Terminator 2: Judgement Day was partly spoiled by the marketing campaign that preceded it; a campaign which saw fit to reveal one of the great twists of 90’s cinema in the very trailer intended to bait an already-hungry audience into theatres. In hindsight this was a bit of a face-palm manoeuvre, but it’s not something the franchise has particularly learned from. Here we are, over twenty years later, and the very same thing has happened again. Terminator Genisys (and boy is that title irritating) has been preceded by a trailer that lets loose a generous handful of the movie’s ‘secrets’. Chiefly that at some point this time around – SPOILER ALERT – John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) gets turned into or replaced by a terminator; a nasty robotic killing machine out to ruin everybody’s day.
Speaking of ruining everybody’s day, by the time you read this you’ll probably have read some of the other reviews that have been published regarding this fifth film in the franchise. In which case this next little titbit of information will perhaps be less of a surprise. Here we go. Are you ready? The genuine spoiler is that Terminator Genisys is awful. To it’s very weary, useless, pointless, meaningless core it has managed to eclipse all expectations in this regard. I sit here typing, a little bit stupefied by what I’ve recently witnessed. The extent to which this film is bad is, in itself, almost an achievement. If you thought Terminator Salvation was a bad film (and it was a bad film), then hold tight, because somehow Genisys eclipses it, taking the dubious crown as not only the worst film of the Terminator franchise, but also the worst film of 2015 so far.
For starters – and this really is the seed that generates much of the rest – it more or less defines awkward and unnecessary. Hell, Rise Of The Machines and Salvation were unnecessary, but those ships have sailed. Retooling this series from where it stands without a straight-up reboot was going to take a supreme amount of effort. The principal actors from Cameron’s have all aged considerably. We’ve moved way-passed the Judgement Day date of 1997, removing its threat level. The series has literally long-since run out of time. Where else is there to go? Well, back into the beginning, evidently. But not straight away.
Genisys opens in 2029 with a boatload of bad narration that introduces us to our re-cast Kyle Reiss (ineffectual and tame Jai Courtney), dutiful foot soldier for resistance leader John Connor in the war against the machines. Director Alan Taylor then illuminates for us part of the story we’ve only nominally heard about before; how Reiss wound up being sent into the past to protect Connor’s mother Sarah (a game Emilia Clarke) from a killer cyborg that’s been sent to terminate her. As he disappears through time the last thing Reiss sees is an inhuman-seeming freedom fighter (Matt Smith) grabbing Connor by the shoulder. That and a series of clunky ‘memories’. Suddenly it’s 1984 and everybody’s naked.
So far this feels comfortably like remake territory – but hang on. Reiss is met by a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee). That seems a bit off. While the T-800 (Schwarzenegger) sent to kill Sarah is attacked by an older model (their skin ages like ours, handily) that’s been protecting her, whom she excruciatingly refers to as ‘Pops’. Yes, really. In fact, she calls it ‘Pops’ so often that after a while Reiss starts doing it too! Evidently someone’s been playing fast and loose with the time lines here. Reiss scratches his head and Genisys‘ guilty screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier spend the remainder of the film’s miserable running time playing a LOST-style game with the audience, dropping lumpen clues to a series of reveals rigged to a set of timers, presumably in a last-ditch effort to keep people in their seats.
Genisys feels like a film born in a struggle to fulfil some studio exec’s mandate that there must be a new movie, no matter how painful the process. Perhaps fittingly it feels anything but organic. Indeed the movie spends virtually all of it’s time trying to excuse its own existence. You will never ever have heard as much exposition crammed into one film, I can guarantee you that. Seemingly every single line of dialogue in Genisys exists to justify itself, either by explaining what’s just happened or by underlining how that breadcrumb fits into the longer trail. And that in itself is exhausting. As high-concept as Cameron’s initial idea was, once he had it set up (both times) he fell back on the lean, ruthlessly effective brio of the chase film. Genisys, by comparison, feels the need to complicate proceedings at every conceivable opportunity, under the mistaken impression that an audience is bored if the rug isn’t being swept away at any given moment. The irony is that film isn’t hard to follow (although it’s 12A certificate means you’ll have to put up with plenty of dads explaining things to their children), but it quickly becomes a chore to put up with.
In fairness, Emilia Clarke is better than I had expected her to be following some initial reports. She’s no Linda Hamilton, but fair enough, she’s trying. And Schwarzenegger does provide his undeniable charisma, even if he’s forced to mug for the camera repeatedly, something even he looks uncomfortable doing. Everyone else is pretty bad, save for the miraculous and inexplicable J.K. Simmons, who stutters a little life into the dire second hour, only to expose just how joyless the film surrounding him has become. Unfortunately there’s not nearly enough of him, and by that time the rot has already set in. Taylor shows that he can handle an action set piece as he did with Thor: The Dark World, but he really hasn’t got much to work with. The script he’s been handed is bereft of inspiration. What there is has either been stolen wholesale from better films (The Dark Knight) or previous entries in the series, making this feel like a diminishing return of the worst kind. By the time it’s revealed that Skynet has been repurposed in 2017 as a ‘killer app’ (are you kidding me?) the only thing worth hoping for is a sixth film dedicated to erasing this one from the timeline too. Kalogridis and Lussier have picked up Terminator and shaken it like an Etch-A-Sketch and everything’s tumbled out of the bottom. The end result is… nothing. Nothing to care about. Nobody to care about. Nothing. Everything’s broken, basically.
While there are positives – the first half hour is engaging if ropey, the production value throughout is slick, Taylor does know how to direct – its all for nothing when the film itself is broken. As part of the series, it’s massively disrespectful. Taken as a separate entity, it’s totally incoherent. A mess.
So as quickly as Genisys undoes the original story’s timeline, it removes any point in its continued existence. Yet it goes on and on regardless, making this a sci-fi action film that’s actually boring. I sat there in the wilderness of this hollow film longing for some eleventh hour course-correction. But there’s nothing to redeem it. Bottom line? Stay as far away as you can from this risible, irritating scrapheap of a film, as it represents the worst tendencies of the Hollywood machine. An utterly, utterly soulless, pathetic embarrassment of a movie. Everyone involved should feel ashamed of themselves, ashamed for not turning around to Kalogridis and Lussier or the producers or the studio and screaming “No! This isn’t a good idea! Try again! Go back to the table and start again!”. Someone invent me a time machine. I’ll go do it for all of us. In the meantime, avoid this pitiful waste of your time and money.