The Terminator movies, or as I should actually say: the first two Terminator movies, are some of my favorite action movies- if not just my favorite movies of all time. When you think about sequels and how they’re usually never better than the original, you can thank Terminator 2 for blowing that idea out of the water by being the sequel to a move that every other movie should aspire to be.
But like all good things, even the Terminator franchise starts to overstay its welcome.
With the less than stellar Terminator 3, the pretty-good-but-a-little-weird-cause-Christian-Bale Terminator 4, and now we have the abysmal Terminator 5: Genisys. Not Genesis, Genisys. Yeah I don’t get it either.
So Genisys starts where any good Terminator movie starts, in the future. We get actor Jai Courtney giving us the usual voice-over about judgment day and how the sentient machines started their war against humanity with a nuclear holocaust. He also starred in the fifth entry to the franchise of another beloved 80’s movie, Die Hard, and he promptly ruined that as well.
New Rule: Jai Courtney is not allowed to star in the fifth sequel of anything.
So anyway, this voice-over makes no sense. For the uninitiated to the Terminator franchise this seems like a good deal. But for those of us who’s seen them before, this is old information. I can understand it being a bit of exposition for newer audiences, but then why start with the same (in tone and structure at least) opening as Terminator 2? Can’t they think of an original way to cue in audience members who aren’t Terminator-savvy?
We see that Jai is playing the character Kyle Reese who, spoilers, is the will-be father of John Conner, the savior of the human race. See, in Terminator 1 Kyle is sent back in time by his son to protect his then soon-to-be mother from a terminator the machines were able to send back and kill her. Paradoxes aside, it was a pretty cool premise.
We’re then given scenes that depict this actual event (something we never saw on screen in the original films), so you might be thinking this is just a remake of the first one. But oh boy is it worse than that.
As he begins to travel back in time, we see that John Conner is sabotaged, something that never happened in the original film, just as Kyle is sent back to ’84. When he arrives he soon finds that he’s not the only one to have come back in time (again straying from the original film) and that there is now a T-1000 terminator there too. If you’re not privy to Terminator lore, the T-1000 is a liquid metal terminator, able to morph its shape into disguises as well as primitive weapons. It can take bullets like a champ and is very hard to kill. The T-1000, however, doesn’t appear until Terminator 2, so already we’ve got problems.
See the rest of the movie plays out as you’d expect it to. They stop the terminators, save Sarah Conner, and supposedly stop judgment day… for like the third time now.
But what this film does differently is it plays out a lot like the recent Star Trek reboots, which are technically just further sequels set in an alternate timeline version of the original 60s show. But where it works in Star Trek it doesn’t work at all here.
See Star Trek has also had its fair share of time travel escapades, from a smattering of episodes in all the different series of TV shows (the 60s one, The Next Generation, etc), to both Star Trek 4 and Star Trek 8. But Star Trek is pure sci-fi. They embrace the science behind the fiction. They’ve talked in depth in many cases about alternate timelines and multiverse theory, and it all makes sense for why a break in the timeline would end up with a James Kirk being played by Chris Pine instead of William Shatner.
Terminator is all about destiny and set futures. In Terminator 2 they stop judgment day from happening, which is great and a happy ending. But then in Terminator 3 they retcon the whole thing and say judgement day was inevitable. And while that basically ruins everything the second movie was going for (thus why a lot of fans didn’t like it) it also brings up a good point. If judgment day doesn’t happen, then the terminator sent back in time to kill Sarah Conner never exists in the first place. The original Terminator wasn’t really about stopping judgement day, it was just making sure Sarah stayed alive and had her son who would be the savior of mankind. It was his destiny. The second movie tried ending that, and if no more movies were made it could have just been one of those “it was so good it doesn’t have to make sense” movies. But the third one comes along and says judgment day still happens, so then the fourth one we finally get to see post judgment day society and John Conner is finally the savior we all know him as. It’s fine as it is. It’s all about John’s destiny.
But instead we’re given this mishmash idea of going backwards instead of forwards and rewriting all of the history of the previous films. Everything that’s included in the movie is there simply because we the audience would remember it and think it was cool, not because it made any sense for the story. This is pure Terminator fan-fiction. There are so many “wink wink, nudge nudge,” “hey look I know Terminator too,” “remember that scene?” moments that you could just barf.
A T-1000 in ’84? That’s never supposed to happen, but in this alternate timeline it did. Hell even Arnold at this point is there simply because we can’t have a terminator movie without him. They even go so far as to explain that the human flesh that’s been graphed to his robot body to disguise him actually ages like real human flesh would, therefore the reason he looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger of 2015 and not as the immortal robot terminator of 1984- because that would require a lot of CG to make him appear young, and they’re not paying for that.
I hate to sound like a “Terminator purist” (lord help us if those actually exist), but I won’t excuse a lazy story, especially when that story was written specifically for the audience as fan-service and made no logical sense whatsoever. Basically the pitch meeting must have been: put Arnold in some make-up and grey hair dye, tell him his only line in the film is “I’ll be back” and have him say it over and over again and, boom, you’ve got yourself a new Terminator movie.
I give this film a 2 out of 10. It’s got some good action pieces as it should, but the famous characterization-in-an-action-movie of the original films is not here, and there’s nothing driving us between scene to scene, action to action, to make me give a damn. This is, like I said, poorly written fanfic on a big screen.
If they make a 6th movie we can only hope James Cameron is involved again to breath new life to his now dying franchise. Though knowing him, Arnold will play a giant blue alien and everything will be in 3D because it’s more “spectacular” that way. Gag me with a spoon.