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James Cameron’s Terminator movies are all about preventing the apocalypse. Cameron named the worldwide cataclysm “Judgement Day”, when machines gained artificial intelligence and violently seized control of Earth by blowing most of it up. It’s a nightmarish vision of the future, to be sure, one sci-fi fans can tell you is a staple of the genre. Few movies show the end of all things better than The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, honest to god classics that ambitiously played with time-travel. John Conner leads the resistance, freedom fighters railing against the machine overlords, prompting the machines send skin covered bots, Terminators, back to kill his mom before John is even born, making the machines “win.” Studio executives love reversals, like having a girl Terminator instead of a guy (as seen in the surprisingly watchable Rise of the Machines), or turning a chase series—killer robots chases humans, humans fire oh so many shotgun rounds at robot—into a grim faced war movie, as sadly seen and hopefully forgotten in Terminator Salvation. The latest reversal is of an altogether different kind. Terminator Genisys itself is Judgement Day, an inexcusable apocalypse of bad, tired and violently uncreative moviemaking that left me fighting to fall asleep.
I sometimes get asked which movies I’d like to live inside of. In this case the answer is certainly the original Men in Black; call Kay and Jay and hit me with a memory erase. I need it. If you see this movie—which you only should if you’ve run out of wet paint to watch dry—you’ll need your memory erased to minimize the cognitive damage. Nothing makes sense. Dialogue, characters, action, all play fast and loose with sense, logic, or otherwise the boundaries of pure honest to god common sense, incidentally transforming itself into a post-modern masterpiece where the essential truths and laws of existence no longer matter. I’ve met drug abusing crazies on Chicago’s CTA train system that make more sense than the characters in this movie. Don’t see it. Don’t. When the credits rolled, everyone left the theater with the same somber silence they might when walking through a wake or funeral, trepidatious of calling attention to morbidity. But this movie is death. Genisys is the death of creativity, the death of inspiration, and the death of your brain cells.
They say some movies make you dumber for having seen them—this is one of them. The plot, a mind-mash of slurred nonsense, amounts to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney)—the time traveling badass hero of the first Terminator, being sent back in time by John Conner (Jason Clarke) save Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke) from yet another Terminator, a disturbing CGI de-aged Arnold Schwartzenager mean to look like he did back in the 80s. Only—plot twist—Clarke’s Sarah Conner is already a badass warrior, and it’s she, not Kyle Reese, who gets the iconic line “Come with me if you want to live.” The first 20 minutes or so are a shot for shot reinterpretation of the original Terminator, executed with the production value of a frat party with themed costumes. Everyone is miscast in their one-note roles, glossed up and looking pretty. The Terminator was all about grunge, grit, and a feeling of dirt under your finger nails. Michael Biehn as Reese and Linda Hamilton as Conner were allowed to look hurt, to look human. In a movie about man vs machine, this was a vital creative decision, but since Emilia Clarke and Courney are so prettied up, so glamorized, their characters scream fake.
A mysterious benevolent force from the future, conspicuously left unsolved as sequel bait, sent back Arny when Sarah Conner was just a kid–he’s old now and even has an in-joke catchphrase to make it okay: “I’m old, but I’m not obsolete.” He’s a father figure, Kyle Reese as the bantering fish out of water boyfriend, and if this sounds awkward and terrible, that the actors get an F in chemistry makes it unwatchable.
What this amounts to is a Star Trek style reboot by going into a totally new timeline, remolding and even erasing the previous four installments. J.J. Abrams made it work with his sparked direction and snappy storytelling, not to mention that seeking out the novel avenues of scientific discovery is inherent to Trek in its core. Genysis is the opposite and in every way. Star Trek is at least one totally new adventure per movie, Terminator is the same story refolded like origami into as many new shapes as the original design can sustain with four of five of these stories amounting to save one of the Conner’s while preventing the end of the world. If Terminator and Terminator 2 and were all about averting the apocalypse, each subsequent time the world is saved it necessarily means the last time—the last movie—was for nothing. Everything is an on the nose callback, from the plot, dialogue, to the action, and these reminders of better movies provoke a maddening realization you’re consuming off-off-off brand entertainment months after the recommended sell by date.
Letting poorly conceived sequels rust the glow of their predecessors is an unfair business, but Terminator challenges you not to. Genisys trivializes the struggles and battles fought in all the previous movies, and by the time they try to time-jump to 2017 to stop Genysis, the operating system that launches “Skynet”, from launching, you wonder why this plot exists at all. Why can’t Conner, Reese, and the dadinator just live their lives and construct and elaborate plan instead of recklessly jumping into the future without a plan, or means, or anything? The premise of the plot alone is befuddling.
But what about the action junkies just wanting the latest adrenaline fix? James Cameron is one of the best action directors on the planet. Game of Thrones alum Alan Taylor is not. Genisys doesn’t have action scenes so much as the occasional spike in loudness. I can’t clearly recite a defining set piece from the entire movie—every scene rear-ends the next with a big punch or explosion until you’ve got a 10 car pile up of bad scenes slammed together. Instead of an elaborately staged chase sequence, like the famous truck-helicopter dual in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, you’ve got clipped snippets of action stuck here or there, brought to life with the worst CGI effects in a movie this expensive in years. This is the easiest F I’ve given in a long time, a disastrous failure for a franchise I hope won’t be back.
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