A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

Terminator Genisys (2015)

“I’ll be back,” pledged (threatened?) a less-craggy Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original Terminator movie over 30 years ago, announcing an ominous portent for the future of the franchise. Three decades and four films later, Arnie has made good on his promise and has even upped the stakes. There are at least four versions of his T-800 model Terminator in this week’s new release, Terminator Genisys: a film that uses the time travel device to explore alternate pasts and futures for all the characters we’ve come to know and love. Jumping from 2029 to 1984, 2017 to 1973 and back again, the film unquestionably delivers more for your money – but is more always a good thing?

The film begins in 2029, when John Connor (played here by Jason Clarke, the fifth actor to do so), has sent soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to 1984 to protect his mother from Arnold’s T-800, whom evil AI app Skynet has sent back to “terminate” before John is conceived. His mother will be weak, John warns, and scared. She knows nothing of Judgment Day or the baby she will make with Reese who will one day rise up to lead the human resistance against killer machines. All of this territory is covered in the original Terminator film, and at least for the first few minutes of Reese’s arrival in 1984 Los Angeles, everything in Genisys is a play-by-play imitation of that film. From Bill Paxton’s punk character (not played by a middle-aged Paxton, sadly), to oft-quoted lines, to product placement, Genisys looks and feels more like a shoddy remake than a new installment paying winking homage to the original. Things derail from the familiar, however, when two T-800s – one noticeably older, one noticeably CGI – duke it out in the 1984 timeline, with the older T-800 in a protective role of a tough-talking, gun-toting Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Wait, this isn’t the ’84 Terminator I remember. What the hell is going on here?

Wait, this is REALLY not what I was expecting...
First, I have to give kudos to the writers of Terminator Genisys for attempting to explore some of the “what ifs” generated by the nature of time travel in general and the paradoxes therein. The grander concepts of fate and destiny have been deliberated for as long as the genre has been in existence, and was pondered aloud by Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the first film: “should I tell you about your father? That's a tough one. Will it change your decision to send him here... knowing? But if you don't send Kyle, you could never be. God, you can go crazy thinking about all this.” Genisys attempts to examine some of those alternate timelines, to varying degrees of success. While conceptually it’s a fresh direction to take the franchise, it is deeply lacking in execution, and readily apparent that the filmmakers blew their entire budget on Arnold’s paycheck, one incredible bus-flip stunt, and numerous forms of gun porn. Thus, my complaints about Genisys begin…

And if a parent now wants to name their kid 'Genisys,'
I'm going to terminate them.
Let’s start with the characters. Between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor goes through one of my favorite cinematic metamorphoses: from a damsel in distress to a disciplined and self-possessed warrior. Despite her tough-gal exterior (and winning the Linda Hamilton lookalike contest), Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor is more akin to a petulant teenager, relying on Arnie (affectionately, “Pops”) to act as her surrogate father and partner-in-crime. Her attempts at exercising her own agency are marred by contrived sexual tension with her protector Reese, whom she keeps saying she’s supposed to fall in love with – because apparently no one told her that it’s possible to conceive a child who will go on to save the human race without that whole “love” business. As Reese, Jai Courtney is one of the most vapidly vanilla action heroes in recent memory, even less interesting or expressive than the actors who are supposed to be playing robots.

Nightmare fuel.
That brings us to the most egregious offense in Terminator Genisys: the Terminators themselves. One of the things I was most excited about seeing in this new film was the reinvention of the T-1000 robot, played with cool Robert Patrick-esque stoicism by Lee Byung-hun. He melts into liquid metal, he gets stabby with his sword arms – and sadly, he’s gone just as quickly as he appeared. More time in the film is spent on establishing the relationship between Arnold’s different T-800 models, which age like the rest of us, because (rather conveniently for the actor playing him) they’re covered in living human tissue. Arnold’s young T-800 model is played by a body double with a cartoonish CGI face that produces the same Uncanny Valley chills as Paul Walker’s face in Furious 7. The newest Terminator model – and I wish I could warn you with a spoiler alert here, but if you’ve seen a trailer for this movie, you already know the big “twist” – is John Connor himself. Known as the T-3000, a digitized nano-robot, Jason Clarke chews major virtual reality scenery in this over-the-top villain role, his only kryptonite being oversized magnets.

While the last two Terminator sequels were a rather dreary and mundane affair, I had higher expectations for Genisys. The idea of older Arnold kicking the ass of his younger self could’ve been as epic as something out of a kaiju-battle movie, but the resulting skirmish left much to be desired, much like the entire movie overall. Genisys is a by-the-numbers retread of everything we loved about the first two Terminator movies, remixed and poorly replicated. It is disappointing not only as an entry in the franchise, but also as a big-screen summer blockbuster event; unlike the craving to re-watch Jurassic World or Mad Max: Fury Road, I was more inspired to break out my copy of T2 at home than spend another two hours in Genisys. J.K. Simmons, in a small and wasted role, summarized it best in the film: “goddamn these time-travellin’ robots!”


Saaaaaaad Terminator.
Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Half a star and a new title: Imitator Endlyssness.

Have you suffered the indignity of Genisys?
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