1. Terminator Genisys seems specifically designed to give you a headache. It’s a reboot, a sequel, a reimagining, and a rehash of the previous Terminator films all churned up and spackled together, a film that conjures up all your memories of those movies only to eradicate them with little explanation. The movie works so hard—at a few points, even recreating exact shots from the first two films—to so little effect, as if it’s rewriting our own timelines while we’re watching it. I found myself trying in vain to follow along as the movie danced as fast as it could, and this morning, less than 12 hours after seeing it, I’m having trouble remembering basic plot points and characters. In trying to create a new universe inspired by an old one, it erases them both.
2. The movie, much like Jurassic World, ignores the last two installments and just focuses on the movies everybody loved, a handy new franchise trick my friend Matt Singer calls “selective sequels.” The idea is that we’ve gone back to the very beginning, when Kyle Reese is sent back by John Connor to save Sarah Connor in 1984. He even runs into a 1984 version of the original Terminator, played by a convincing CGI replica of a 37-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. But then things start getting weird: There’s an old version of the Terminator who fights the young version, and now Sarah Connor is a badass about 14 years before she’s supposed to be, and then there’s another liquid-mercury Terminator except this time he’s a Korean action star, and then we’re off and running. The movie occasionally pauses to explain what’s going on, but not for very long, and not in any fashion that’s particularly helpful. This is a movie that tries to walk and chew gum at the same time on the remake/reboot question, and ends up doing neither well. And I haven’t even gotten into the Skynet monster who takes over John Connor and then starts looking like Doctor Who out of nowhere.
3. The film is so convoluted and busy that it’s constantly twisting itself into pretzels you won’t feel much bothered to unravel. They aren’t even fun time-travel convolutions, the sort of “diagrams with straws” madness that Looper memorably joked about:
This is a movie that desperately needs to be making some diagrams with straws. It keeps hinting at being a time-travel movie, but characters just sort of bark things like “nexus event!” and “parallel timelines!” while running from one room to another. What’s frustrating is that for all its confusion and freneticism, it all ends up in the same place, with the same gunfights with the same machines and the same bullshit. For all the attempts to do something “new” with the franchise, Genysis ends up looking desperate, almost sad. This is less a reimagining of the Terminator movies than a cover band that plays an old favorite, but a little bit too precisely. You can yowl at the exact same point in the exact same song in the exact same way Axl did it, but you’re still not Axl, and it’s sort of strange that you’re trying so hard to convince us that you are.
4. It also doesn’t help that as characters, Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese have lost about 75 percent of their charisma. Emilia Clarke tries her best to conjure up Linda Hamilton with limited success, while Jai Courtney is an inanimate block of wood. (He always seems like he’s about to bump into something.) Not that it would be easy for anyone to rush through this much exposition while sprinting, but neither acquits themselves all that well. What’s funny is that almost all of the enjoyment Genisys provides comes from Schwarzenegger himself. The first film made such brilliant use of his lack of emotion and charm that it’s sort of amazing how this new film’s appeal is drawn entirely from his emotion and charm. He coasts like a pro, setting up the rare laugh lines and inserting what little stakes the film has, playing his Terminator basically as a wary, protective dad. (Clarke keeps calling him “Pops,” which is not as funny as the movie thinks it is.) You look around at all these kids going through all this trouble trying to reboot or remake a Terminator movie, and you just keep going back to Arnold himself, still finding new ways to fidget with this non-character he’s playing, privately chuckling to himself. And there’s an unquestioned kick when old Arnold fights young Arnold: I was surprised how strongly of a rooting interest I had.
5. This is supposed to be the first chapter of a new trilogy, a notion I’ll charitably describe as “optimistic.” We’ve endured two sequels and now this sequel-reboot-remake whatever-thing, and it’s fair to say we’ve exhausted the possibilities of this Skynet future. (The movie clumsily tries to make a Skynet Is Our Addiction to Our Phones! statement on how we live now, before of course chucking it out the window in favor of another subplot.) Arnold is the only aspect of this universe that has any energy left, and he’s 67 years old. Terminator Genisys is the logical endpoint of our obsession with both updating and reliving the blockbusters of our youth, a movie that is so wrapped up in nostalgia and “timelines” and honoring the original that it never seems to notice that it’s twisting itself into knots to show the exact thing we’ve seen before, only with a shinier, faker sheen. By the end of the film, I still wasn’t quite sure of what was going on, other than that I was ready to leave.
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