Big, stupid action movies are what we have come to expect every summer. The bigger the explosion, the better the box office returns. Terminator Genisys could have been your next favorite dumb action movie, but it is far too concerned with fitting into the greater Terminator timeline and ultimately the action suffers because of it.
Terminator Genisys begins in the future. Judgement day has come and gone and John Connor (Jason Clarke) is on the brink of leading his troops into battle to kill Skynet and its terminators once and for all. After an intense and brief action sequence, the soldiers discover that all hope may be lost. They must send one of their own, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), back to 1984 to protect John’s mother Sarah from the inevitable terminator attacks. Kyle travels back, but encounters a T-1000 model terminator as soon as he touches down. He soon finds Sarah, who somehow has an older terminator she refers to as Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) guarding her life already. These three then go on a time-hopping adventure fighting terminators, Skynet, and their own personal demons.
Though I have quickly glazed over most of it, you can probably already tell that there is far too much plot in this film; this is one of the biggest missteps that Terminator Genisys takes. As a part of a long franchise of films, Terminator Genisys is understandably concerned with nestling itself into an already established timeline. This itself is not the problem. The problem is that an excruciating amount of screen time is dedicated to characters explaining the plot to one another. At the beginning of the film I welcomed the exposition. It had been a little while since watching the other Terminator films, and I appreciate the clear explanation of where we were in the Terminator world and what had happened to date in the fight against Skynet. After this first discussing of the plot was over, I thought it would be over. But throughout the entire length of the film the characters keep talking, at great lengths, about what is happening and what each thing means and how they know what they know and what they do not know yet. It wears on you.
Even with all of the talking about what has happened and things yet to come, the approach to time travel in the film merely amounts to dampening any tension within the plot. Though the fights create pressure on the characters, I never felt like anything in Terminator Genisys was “all or nothing.” The plot was twisted up upon itself so much, it seemed like any actual change in plot would be solved by sending another character back in time. It is difficult to make the audience truly care about the launch of Skynet when it is being told to you by a character who survived it already.
The worst part of all this lengthy discussion is that you know it means you are missing out on what could be a fun action sequence. These action tableaus – when the characters temporarily stop talking – are really well done too. Though we first saw the T-1000 terminator model back in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the liquefied killing machines are just as much fun to watch today. There are massive explosions that take out what amount to an entire city block, helicopter cat and mouse chases, and even a school bus chase on the Golden Gate Bridge. They are shot tightly, and could have better CGI and 3D effects, but with the tension added from the Hans Zimmer score and the terminator’s insatiable bloodlust make for some mindless action fun.
In the end, I wish that Terminator Genisys was more of a mindless summer blockbuster. It spent so much time trying to convince both the characters and the audience that it was not just another fun-filled action film, and it ended up becoming a film that was barely fun.
Director: Alan Taylor
Courtney B. Vance
Film Length: 125 min
Release Date: July 1, 2015
Distributor: Paramount Pictures