The following review of Terminator Genisys contains spoilers, but only the ones that Paramount has already revealed in all their trailers, posters and television commercials.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” meant nothing to the makers of Terminator: Genisys, a film that rewrites the whole history of the Terminator franchise in an odd and mostly unnecessary attempt to pay homage to it. Alan Taylor’s movie impressively recreates many of the sets, shots and scenes from James Cameron’s original 1984 classic, but changes every other damned thing and breaks the whole series in the process.
Back in 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator introduced us to Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who went back in time to save a hapless Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from a homicidal robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who was camouflaged in human skin. This “Terminator” was on a mission to kill Sarah before she could give birth to her son John, who was destined to become the savior of the human race after a machine called SkyNet nearly destroyed it. Kyle died saving Sarah from the Terminator, but only after they fell in love and sired John in a massive time travel paradox.
Terminator Genisys begins with Kyle (Jai Courtney) being sent back in time in the first place, only to discover that Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) doesn’t need saving. She teamed up with a friendly Terminator (Schwarzenegger) when she was a child, and has been preparing to defend the human race – and to mate with Kyle – for many years. What’s more, a liquid metal T-1000 (the same model that was introduced in Terminator 2) is hot on their trail, way back in 1984.
It’s an amusing concept, remaking the original while rewriting it completely, that should have freed Terminator Genisys from the well-established boundaries of the series so far. The timeline has been screwed with, and now all bets are off and nobody knows what the future will hold. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Alan Taylor’s film repeats many of the familiar beats of the previous movies and adds very little except more explosions, and one more twist: that John Connor himself, the so-called savior of the human race, has been corrupted by SkyNet and is now an unstoppable nanotech villain.
And while that too should have been a major game changer, it’s incredible just how little consequence it has on the events of Terminator Genisys. Kyle and Sarah are initially conflicted by John’s transformation but are too busy bickering to really ponder the ramifications and do anything about it. What’s worse, Courtney and Clarke lack the chemistry necessary to engage us in their “will they or won’t they” romance, with Courtney in particular coming across as wooden and lost.
Having way more fun is Schwarzenegger, here downgraded to a supporting part and making the most of the small moments he’s given to reveal that this latest Terminator might actually be developing a personality of its own. He remains an impressive action movie presence, throwing down with multiple enemy Terminators and evoking sympathy for what is essentially an emotionless killing machine. But the story itself is more preoccupied with its many plot twists and repetitious action sequences, none of which have any of the terror of The Terminator, the wonder of Terminator 2 or the weight of Terminator 3.
Exactly what is happening, and why it matters to the characters we are supposed to care about, is repeatedly swept under the rug in favor of merely adequate action, and unnecessarily elaborate retcons that would have felt more at home in the realm of fan fiction. By changing the timeline of the series, Terminator Genisys only succeeds in setting the stage for more films that muck with the old stories but have little inherent drama of their own. And with only these bland protagonists to join us as the series continues, the future looks dull indeed.