If Terminator Genisys were a work of fan fiction, crafted entirely by a group of rag-tag idealists on a nothing budget, it’d be an impressive achievement. The script would be clever, the effects would be stunningly lifelike, and the performances would be nearing professional-level. And we would all gasp in amazement, “How’d they get Schwarzenegger?!”
But Genisys is not a fan film. It is another from the Hollywood machine manufactured by (seeming) professionals. And it is shit.
Perhaps that won’t come as a shock to most of you, but let’s not forget that in an age of Kickstarter and Omaze, modest fan films can be produced for as little as a few million. Compare that to the Terminator series’ own humble beginnings in James Cameron’s seminal 1984 original, shot on a $6.4 million budget (still just $14.6 mil in today’s money, mere pennies to Hollywood). Cameron returned once more to the series to create another sci-fi/action masterpiece and pioneer CGI technology in 1991’s T2; since then, the series has become the poster boy for flagging deceased farm animals with the redundant T3 in 2003 and the bland Terminator Salvation in 2009. Now the fifth of the series, Genisys (budgeted at a whopping $170 mil in case you were wondering) continues in the Cameron-less Terminator sequel tradition of sucking, existing for no reason other than for the Hollywood machine to slip its mechanical fingers back into your wallet.
But fans of this series know well the machine, and not just the real-life one that readily consumes their money. Genisys opens in the year 2029, when A.I. program Skynet brings its army of robot drones called Terminators to war against humanity. The human resistance, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is victorious, but before Skynet is destroyed, the program makes one final play: send a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to pre-war 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and prevent him from being born, and in turn leading the human resistance to victory. To save Sarah, John sends right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to stop the Terminator. But in a left-turn for fans, when Kyle reaches his destination, he finds he’s stumbled upon a past he hadn’t anticipated, where Sarah is a battle-hardened warrior, new and advanced Terminators are after them, and an aged Terminator itself (also Schwarzenegger) has allied itself with the humans.
Essentially, it’s another prequel/sequel/reboot in the vein of the 2009 Stark Trek and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Yet where those films had real vision and real reason for being, Genisys is merely a series of tired beats and unimpressive twists recycled from its predecessors.
Which explains why Genisys might’ve worked as a fan film rather than a major Hollywood production – it REEKS of amateurism. Its script by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry 3D) is alternatively slavishly faithful to and blatantly betraying of Cameron’s original framework regarding time travel and Terminator vitality. Did you know they totally could’ve killed the Terminator from the first movie had they just shot a rocket launcher straight into its cyborg heart? And yes, you can only time travel naked, but you could TOTALLY build a working time machine with 1984 tech, you just need a Terminator CPU to get it working!
In a similarly beginner move, Kalogridis and Lussier think they’ve found the antithesis to T3 and Salvation – give fans the exact same things they liked about the first two movies. The liquid T-1000, Arnold doing more of the thumbs-up/awkward-smile shtick, speeches about “No fate but what we make”, and Terminators walking out of big fires, all copy/pasted into Genisys. Really, the whole film is essentially a mash-up of T1’s Outler Limits-esque twists and T2’s rebels-on-the-run comradery. Producers even managed to rope James Cameron into phoning in an endorsement.
And that’s producers’ biggest mistake, thinking that by pouring over and plucking out elements of Cameron’s formula, they can recreate his success. But Genisys is merely cannibalizing the originals for its own means, rather than existing as a natural complement to them. Even T3 and Salvation served to continue Cameron’s story, and it took the half-hearted imitation of Genisys to make me realize, hey, maybe those movies aren’t that bad after all.
There is a point where Genisys gives up trying to recreate the 1980s setting and jumps forward to the more modern (and modestly-budgeted) 2017. The new year sees the world prepping for the launch of Genisys, a new app that will collate all of your information in one place, or something. I don’t think I’ll be ruining anyone’s experience if I reveal that Genisys is really just a cover for Skynet to continue plotting its annihilation of human civilization. Which makes it all the more painful when an announcer gleefully promotes Genisys as a “killer app.” No joke.
Genisys doesn’t even prove satisfactory eye candy – as the first series installment missing the vision of the late and legendary Stan Winston, the film’s quick-and-dirty effects are easily the worst of all its predecessors. Observe for yourself the botched attempt at recreating a 1984-era Arnie, and its uncanny resemblance to Mario 64’s face-warping title screen.
Leads Jai Courtney and Emilia, again, might be considered passable imitations of Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton in a fan film. But on the same big screen as their predecessors, they play as hollow imitations at worst, wooden and chemistry-deficient at best. For his part, Arnold is regulated to comic relief duty, squandering much of his potential and missing the entire point behind his casting in the first film. And director Alan Taylor, fresh off the Marvel machine’s Thor: the Dark World, helms with a similarly bored hand. Genisys even borrows from the Marvel tradition of tacking-on a mid-credits tease for the next movie, though in this case it’s doubtful they’ll ever get there.
There is a recurring line in Terminator Genisys when Arnold’s Terminator answers for his declining appearance – “Old, but not obsolete.” The line may well apply to Arnold himself, who’s more than capable of continuing to headline bombastic popcorn flicks. But for Genisys itself, the line is brimming with irony. And unless you’re expecting little more than fan fiction, it’s time to put this machine down for good. You’re terminated, fucker.
Image: Huffington Post