I don’t know where to begin with “Terminator Genisys,” the abysmal fifth installment in the “Terminator” franchise. I don’t even know what to call it. Is it a sequel? No, because it doesn’t technically come after the last one (2009’s “Terminator Salvation”). Is it a reboot? Kind of? At the beginning we’re treated to a lengthy overview of the entire “Terminator” set up, with voice over from Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to provide newbies with background info. We’re informed that the corporation Skynet brought on the apocalypse with computerized machines and how John Connor (Jason Clarke) rose out of the ashes as the savior and leader of the human resistance.
At the same time the movie is peppered with references to the original films-- “Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day—meaning newbies would get lost right away. Actually, “peppered” isn’t the right word; every third scene is a reference, a cheeky nod or a wink. In fact at certain points entire sequences—down to the shot—from those previous movies are recreated. The iconic sequence of the original Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent back in time to 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah, (Emilia Clarke) demanding that a random street punk give him his clothes, for example. “Terminator Genisys” isn’t a sequel or a remake; it’s an entirely new, unclassified species. Whatever it is, it’s a convoluted, insignificant mess that basically screams out at you to stop watching it and turn on the original films.
I won’t even attempt a formal plot synopsis of the film; to do so would be like attempting real-life time travel. Instead, imagine if the storylines from the first two features were tossed into a blender and mixed up along with a few other “new” underwritten storylines and you’ve got the cinematic slurry known as “Terminator Genisys.” The movie is all about alternate timelines and alternate timelines of those alternate timelines, caused by various events in the future. Sequences and plot points from the first two movies are slightly altered. Before the original Terminator can beat up that street punk he’s stopped by an older version of the Terminator (still played by Schwarzenegger). We’ve got Schwarzenegger on Schwarzenegger action. That’s something, I guess.
Also, if you remember from the first film, Reese—Connor’s right hand man in the fight against the machines—is sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah. But what if, instead of being a weak helpless waitress unaware of the doom yet to come, Sarah was tough and already knew what was going down in the future? And what if she knew about the timeline in which she’s a helpless waitress? And what if when the new Sarah was nine years old, a Terminator—the older Schwarzenegger robot—came to her aid and sort of became a surrogate father, whom she calls “Pops?”
I could go on but I think I would die of exhaustion. Simply put, the movie is too complicated for its own good, there’s too much plot to keep track of. The more you try to piece the story together the more incoherent and unstable it becomes. And for all this hassle nothing new really happens in “Terminator Genisys.” It tries to do everything and ends up doing nothing at all. Fifty percent of the picture is plot points being dully explained while the other 50% is pure nostalgia, requiring an understanding of the earlier films. The same plot points and catchphrases are still there, just shifted around. Instead of Kyle saying “come with me if you want to live,” Sarah says it. Some of winky references are fun but after a while the nostalgia factor becomes stale-- the constant need to reference begins to feel forced. And most surprisingly, the end goal is still the same: stop Skynet before it can activate its super smart cyborgs. How can a movie with such an underwhelming end goal be so convoluted in the process?
Perhaps I should give “Terminator Genisys” some credit for at least attempting such an ambitious storyline in the first place. However, any ambitiousness is automatically undermined by terrible dialogue, lackluster acting and action that only gets bigger, louder and dumber. Like the “storyline” there’s nothing new in the action set pieces—a gunfight here, a melee fight there, a car chase. Buildings are destroyed, cars are flipped. These sequences are handled in the dullest and routine of ways while the CGI work ranges from mediocre to just plain bad. As the movie trucks on, it becomes a nonstop barrage of meaningless repetitive action. How many times can we see a Terminator get shot, only for it to regenerate itself? How many times must we see liquid metal reform into the T-1000? (Oh yes, the antagonist from “Judgment Day” is here too, don’t you worry). Again, this goes back to the nostalgia factor. Give the people more of the same.
As the main characters (originally played by Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton) Courtney and Clarke are miserable. Both of them overact big time, a majority of their scenes playing out like a bad sitcom. They have zero romantic chemistry and zero repartee. I haven’t seen “Game of Thrones” but Clarke is supposed to be good so I won’t blame her for her disappointing work here. On the other hand, having been bad in just about everything else he’s done, I’m convinced Courtney is just a bad actor. His attempts at genuine emotion are laughable, while his attempts to make quips are painful. The rest of the acting is unremarkable; the usually solid Jason Clarke is a competent John Connor and Schwarzenegger is fine—he gets a few funny lines in—but his whole performance is sort of underwhelming. A tired actor, playing a tired role. When he shouts his trademark line: "I'll be back" you can't help but sigh and role your eyes.
However, I can’t completely fault the actors--the screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier is the true Achilles heel of the picture. Maybe the most saddening thing about it is that because of the dense plotting, the human element is missing. All of the central relationships that we’re supposed to be invested in get lost in a flurry of alternate timelines, recycled lines of dialogue and tedious action.
Ultimately, I don’t really know why anyone would waste their time on “Terminator Genisys.” It’s a confusing, over plotted amalgamation of the first two movies, with poor acting and repetitive, exhausting action. By rehashing the same characters and plot points, all the movie does is remind you of the better “Terminator” movies that came before it.