Terminator Genisys: A Review
The core problem with the Terminator franchise is that the original movie, a mid-80s B-movie, was never meant to be the cornerstone of a multimillion dollar franchise. It was conceived as a small, self-contained movie. The core paradox; Kyle Reese going back in time and fathering John Connor, who will eventually send him back in time, is so neatly resolved that sequels aren’t called for. All the dramatic threads are put to bed by the ending credits.
1997’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day succeeded through sheer audacity; altering the formula just enough to remain interesting. Where the original film was preoccupied with fate and inevitability, T2 introduced the idea that nuclear war and the rise of the machines might be averted. That, along with pitching Arnie as the good guy, was the key to its dramatic success.
But by then, the genie was out of the bottle and the stage was set for additional disappointing instalments. The franchise has since been a succession of failed attempts to reignite the magic of the original film.
Perhaps inspired by the recent Star Trek reboot, Terminator Genisys attempts to resolve this terminal franchise syndrome by taking a sledgehammer to the events of the original film and positing an alternative timeline. Escaping the core paradox of the original film necessitates a degree of disrespect towards it that is likely to alienate old fans.
This attempt can’t easily be described as a success. The move from the events of the original film to the new timeline is haphazard, like something out of a badly written fanfiction. The decision to update Sarah Connor from a frightened, helpless young woman to a smart person in control of their own future is a wise one, but the film assumes that since the audience already know that Sarah and Reese get together, it doesn’t need to waste time on extravagances like believable dialogue or chemistry. The final kiss between the two is almost laughable in its out-of-nowhereness.
1984’s Terminator had an obsession with industrial machinery and grit. You can see it in the future war scenes, in the hydraulics and joints of the Terminator endoskeletons, in the automated factory in which the climactic battle of the film occurs. Everything is heavy, practical, functional and solid.
2015’s Terminator Genisys substitutes this obsession with a modern, sleek, superhero-esque aesthetic. The fight scenes are outrageous, more at home in an Avengers movie. Seeing two computer-generated terminators punch each other repeatedly sucks all the threat and emotional gravity out of a scene. The biggest problem with Genisys is not that it replaces the events of the original movie, but that it replaces the aesthetic as well.
There are major problems with Genisys which prevent it from being regarded as a worthy successor to the franchise. But, now the alternate timeline has been established, however awkwardly, the scene is set for subsequent sequels to improve upon.