** SPOILERS **
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.
That is literally the only way to start this review of the latest in the Terminator franchise, Terminator Genisys. And ‘Genisys’ is not a typo, in case you were wondering. What next – Star Warz Rowge One?
This review will contain spoilers. But to be perfectly honest, after the official trailers and posters were released, there wasn’t much left to be spoiled. Major plot twists and revelations were casually included in Paramount’s marketing campaign which left people scratching their heads – what surprises, if any, are actually left in the film itself? Not a lot as it turns out, but the surprises that did remain were absolutely shockers – shockingly bad!
So let’s start at the very beginning: 1984 and the original Terminator movie. A lone soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) travels back in time from the future to the year 1984 to prevent a robot known as the Terminator (Schwarzenegger) from assassinating wimpy waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of an unborn man who will become humanity’s saviour in the future war against the machines. Got that so far? Ok, it turns out that Kyle Reese was sent back in time by said saviour John Connor, to protect his mother and impregnate her so he can ultimately be born and lead the human race to victory. Phew, still with me?
You may have observed that the very idea of a man sending his own father back in time to impregnate his mother is impossible – this is what is known as a ‘Casual loop’ or ‘Bootstrap paradox’, when a future event is the cause of a past event and the past event is then the cause of the future event which is the past event’s cause. Wait, come back! No more mumbo-jumbo I promise!
Ok on to 1991, and the blockbuster sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day. T2 was a groundbreaking film on many levels. Not only was it Hollywood’s most expensive movie at the time (costing over a then-unheard-of $100 million dollars), it featured a new-fangled technology called CGI (computer-generated imagery) and had a massive merchandising push which was impressive even by today’s standards for an R-rated film. This time a ‘liquid metal’ Terminator is sent back in time to kill John Connor as a boy in the year 1994, and another Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is sent back to protect him. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is hard as nails in this one and spends most of her time shooting at stuff. The mission is to stop the creation of ‘Skynet’ - the automated defence network that sets off the future nuclear war.
Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation can be ignored in Genisys’s timeline as it functions as a direct sequel to T2. Even the superior The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series has now been chucked out the window. Original creator James Cameron has even (rather inexplicably) officially declared Genisys as the true sequel to his original Terminator movies. But what does he know anymore? He spends most of his time either in the woods with blue aliens or down the bottom of the ocean in a tin can.
So on to Terminator Genisys if we must. The timeline has been muddled, with the plot centring around a poorly executed Back To The Future 2-like timeline paradox. We start off in the future where we see John Connor (Jason Clarke) send back his own father Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to the year 1984 to protect and impregnate his wimpy waitress mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). So far, so ‘original Terminator’, complete with shot-for-shot recreations. But wait – there’s a liquid Terminator here in 1984! Huh?? And Sarah Connor isn’t a wimpy waitress, she’s hard as nails T2 Sarah! What?? And there’s already a Terminator protector (Schwarzenegger) with Sarah! Now hang on a minute!
It turns out that ‘Ahnuld!’ the Terminator had been sent back in time to 1973 to protect Sarah as a child, and became a father figure to her as she grew up. Yep, she even calls him “Pops” throughout the film. “Pops” the Terminator. I wish I was kidding. Also for some reason, Genisys’s Reece already senses something is afoot when he travels back to this alternate 1984 – but why should he? Reece shouldn’t know any difference. Anyway, Kyle quickly dispenses with the T-1000 liquid Terminator in about 5 minutes (despite it taking an entire film to kill one in T2) while Pops has a fight with his original 1984 Terminator self in order to nab its CPU processor. It’s Terminator overload! Pops needs the CPU to power the time machine that he’s been building with Sarah since the 1970s. Gosh, if only building a time machine was so simple now as it was back in the 70s!
Our three heroes then travel forward in time to the year 2017 (landing slap-bang in the middle of a highway in a scene plagiarised straight from The Sarah Connor Chronicles) in order to stop Skynet going online. They’re instantly arrested by the police, and we’re treated to a cringeworthy montage of their mugshots being taken whilst Cops theme song ‘Bad Boys’ plays on the soundtrack.
