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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Terminator Genisys movie review: back from the future… again

Terminator Genisys red light

I have a terrible feeling of deja vu. I have a terrible feeling of deja vu. I have a terrible feeling of deja vu. I have a terrible feeling of deja vu.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the early films in the franchise…

I’m “biast” (con): …but it should have been left alone

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I have this terrible feeling of deja vu.

I have this terrible feeling of deja vu.

The Summer of Franchise Movies That Just Makes Me Want to Go Back and Watch the Original Film continues. (See also Jurassic World, Minions, Poltergeist and so on.) The Terminator universe picks up the death knell of 2009’s Salvation with Genisys, in which the time-travel jiggery-pokery that has been futzing with its own mythology in ways that do it no favors now jumps back into the events of the 1984 first film to give them a good ol’ unnecessary retread. Gawp as warrior-from-the-future Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney: Insurgent, The Water Diviner) is sent back from the future by savior-of-humanity John Connor (Jason Clarke: Child 44, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) to protect John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones, Dom Hemingway), from being killed by a Skynet cyborg so that John can never be born and meatbag humans can stay crushed by AI.

I have this terrible feeling of deja vu.

I had a teeny bit of hope that ironic humor was in the offing, because who the heck is standing there at Skynet HQ in 2029 watching John bid Kyle farewell? None other than Matt “Doctor Who” Smith. Really! I thought: Hooray! The Time Lords have finally stepped in to crack down on the endless abuses of time technology that this war between people and machines has seen across now five movies. But no. Smith is playing someone else here. Bor-ring.

And it really is quite dull. Things may not be quite as they “should” be in pre-Judgment Day 1984 Los Angeles: Sarah is already a robot-fighting badass, because she’s had a T-whatever protector (Arnold Schwarzengger: Maggie, The Expendables 3) for the past ten years, sent back in time by no one knows who for reasons no one knows why, and they’ve been waiting for Kyle to arrive. Oh, and Judgment Day has now been pushed to October 2017, because reality keeps outrunning fiction. (It’s almost like the movie is annoyed that we keep avoiding it in the real world.) But this perfunctory chapter in a story that doesn’t seem to have much more to say still feels overly familiar nevertheless: the script, by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Alexander) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry), hits the same beats the 1984 film did, and director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) doesn’t seem to feel any need to do anything but ineffectually ape James Cameron’s style in presenting them to us. (It’s endlessly depressing that so many filmmakers these days are merely playing in other people’s sandboxes instead of getting space to tell their own stories.) Every one-liner falls flat, mostly because they’re one-liners we’ve heard before, except for the one delivered by J.K. Simmons (Men, Women & Children, Whiplash), mostly because he is awesome. But even his talent, playing a character who represents a cool idea that is squandered, is almost entirely wasted.

Still, all the loopy time-travel and criss-crossing alternate timelines are cool, right? Nope. It’s all overly convoluted and makes little sense plotwise. Except to allow characters to jump all over the place, temporally speaking, in order to kickstart the plot, even though we kinda don’t know how or why characters are showing up outside their place in time. Oh, and, you know, time travel as birth control goes both ways. If a lady jumps into the future without having given birth in the 1980s… Crap. The Terminator’s gonna be back again, for a sixth movie, isn’t he, one that will unravel and fix all the dumb stuff that happens here? Crap.

And with each movie, it gets more difficult to care about any of these people, or even the ultimate apocalypse of Judgment Day. Everything is going to get reset again, which means everything we’ve invested in these characters — in their pain and in their tragedies — will get erased. Again. So what’s the point?

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Terminator Genisys for its representation of girls and women.

red light 2 stars

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Terminator Genisys (2015)
US/Can release: Jul 01 2015
UK/Ire release: Jul 02 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate threat, violence, infrequent strong language)

viewed in 3D IMAX
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Beowulf

    I think it will do well in the States because people want to see Arnold as the Terminator again — not because anyone expects it to be good.

  • Jan_Willem

    Hm, I think I’ll give this one a miss and go to a theatrical screening of Blade Runner‘s director’s cut, currently playing in my town, instead.

  • Patlandness


    Now that you’ve seen the latest installment, how would you rank the five Terminator films?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’d put it in the middle, but it looks like this:

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I felt it had just enough going for it to keep me from being totally bored. Mostly because of Schwarzenegger – his presence, the way the script makes his age work, and the way the make-up and effects people managed to make the 30-something and 40-something versions look believable.

    The movie’s biggest problem to me is that it requires us to care about what happens to John Conner, while presenting us with the 4th actor in 3 films films in the role. I just have no emotional investment in Jason Clarke (this was a problem for me in the most recent Planet of the Apes film as well). Granted, they were kind of stuck with recasting the role, given that Michael Edwards hasn’t worked in 20 years (and is 70), Ed Furlong is a fucking train wreck, and Christian Bale would have cost too much. Nick Stahl might have been fine, but this movie seemed intent on ignoring the existence of everything but the first two movies (see also: Christian Bale).

