Mark Reviews Movies

Terminator: Genisys


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Alan Taylor

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language)

Running Time: 2:05

Release Date: 7/1/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 30, 2015

The Terminator series is a prime example of the concept of theme and variation. It started with a relatively simple idea in the first film: A cyborg from the future goes back in time to prevent the birth of a leader who will defeat the robot army of the future, while the leader sends back an agent to prevent the cyborg's plan. The first sequel expanded on that idea in exciting ways, while the third movie in the series didn't. (The fourth, which gets a bad rap, ignored the whole premise altogether, and that's partly why it's better than a lot people have claimed). Terminator: Genisys is, in the immortal and appropriately redundant words of Yogi Berra, "déjà vu all over again."

This isn't inherently a bad thing, especially considering how the first two sequels in this series had—to varying degrees of success—taken advantage of the notion of narrative déjà vu. This entry ignores the existence of and events from the third and fourth movies (and, for some unknown reason, the outcome of Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and it takes us back not only to the basic premise of the franchise pre-Terminator Salvation but also to the events of The Terminator.

Indeed, this movie essentially begins as a remake of the original film. With the war against the machines basically won by humanity, the machines send a T-800 (a waxy, digital version of a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to 1984 in a last ditch effort to change the past. John Connor (Jason Clarke), the leader of the human resistance, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to save his mother from the Terminator. The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier puts the opponents in the same situations we already know, and for his part, director Alan Taylor gives us recreated shots and beats from the first film.

The familiarity of the movie's first act is comforting, and that makes it a shock to see how Kalogridis and Lussier alter the established setup. There are other Terminators here, including a different version played Schwarzenegger and the intimidating T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), the one made of liquid metal that can change shape. Just as important, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), John's mother, is not the timid waitress we and Kyle anticipate but is instead an adept warrior who already knows the entire story of future events. The other Schwarzenegger Terminator was sent back in time to protect a 9-year-old Sarah from yet another machine assassin, and it has become something of a father figure to her. She calls it "Pops."

All of this is, well, pretty neat, because it shows a fundamental understanding of how this series operates and why it succeeds when it does. That's why everything that follows this section of the movie is such a monumental, miscalculated disappointment.

The actual plot involves Kyle and Sarah traveling to 2017 (Pops just waits for the future to arrive) to (once again) stop Skynet, the computer program that leads to the eradication of billions of people in a nuclear Holocaust. This means that the time travel element of the story becomes key, with discussions of alternate timelines and the ignoring of obvious paradoxes (If, as it's set up here, Kyle and Sarah never conceive John, how does any of this actually happen?). The other movies in this series were able to bypass a lot of head-scratching simply by accepting their time travel conceits and never dwelling on them too much. This movie dwells and dwells, convoluting matters until the whole thing doesn't even make sense by the movie's own logic.

We get another villainous Terminator, too, which has traveled back in time to stop them. It takes a familiar form and also bucks the trend of the mostly silent, unstoppable force trying to kill our heroes. This Terminator talks about its nonsensical plans to the point that we assume its primary tactic is to bore the heroes to death. The gimmick here is that the enemy Terminator is composed of tiny machine working in tandem, which means it can come apart and reassemble at will. It's an intriguing design, but it seems to exist solely so that the rather dull villain at least has something interesting about it.

Everything here—from the haphazard time-travel conceit to the broad plotting to characters whose emotional centers are entirely reliant on our nostalgia for them—is so imprecise that the stakes are virtually nonexistent. Terminator: Genisys overcompensates for these shortcomings by bloating its fights and chases with hollow attempts at spectacle. It is simply too much in a movie that cares so little about the basics.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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