Then a shock! (Or not, if you’ve seen the trailer or even the bloody posters). John Connor is here! And he’s a Terminator! He’s been programmed to stop his mum from stopping Skynet (which is now an app called Genisys. An app! Oh please!) thus stopping his future self’s victory which would mean that he would never have been able to send Kyle back who wouldn’t have been able to travel to 2017 to get to this point, but all that doesn’t matter because they all now exist in a limbo timeline due to the original timeline being altered into a fractured timeline due to ‘quantum fields’ and ‘nexuses in time’ and... oh dear. And what exactly is ‘Ahnuld!’ doing while all this malarkey is going on? Pops the Terminator has essentially been relegated to cringeworthy comic relief (think T3’s “Talk to the hand” and you’re not even close!) and spouting reams and reams of expositional monologues to explain to the audience just what the hell is going on. Dear me, when you’ve got ‘Ahnuld!’ trying to explain Quantum Theory then you know you’ve got a turkey on your hands!
So it’s now a race to see who will get to Skynet first. After a horrendous helicopter chase that defies all known physics (logic is loooong gone by this point) the trio reach Skynet. For some reason, Skynet now resembles the computer from Resident Evil, personified by a hologram child. Sarah and Reece have another cringeworthy montage sequence in which they plant bombs while shooting out Skynet’s holograms which are now starting to grow up to become Dr Who Matt Smith. And there’s another time machine! Pops and John Connor have a wrestle inside the time machine, with Pops seemingly wanting to sacrifice himself to ensure the death of John Connor. “Protect my Sarah” he pleads to Kyle as the cringe factor amps up a few notches. And just before the time machine transports them both to kingdom come, Pops manages to get thrown free of the magnetic energy field, but he sinks into a vat of liquid metal goo.
As the building explodes all around Kyle and Sarah, they survive the blast by hiding behind a convenient metal door. Phew! Suddenly a metal rod comes crashing through, and it morphs into liquid metal – oh no the T-1000 is back! But wait, it’s Pops - he’s not dead! “How can you do that?” asks Sarah as Pops’s liquid metal hand morphs back into his regular Terminator hand. His cringeworthy reply: “I’ve had an upgrade.” An upgrade?! Genisys has now taken the book of logic and rule and used the pages for toilet paper.
Then the end credits roll. And that’s it. A quick mid-credits scene reveals that Skynet is still alive after all, so the entire movie was ultimately pointless (but we didn’t really need to wait until the end credits to figure that one out!). Terminator Genisys really is that bad. So besides the atrocious execution of a terrible story, where else did it go all so wrong?
The casting. Firstly ‘Ahnuld!’. Arnie can now practically play a Terminator in his sleep, and in Genisys it feels exactly like that. He just slips into the background on many occasions until he’s called upon to deliver pages and pages worth of dumb expositional ‘plot’ dialogue so the audience can have a vague sense of just what the hell is going on. In fact, it seems that Pops the Terminator is actually the biggest speaking part in the film! And when he’s not delivering plot points, he’s either attempting to smile (as previously seen in T2) or harking on about how ‘old’ he is.
Next is Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. Gone is Michael Biehn’s nuance portrayal of a psychologically scarred and physically fatigued soldier, fighting against impossible odds to save the woman he loves. Instead what Courtney gives us is a clean shaved, chiselled, bulky, smart-arse. He looks more like a cocky Terminator that a rugged, natural born survivor who’s witnessed the horrors of war. And Courtney has absolutely zero chemistry with Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor.
Emilia is by far the worst offender here. Connor’s obligatory romance with Reece feels unnatural, forced, awkward, and just serves to tick a box. And considering the fact that Connor is supposed to be a hardened self-made soldier, Clarke shows no signs of physical fitness or muscle definition whatsoever (see Linda Hamilton in T2 please!). Clarke’s 5 ft Connor spends most of her time badly delivering her cringeworthy dialogue and generally standing around looking about 14 years old. Even her fellow Game Of Thrones cast-mate Lena Headey’s portrayal of Connor in The Sarah Connor Chronicles was in a different league.