    The script also focused too much on Kyle Reese, both on general principal, and because Jai Courtney (whose smug fucking face I continue to want to punch) lacks even the straight-forward, B-movie screen charisma of Michael Biehn.

    The call backs to the original film got old fast. They might have worked better if they had either been very precise recreations, or they had veered off wildly and early. As it was, they were not quite right, which just grated on my OCD.

    J.K. Simmons is pretty much wasted here, but that happens a lot. I’d say Matthew Smith (yes, that’s how he’s credited in this) is wasted, but I really don’t know if he’s capable of more than The Doctor.

    I’ll wait till the spoiler penumbra passes to talk about specific problems and highlights.

  • Danielm80

    I’ve decided there were only three movies, and one of them was Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

  • Shiraz

    Umm, I have a spoiler-rich question. Hello, here be SPOILERS.
    How on earth do they explain Arnold’s current age? He’s a robot, but what? He’s a prototype that is allowed to look aged because he’s trying to fit in with humans…bla, bla, bla.
    The medium age of a male action star seems to be 60 right now (Liam Neeson, Sam Jackson, Harrison Ford).
    But I see onscreen mothers who are 30 with children who are in their twenties. Um, what the hell is going on? Helen Mirren is doing OK, but where are all the other women warriors who are beyond 40? Hello? Where are they? Hello? Anyone?

  • In order of release, with the final two switched.

  • How on earth do they explain Arnold’s current age?

    The human skin over the robot parts age, and this one has been with Sarah Connor for 10 years, so he has aged.

    Um, what the hell is going on?

    That’s kind of been one of the things I’ve been raging about lately…

  • patlandness

    Ranking T1 over T2? I rarely hear that from people, but I can see that.

  • Allen W

    I liked it. Was it as good as T1 or T2, no. Was it better than T3 and T4, yes! I liked the bits of humor. I liked the call backs to T1 and T2 (I think they are ignoring T3 and T4, which is for the best.) Yes, there’s an obvious sequel. Yes, there’s a big dangling mystery that never gets resolved. But that’s ok — it worked well enough on its own terms.

  • Allen W

    I’d probably put T2 first, but really didn’t care for Edward Furlong’s performance.
    While I agree that Genisys is firmly in the middle, I still enjoyed it. I’d give it a B- (knocking off some points for unresolved plot points).

  • Terminator 1 works wonderfully as a stand-alone closed-time-loop plot, beautiful in its low-grade scifi and practical effects.

  • Patlandness

    I found T5 to be…eh…ok. It wasn’t a total rehash like T3 or an uninspired post-apocalyptic video game like T4. It kept my attention all the way through and I didn’t feel the need to look at my watch once–the highest compliment I can give a movie.

    But, I found myself having to watch T2 to cleanse my palate. It’s amazing how intimate and visceral it is. The acting is superb and the acting is amazing for a “mere” sci fi film. Michael Beihn, Linda Hamilton, and even Edward Furlong were a casting coup in those first two films. (Not to mention Joe Morton in T2). The pacing is slower by today’s standards, but every frame is so beautifully composed that it could be framed on a wall.

    Terminator 1 is one of the greatest sci films of all time and Terminator is one of the greatest action movies of all time. James Cameron did an amazing job and they’ll both stand the test of time.

    Oh, yeah, this is about T5…it was…eh…ok. Uh, I wasn’t bored, so there’s that.

  • While Terminator Genisys has nothing new to offer but it does succeed in making us experience several bouts of nostalgia. Perhaps, the best way to approach Terminator Genisys is to see it as a fan’s tribute to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s a movie for the fans, by the fans. So, watch it for the love of T-800 and the man who has immortalized it: Arnold Schwarzenegger!

    Here’s the link to my review of Terminator Genisys:


  • Martin

    I thought that there’s a lot of interesting ideas in the film, but it has no idea what to do with them or how to make them pay off. Meddling with the time stream causing the events of the first film to be changed? Interesting but practically glossed over. John Connor being the bad guy? An interesting embodiment of how Sarah and Kyle’s future might not be the one they want but is never properly explained.

  • Please don’t spoil without a warning to readers!

  • Tonio Kruger

    It’s that rarity of rarities: a successful sci-fi film that didn’t really need a sequel but got one anyway.

  • Michael Jones

    I absolutely agree that spoilers should be flagged up at the beginning of every spoiler-y post. But unfortunately, the trailer didn’t have the same scruples.

    I don’t read reviews before watching a film in case of spoilers (even yours, Ms Johnson), and now, what with this and the Jurassic World trailers pretty much telling us the whole plot of each movie, I’m going to avoid trailers from now on, too, if I can. Wish me luck!

  • I have no control over trailers. But I do have control over how stuff appears here! :-)

  • RogerBW

    Darn you, Hollywood. “Throw away three and four, go back to the good films,” you said. “Sounds great,” I said. “Play round the events of an earlier film, like Back to the Future 2,” you said. “O…K…, still on board,” I said.

    But oh dear. Oh well.

  • Oh, if this had been like BTTF2…

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