“Terminator Genisys” Movie Review

     “Terminator Genisys” was only into its first scene and I was already thinking about how unnecessary the whole exercise really was.  John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) are in the midst of leading the human resistance against the machines in 2029 and they are about to embark on what is said to be the final battle that will take down Skynet for good.  We’ve been here before, many times.  The darkly lit sets with human skulls scattered on the ground to the point where no one can seem to take a step without crushing one.  Low flying space craft patrol the immediate airspace, looking for human survivors, while the familiar metal endoskeleton Terminators patrol on foot, killing everything in their path with really cool laser rifles.  Thing is, James Cameron, the creator of both the original 1984 film and the 1991 followup, thought of and presented all of this over thirty years ago.  And rather than director Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”) and screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier coming up with a wholly original concept for what is now the fifth installment, they instead choose to retread many of Cameron’s iconic scenes and concepts while using a convenient, yet convoluted, time bending storyline that rarely even makes sense.

     In the first act alone, Taylor recreates both the scene in which the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives for the first time at the Griffin Observatory in Los Angeles, as well as the sequence where Kyle Reese arrives in an alley behind a department store and proceeds to find clothes and evade law enforcement.  To me, there’s nothing nostalgic about seeing these scenes again only played by different actors.  Unfortunately, this kind of shot for shot filmmaking only conjures up images of Gus Van Sant’s head scratching 1998 remake of “Psycho” in which he did very much the same thing with a failed result.  Taylor doesn’t stop there however.  At the tail end of the department store scene, we find out the police officer chasing him is a T-1000 just like the Robert Patrick character in the second installment, but now played by Byung-hun Lee.  This is where Taylor then borrows from one of the many action sequences in T2 in which Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) crashes into the department store in a SWAT vehicle and yells to Kyle the familiar line “Come with me if you want to live!”.  When this leads to an extended freeway chase sequence that features Sarah and Kyle opening the back of the van and firing an array of ineffective weapons at the T-1000’s liquid metal body in an effort to get away from it, you realize just what kind of a movie “Genisys” is ultimately going to be.  A sad attempt to recreate a certain magic that is long since gone.

     This is mostly because of the presence of Schwarzenegger himself.  Now 67 years old, he has neither the physicality, nor the intensity to be anything more than a caricature of the character that has proven over time to be his most successful role.  I thought they were pushing it in 2003’s “Terminator 3”, but this film shows Arnold has definitely taken a beating over the years.  Here we learn someone sent this version of the T-800 Terminator back in time before 1984 in order to look after Sarah during her childhood.  Because of the presence of this Terminator, he somehow knows about the 1984 timeline of the first film and thus is waiting for the Terminator that arrives at the Griffin Observatory and also plans the rescue of Kyle Reese since he somehow knows when and where he will arrive as well.  How the Asian T-1000 knows this is never explained, but what we do surmise is this new timeline is how the film gets away with having Arnold reprise his role.  Apparently, the human flesh on a Terminator ages at the normal rate that a human does, so even though he has gray hair, Arnold, as he says, is not obsolete.  That, as it turns out, is quite debatable.

     Once we get past the first half of the film and its penchant for going back to the well that is the first two films in the series, the plot is finally let loose in the second act. The fact John Connor has somehow been turned into an ultra advanced Terminator was sadly given away in the film’s many trailers and even on the movie poster as well, so this isn’t meant to be a secret. This is where we learn John Connor has also been sent to this timeline, now in 2017, in order to stop Sarah, Kyle, and really old Arnold Terminator from doing the same exact thing Sarah, Arnold, and a young John Connor did in T2.  Destroy a knock off of Cyberdine Systems, which is now run by Miles Dyson’s son, and prevent this new company from releasing an app called “Genisys” that is scheduled to go live hours from the time they arrive via time machine.  This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film’s plot as we see numerous shots of people walking around or seated in offices, glued to their mobile devices and not paying attention to what is going on around them with an obvious point being made about how technology has changed our lives and not for the better.  In effect, the “Genisys” app is the same exact thing as Apple’s “iCloud” in that it is said to sync everyone’s various devices together, allowing for an unrivaled internet and home automation experience.  Unbeknownst to the world’s population; however, is the fact that “Genisys” is merely a front for Skynet, which has hidden itself within the code of the program and is planning to create a new Judgement Day since the one in 1997 was successfully stopped in the second film.

     All of this, of course, is merely fodder for the next action sequence that filmmakers seem to believe is required in order to get a Summer playdate.  For what seems like the tenth time in the last few years, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco again plays the backdrop for another massive set piece, but it’s certainly not as though Taylor and his army of CGI artists haven’t done quality work here, it’s just that we have seen all of this before.  The car chases, the robot against robot fighting where they are so evenly matched that no one ever seems to get the upper hand, the gun play, and the death defying stunts are all so familiar both because they have been staged in just about every action film of the last 10 years, but also because they were front and center in the first FOUR Terminator films as well.

     For their part, both Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney seem to give it their all in the respective roles of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese.  Emilia Clarke, of “Game of Thrones” fame, seems to be trying to channel Linda Hamilton’s mannerisms in very much the same way Ewan McGregor did in emulating Alec Guinness in the “Star Wars” prequels.  Though she mostly succeeds, she lacks the attributes necessary to sell the character’s toughness and never say die attitude that Hamilton nailed in the second film.  Jai Courtney plays Kyle with nearly the same persona he played John McClane’s son in the deplorable “A Good Day to Die Hard”, which indicates he’s merely a one note actor and is incapable of showing the emotions of the broken and tired soldier as Michael Biehn did so effectively in the first film.  Jason Clarke plays John Connor as if he just graduated from movie villain 101 school.

     Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of “Genisys” is the fact the series has completely lost the tone it created with the original film.  The 1984 film, you will recall, was laced with horror film tropes which essentially presented the Terminator as a relentless R-rated killing machine. Cameron, in both T1 and T2, turned the tension meter so high that each payoff left your heart racing and the outcomes of each scene a complete mystery.  Taylor has taken “Genisys” and turned it into a PG-13 superhero movie extravaganza along the lines of “Spiderman” or one of the “Avengers” films.  Whereas every franchise always has a low point, “Genisys” no doubt provides the lowest when Taylor feels the need to utilize the “Cops” TV show “Bad Boys” theme during a mug shot montage of Sarah, Kyle, and a wrinkly unimposing Arnold grimacing in front of the camera.  As you can probably imagine, considering “Genisys” is the first film in a planned trilogy.  I wasn’t amused. GRADE: D