Film Review: Terminator Genisys

As the joke goes, with Terminator and Jurassic Park movies in theaters again ahead of a looming Bush vs. Clinton election, you might think you have actually time-traveled back to the 1990s.  (Un?)fortunately the only time travel going on is in Terminator Genisys, which is the Hollywood hive mind’s latest attempt to create the perfect box office killing machine.  Neither a regular reboot nor a simple sequel, the T-2015 is a “resequel”, if you will, combining the freedom of erasing the previous films with the helpful familiarity of following up on an existing franchise.

It fills its arsenal with all the best bits of every Terminator property to come before it, including the TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while still mixing things up in a way that only time travel can.  For maximum lethality it wields three different Arnold Schwarzeneggers, one CGIed to match the original 80s body builder, one touched up to resemble peak-90s Ahhnold, and one left to look like the aging former Governator we have today because the living tissue covering the metal endoskeleton ages just the same as he has.

Sadly like its namesake cyborg, Terminator Genisys is a relentless machine that never quite completes its mission.  It has so much ground to cover that it just keeps marching on even when it could benefit from stopping to check out the scenery for a bit.  Even the action sequences feel like they’re abbreviated to get on to the next new plot element.  It’s clear the filmmakers had quite a few good ideas on how to spice up the existing formula, but couldn’t decide which one they liked the best so they just put them all in, which is a shame because any one of them by itself would have sufficed.

To use an example the obscenely gratuitous trailers have already spoiled, when Kyle Reese arrives from the future this time, he doesn’t find a helpless Sarah Connor in need of rescuing from a killer cyborg.  Instead she and her terminator protector have spent years preparing for their eventual appearance (hence the multiple Arnolds), and so they’re able to make quick work of the T-800 from the first film.  It’s a great twist and a fun setup that adds a new dynamic to the franchise without ruining the things that made the first Terminator films work.

It helps that Emilia Clarke has just enough resemblance to Linda Hamilton to pull off a younger version of the badass mom from T2, and while Jai Courtney is nothing like Michael Biehn, his Kyle Reese’s situation is so different that it isn’t distracting.  Arnold’s still finding his way after having been out of the game for so long, but since the terminator has changed too, that works with the movie rather than against it.

What is distracting is the score.  Composer Lorne Balfe treats every slightly important moment like the climax of the film so even the parts that should be quiet pauses come across like the last gasp before the finale, which only serves to exacerbate that feeling of everything being rushed.  Plus the sound mix seemed to be a little off such that the music started to obscure other audio.

Another thing Terminator Genisys never quite settles on is how smart of a movie it wants to be.  Sometimes it wonderfully subverts stupid action tropes like having the police actually show up to try and stop people from rampaging down a freeway for once, and then other times it’ll turn around and have the evil cyborg toss the good cyborg around rather than just killing it immediately with its special abilities.  Towards the end it even tries tossing a wrench into ye ole countdown clock but is totally hamstrung by the fact that an artificial intelligence has no reason to abide by said clock.

The final weapon in Genisys‘ bag of tricks is the ever entertaining J.K. Simmons, which it pulls out to add a dash of humor and poke fun at the absurdity of the whole situation.  His character is another one I wish the movie had more time to flesh out, but alas it’s gotta move on to the next sequence instead.

So despite all of the new and promising improvements on an old design, Terminator Genisys still misses the mark.  It’s nice to see it expand on the themes of wanting to change fate and machines learning how to be human, and the throwbacks to the previous movies are usually well done, but it just can’t follow through well enough to live up to the best of its franchise.  (It does however run circles around Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation.)

On Ed Morrissey’s Hot Air scale, Terminator Genisys gets a viewer’s choice 3.5:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

If you’re looking for something to catch at a matinee over the holiday weekend, it’s worth the ticket, but waiting to watch it on Blu-Ray some months from now won’t hurt any either.

Terminator Genisys is rated PG – 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language