. cardpetree

    I watched it last Thursday night and thought it was pretty good. It was a thousand times better than Salvation and better than Terminator 3 as well. It’s not going to win any Academy Awards but it was definitely my kind of movie. Another good Summer Blockbuster movie. I think it’s pretty funny, all the folks in this discussion are crapping on the movie before they even see it.

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