Probably the less said about Jason Clarke (who is usually excellent) as John Connor, the better. I defy anyone to keep a straight face when he recites Reece’s infamous “Can’t be reasoned with, doesn’t feel pity, or remorse” dialogue towards the end.
The CGI was all over the place, mostly atrocious. One minute you’ll be marvelling at how 1984 Arnie has been re-created so photorealistically, the next you’ll be staring with disbelief as two helicopters defy all logic and fly around as if they’re toys on bungee ropes. T1 and T2 relied on animatronics which lent the Terminators a very ‘robotic’ feel. In Genisys the exoskeleton Terminators have been CGI’d to the point that they may as well be in a Pixar movie. The soundtrack was awful too – just generic Hollywood stock action music, evoking no mood whatsoever. Original composer Brad Fiedel’s synthetic low atmospheric drones are sorely missed.
All in all, Terminator Genisys is an absolute cringefest. Look out for these choice cringeworthy moments if you’re feeling brave enough to waste two hours:
- • The T-1000 reviving the T-800 Terminator with a drop of liquid metal
- • Sarah Connor pointing a handgun at Pops the Terminator’s head (as if that will do any damage!)
- • Kyle telling Sarah about him and John trying to make moonshine: “We laughed for days”
- • Ammo reload competition between Pops and Kyle
- • Anytime Arnie is referred to as “Pops”
- • Pops’s line “Nice to meet you...get out!”
- • The awful CGI bus-flip on the bridge
- • Kyle and Sarah’s forced love/hate relationship
- • ‘Bad Boys’ mug shots
- • Sarah Connor calmly talking to young a Kyle Reece while a police station is getting massacred, the parents not objecting at all – Connor is just some random lady to these people!
- • Pops the Terminator’s “I’ll be back” torpedo leap during the horrendous helicopter sequence
- • Sarah, Kyle and Pops placing the bombs in Skynet while shooting the holograms
- • “Because we are human” overdramatic delivery by Jai Courtney
- • John Connor starts reciting Kyle’s dialogue from T1 but referring to himself: “I can’t be bargained with, I can’t be reasoned with, I do not feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and I will not stop until machines rule the world!” Please feel free to facepalm at this point.
- • “Protect my Sarah” pleads Pops as Sarah is screaming
- • More forced cringe romance between Kyle and Sarah
- • The truly awful CGI ‘damage’ on Pops the Terminator’s face
- • Pops the Terminator being ‘resurrected’ as an upgraded T-1000. Officially the lamest use of resurrection cliché in Hollywood history!
- • Sarah, Kyle and Pops (still can’t believe how ridiculous this “Pops” nickname is!) suddenly visiting young Kyle with no parents around, at some random farm somewhere.
- • Sarah and Kyle kissing while Pops is smiling (again).
The entire film felt like fan fiction. It felt like it was concocted by a bunch of studio suits sat around a table in their lush meeting office, saying things like “That will make the fans go nuts! Put that in!”, “Yeah, we’ll have more timelines, more Terminators, and lots of CGI explosions”, “Yeah awesome, and we’ll turn John Connor into a Terminator, and turn a Terminator (T-800) into another Terminator (T-1000), this will blow fans away!”, “And we’ll include all the classic lines from the first two movies, fans will really love this, they’ll realise they’re watching a Terminator movie!”. You get the idea.
It’s disheartening to know that Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures own the rights to the Terminator franchise until 2019, when the rights revert back to James Cameron. In the meantime, two more Terminator films have been greenlit. At this rate, Hollywood is rapidly approaching its Judgement Day.
“I’ll be back”? No thanks, go away and stay there please. This franchise needs to be terminated immediately.