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.

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