Terminator Genisys completely chops down the already shaky structure of the Terminator universe, puts on a blindfold, and attempts to rebuild a franchise that was never begging for a reboot in the first place.
Genisys starts off on the right foot by explaining the timeline’s original Judgement Day, which occurs on Aug. 29, 1997. From there we’re thrown into a future of human-killing androids, deadly drones, and a resistance to take back Earth, which is led by John Connor (Jason Clarke). So far so good.
But after 10 solid minutes of the Terminator apocalypse, Genisys throws audiences back in time to 1984, and that’s when things begin to get complicated. I feel like a conspiracy theorist when trying to explain this, but stay with me: the moment John Connor sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to protect his mother, something happens that tears the whole time continuum apart, creating a separate timeline from the original 1984 film. Things get even more complicated after that.
It’s here we’re introduced to the weird dynamic of a Sarah Connor (Emilia Clark) who has been under the protection of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that was originally meant to save Terminator 2’s teenage John Connor. We find out that Sarah was orphaned at nine, and it was this T-800 that was sent back to care for her—until the day Kyle Reese would arrive, who they have been waiting for for the past decade so that they can all stop Judgement Day in this new timeline… by time traveling once again. I don’t even know.
This whole shakeup is meant to reconfigure the Terminator canon, but, in the process, the amount of mind gymnastics needed to keep up really kills the film’s momentum—and that’s not even Genisys’ biggest problem. By re-writing Terminator’s timeline, the franchise completely loses what made it such a significant force in the first place. The James Cameron masterpieces are destroyed in a game of “What If?” and the results aren’t pretty.
Like, Oh, sorry everyone, but we want to reboot, so we’re going to just pretend the first two movies never happened.
When Arnie said he’d be back, I didn’t think it would be like this. Instead of the brutish but charming oaf, we get an aging T-800 who miraculously acknowledges his own mortality (as evidenced by the line, “I’m old, not obsolete.”), and constantly tries to assimilate with jokes and forced smiles. The new Terminator—Sarah calls him Pops; and, yes, it’ll make you cringe every time you hear him called that—is a shadow of his former self, and is only really there for comedic relief.
I didn’t even mention the presence of Genisys, which is apparently an operating system that’s heralded as the Next Big Thing. Once it launches, SkyNet suddenly comes to the realization that humanity sucks, so why not wipe everyone out by nuking the world? It’s a familiar and overused Hollywood trope by now; the downfall of humanity will be our reliance on technology, etc., etc.
In Genisys, lot of the same Terminator-isms are still present: The threat of AI, the annihilation of humanity from a nuclear hailstorm, and, heck, even a new T-1000 shows up. Well, two technically, but you’ll have to watch the film to see the movie’s big surprise. The filmmakers even recreate scenes from the first movie, and they’re genuinely a treat to watch.
But among the different timelines, and one major twist spoiled by the trailers, much of the art put to film by Cameron is lost, manifested in the new T-800 itself. Old, stiff, and trying way too hard.
And because Genisys relies so heavily on the same recycled action of early Terminator films, there’s very little suspense, and it appears to me that the story was treated with the same care you’d show to a cockroach on your kitchen floor. You no longer have an emotional investment in these characters.
What’s especially maddening is that in lieu of what happens, you get the feeling that it’s all for nothing. Genisys was meant to setup a trilogy, and even at the film’s conclusion, Reese’s character says the future is never set (followed by a not-so-subtle mid-credits scene). That inevitably means another threat will come, and we’ll partake in the same song and dance.