I saw this movie once before, and my prevailing memory of it was it making me angry, and I don’t get genuinely angry at movies very often. Coming back to it now, years later, my frustrations have cooled significantly. But that doesn’t mean Terminator Genisys isn’t still a bastardization of an iconic movie franchise that I’m not sure anyone really wanted.
During the prior entry in this series, where I was talking about my first time watching Terminator Dark Fate, I started by talking about how the franchise was spinning around a constant point of indecision. One in which it couldn’t decide or not whether there really was no future but what we make. The split timeline of Dark Fate seemed to be saying that fate was so predestined that even killing John Conner would create a new timeline where different people and malevolent A.I. would show up to fulfil those same roles.
Genisys wants us to believe the opposite, that the dark future can be totally avoided with just a little time travel shenanigans. If you chose to ignore the unnecessary sequel baiting mid-credits scene. The places this movie goes are kind of fitting considering the messages of the next movie in the franchise, acting as a soft reboot to the entire series simultaneously wanting to be an alternate history version of the first movie while also being the modern-day sequel to Judgement Day.
Genisys is a perfect example of a movie trying to be too many different things simultaneously, none of which end up working at all.
Beginning with an extended scene in the dark future where we see what great buddies Kyle Reese and John Conner are, culminating in them actually winning the war against the machines. Which is one of the major issues I do have with the movie; tonally, this movie is far too bright and cheery for my liking. Akin to an entry of the MCU rather than carrying the bleak and gritty undertones of the original movies.
Like in the original movie, Kyle Reese is sent back to 1984 to prevent the Terminator from killing Sarah Conner and therefore preventing John Conner from ever being born. During these first scenes in 1984, it’s obvious that some major effort was made to recreate a number of scenes and shots from the original movie. An obvious attempt to appeal to long-time fans of the original movies, which feels kind of incongruous when you compare that to how the movie deals with other aspects of the franchise.
Obviously, things are not the same as we remember them, and when a T-1000 shows up much too early, followed by an armed Sarah and grizzled looking T-800 things are going off the rails and we realise that time travel is weird. Because of course if you’re being assaulted by time-travelling robots, then it’s only natural that they would never actually stop coming until you’re dead.
Although, it’s from here that the movie begins to lose me. The problem is, Genisys seems to want its cake and eat it too. It wants to be an alternate retelling of the events of the first movie but also decides to hurl Reese and Sarah into 2017 for some inexplicable reason, just because that’s the year the movie came out. I honestly don’t get it.
I’m jumping ahead, but the whole threat of the movie is Skynet turning John Conner into a Terminator, sending him back in time and ensuring he is the one to create Skynet and start Judgement Day. Judgement Day that was supposed to have happened in 1997, but didn’t for some reason and is now happening in 2017, after also being bumped back to 2015 in Terminator 3?
Every movie, the franchise just rewrites its own lore to suit when the movie comes out. Wouldn’t be fine to just make this a period piece and have it set in 1984? John could just come back to the 80s and brought technology to revolutionise that time period, giving us an 80s neo-noir aesthetic to the whole thing.
Urgh. This movie is such a mess.
Not helped by it bastardising the returning characters of the franchise for no real reason. Turning John Conner; the biggest hero of the franchise, into a villain sucks as a choice, which doesn’t work as a twist whatsoever. You’ve got Emilia Clarke, who I’ll be honest I’ve never thought was a very good actor, as a super uninteresting interpretation of Sarah Conner and worst of all is Kyle Reese.
This was the thing that made me angriest the first time I watched this movie. Michael Biehn’s Reese is this wild-eyed, dirty and desperate looking guy. Someone who looks more like a murderer himself than a savour, but despite this, he has this vulnerability and haunted look to him. He makes you believe he’s seen some horrible things in the future. Jai Courtney is just some muscle-bound jarhead who gets jealous of the Terminator and makes one-liners.
It all just missed the point and the tone of the original movie so hard in favour of just turning out this nothing popcorn flick. Recreating shot from the original movie is a great homage when the rest of the movie is also strong enough to justify it. When Genisys does it, it just acts as a stark reminder of the movie you aren’t watching. Terminator John Conner, who is just an unstoppable cloud of nanomachines at this point starts quoting Reese’s “Will not stop until you are dead” speech from the first movie just sums it up. Talking Terminators misses the point of why they’re scary.
By the time the movie is over, none of the main characters are dead. Reese survives, the Terminator gets turned into a T-1000 and they all get their happily ever after ending. Which, thinking about it, just might be the most anti-Terminator ending to any movie in the franchise.
In a franchise that has built itself on the idea of living for a brighter future while always being painfully aware of how perilously close we are to our own self-destruction at a moments notice, I’m not sure Genisys could have missed the point any harder than this even if that had been the intention from the start. I’m just going to end by saying Terminator: Genisys is the worst movie in the entire franchise by a wide margin.
And while it’s certainly a perfectly serviceable action flick, it ultimately ends up being bogged down in its own legacy, trying to have its cake and eat it too while not really settling on a strong through-line to really carry it through. The cast have since said working on the movie was horrible, and I can imagine seeing as nobody seemed to have a solid idea of what the hell they were doing.