“Old, but not obsolete.” That was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newest catchphrase in Terminator: Genisys. If only the same could be said about this franchise, which couldn’t be saved by the combined forces of the T-800 (Schwarzenegger), the Doctor (Matthew Smith) and the queen of dragons (Emilia Clarke).
After the defeat of Skynet, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Clarke) from a Terminator intent on killing her before she gives birth to resistance leader John Connor. However, when he arrives in 1984, he discovers the timelines have been drastically altered and nothing is as it once was.
Normally, I would post a spoiler warning at this point in my reviews, but in this case I don’t care. I haven’t been this disappointed and angry at a movie I saw in a theatre since G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. James Cameron’s first two Terminator films are classics, both of them ranking among my favorite movies. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a retread of T2 and runs counter to its theme of beating fate. Terminator: Salvation at least tries to be different by focusing on the war with the machines in the future, showing plot points that had only been hinted at before.
Genisys, on the other hand, is a muddled mess. A better title would’ve been Terminator 5: Wibbley-Wobbley-Timey-Wimey. Heck, Steven Moffat, the (in)famous showrunner for the BBC’s Doctor Who known for intricate time-travel plots, would watch this and say, “What the bleep is going on?!” It would take an entire chalkboard to diagram this script.
The original Terminator is sent back to 1984, but another T-800 that was sent back to 1973 from an alternate timeline interrupts its efforts to find clothes, theoretically (a word this T-800 is overly fond of) creating said alternate timeline, except that timeline is negated when Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese travel to 2017 to halt Judgment Day (which was somehow postponed again) after battling John Connor (Jason Clarke), who had been transformed into a nanomachine Terminator and sent back in time by Skynet to ensure its creation in an alternate timeline from a future that no longer existed.
Did any of that run-on sentence make sense? I wrote it and still can’t decipher it. This plot has more holes in it than a wall after a machine-gun fight. It gave me a headache the more I thought about it while watching. I was so busy trying to unravel these tangled threads or hoping they’d fix it by the end, I hardly noticed the few genuinely entertaining moments in the movie.
This isn’t the first time a “soft reboot” like this has been done. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek did it first in 2009, followed by the video game Mortal Kombat in 2011 and last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. All of them did involve time-travel. There were two big differences, though: 1) the time-travel was simpler and made more sense, and 2) they respected the continuities that came before them. Each of them told time-travel stories that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the other entries in their respective series. For example, had the previous X-Men films not happened, there wouldn’t have been a terrible future both Magneto and Prof. X wanted to prevent by sending Wolverine back in time. Also, in these cases, some characters did remember what happened in the old timelines, so those stories weren’t invalidated.
In Genisys, though, it utilizes nostalgia to increase its appeal only to slap those stories and their fans in the face. The audience sees Skynet fall and both the original Terminator and Kyle Reese be sent back in time—only to have Skynet in a robot body “assimilate” John Connor. Then through recycling old footage and/or painstaking frame-by-frame reconstructions, the first T-800’s arrival in 1984 is seen as it was in The Terminator, only to be interrupted by an older Schwarzenegger. Then a T-1000 inexplicably shows up and attacks Kyle Reese, who’s then saved by a Sarah Connor who’s skipped ahead to T2 mode. It was an exercise in instant gratification.
(Ironically, Skynet’s avatar is played by Matt Smith. Yes, the 11th Doctor is responsible for all these screwy time-travel shenanigans. I’m not surprised. The irony doesn’t excuse the poor storytelling, though).
The worst part was—as the movie’s spoiler-ific second trailer showed—turning John Connor into a Terminator. It wasn’t enough to simply have a machine masquerade as him. No, the hero who’d been a focal point of the entire franchise was turned into Skynet’s pawn. It rivals Frank Miller’s deplorable treatment of Superman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, where he’s become a willing servant of Lex Luthor. It’s beyond stupid.
Salvation was intended to be the first of a new trilogy, which I’m guessing would’ve been focused on the war with the machines, showing John Connor’s rise to power, and ultimately culminate with what was the first 10-15 minutes of this film. Everything would’ve come full circle. Unfortunately, the studio that made Salvation, the Halcyon Company, went under, leaving the franchise in limbo. So, after that was all sorted out, they gave us this.
There’s a scene where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese remark on how people seem glued to their mobile devices—smartphones, PDAs, etc.—that are all about to be connected through a network called Genisys (which is actually Skynet). It was meant to be a commentary on modern man’s dependence on technology. I think this tangled mess of a “reboot” was made just for that scene. The stupid thing is this has always been one of the franchise’s themes. It’s a timeless idea. If the filmmakers wanted to “modernize” it a bit for the kids, they should’ve just done a straight reboot. Even that isn’t necessary. Despite advances in technology, the older Terminator films—especially the first two—still remain relevant.
Apparently, there are plans for two sequels to this film already. Now I wish someone could send a Terminator back in time to prevent Genisys from being made.
Final Grade: D
Enjoy the article? Watch my video review–wherein the T-800 tries to keep me from watching the movie!