DIRECTED BY Alan Taylor
STARS Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys (Photo: Paramount)
It's a toss-up as to what reigns as the most risible element in Terminator Genisys, the fifth — and flimsiest — film in the deathless series (with two more installments already being planned!). There's the out-of-left-field reason given as to why the Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger no longer looks like the young(ish) cyborg from past pictures but instead looks like a refugee from a Miami nursing home. There's the fact that Arnie's Terminator, a character that in past incarnations inspired fear and awe, is now called the decidedly nonthreatening "Pops" by those around him. There's the casting of Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, whose chirpy demeanor makes this often feel like Teen Beach Terminator. There's the mere sight of Jai Courtney once again attempting to act. And then there's that off-screen bit of hilarity: the fact that series creator James Cameron has taken to the press circuit to rave about this piece of junk.
It's a shame to see this once-great property sink to such a depressing low. The first two films are acknowledged classics, the third fell a bit short but was still a valiant — and respectful — effort by all concerned, and the fourth (Terminator Salvation) remains an underrated piece of sci-fi sizzle (yes, I'm one of those 12 people on the planet who actually enjoyed it; the autograph line forms to the right!). Terminator Genisys exists for no other reason than to line studio coffers, which of course is the raison d'être of many an unnecessary sequel. But a film can be an unwanted follow-up and manage not to destroy everything that preceded it through its addition of daft new wrinkles to the story frame. I mean, Jurassic World is pretty needless, but at least the filmmakers didn't elect to reveal that the dinosaurs were actually cleverly disguised aliens from outer space — the sort of narrative pirouette made here. Perhaps not since Alien 3 have I felt that a sequel so betrayed everything that came before it.
Normally, my reviews are 100% spoiler-free, but since even the image on the poster reveals the big "twist" in this picture, it hardly makes me Eric Snowden if I proceed with less caution than usual. As before, the John Connor of the future (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Courtney) back to 1984 to prevent the Terminator (Arnie in CGI-enhanced younger mode a la Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy) from killing Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), a waitress who will eventually become a warrior as well as a savior of humanity. But wait! The timeline is in flux, alternate realities exist, and Kyle discovers that Sarah is no longer a mousy woman but already a full metal badass, having been trained since childhood by the good Terminator (the big guy again, sporting 50 shades of gray hair). The noodling of time has also resulted in the appearance of both a liquidy T-1000 (the G.I. Joe series' Byung-hun Lee) and a cop who transforms into J.K. Simmons when the movie picks back up in 2017. The shift to the 21st century also leads to an encounter with a similarly time-traveling John Connor, who has been assimilated by the villainous operating system Skynet with some uncredited assistance from the Borg. With John Connor now compromised, can Jean-Luc Picard be far behind?
Emilia Clarke in Terminator Genisys (Photo: Paramount)
Despite the Herculean efforts by Cameron to make all the time travel material believable in the first two films, there were some obvious holes, but we didn't mind because the results were so damn entertaining. Bereft of genuine excitement, this entry can't hide the rampant ludicrousness. Worse, though, is the obvious miscasting in most of the key roles. Jason Clarke probably comes off best, even if he's not allowed to display as many acting muscles as he flexed in Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Schwarzenegger seems like a parody of his former self, and the less said about the monotonous Courtney, the better. The biggest error arrives in the selection of Emilia Clarke. Linda Hamilton was just perfect as the original Sarah Connor, and we could easily believe this woman tossing off the shackles of her meek demeanor and crippling insecurities and emerging as a formidable soldier. By contrast, Clarke comes off as a girl playing grown-up, and when she utters an iconic line like, "Come with me if you want to live," it's like watching a Saved By the Bell cast member tackling a school play. When Hamilton grunted, "You're terminated, fucker" in the 1984 classic, it provided an empowering thrill; when Clarke mutters, "Bite me" in this new one, it provides an embarrassed titter.
Clearly, in both its casting and its storyline, Terminator Genisys resembles nothing so much as a baby downing palatable food and regurgitating it as a lumpy, smelly mess.