‘Terminator Genisys’ Combines Limp Homage With Tedious Exposition

As all Americans are required to know at birth, Skynet sent the Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she could give birth to John Connor, the father of the human resistance movement. The resistance sent Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, where Reese fell in love with her and they fathered… John Connor. There’s a paradox inherent to this story, obviously, where the end is the beginning is the end, and John Connor chose his own father through some futurist form of immaculate conception, that the Terminator franchise has never before attempted to explain. Wisely so, because… you know… it’s a paradox. It can’t be a plot conflict, it can’t even be.

As Bruce Willis’s character yells in Looper, “if we start trying to explain time travel, we’ll be here all day, making diagrams with straws!”

Terminator Genisys must be the film adaptation of that straw diagram (now with non-stop shouting!). There’s also constant callbacks to previous movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger used for both emotional depth and comic relief. He’s the best part, it’s true, and it’s a bad sign when Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a robot is the most human character.

The trailer already spoiled the twist that John Connor is the bad guy in this one, so I’m not going to try to unspoil it here. And anyway, you should be able to infer as much, based on the law of sh*tty movies that states that every character who speaks softly and has scars on his face is bad. This trope actually goes in the plus column for Terminator Genisys, because everything else in the film is so exhaustingly convoluted that “bad guy being bad because scars” actually feels refreshing. At least that can be conveyed without someone shouting a physics equation.

What is it with cash-grab sequels thinking that the only way to justify their own existence is through excessive plotting? This movie has like six villains, none of them compelling. A good 80% of it consists of characters trying to explain why they’re running here or there or what they do or don’t remember from timelines that may or may not come true. The script’s solution to time paradoxes (that it stupidly keeps trying to resolve) is that at a “nexus point” of time, there are multiple possible futures. Since Kyle Reese was sent back at a nexus point, he has the ability to remember alternate pasts that didn’t happen (because those pasts are also futures, because of the time travel…). Or something. I don’t know, it made me tired. But you know what’s a great way to ruin an action movie? Constant shouting mixed with grainy flashback sequences.

There’s also near-constant callbacks to the past movies of the franchise, and not just the story elements necessitated by a circular timeline. I mean non-diagetic stuff, like a tanker truck crash callback to T2 that only serves to illustrate how artless this new version is by comparison. In ’91, the tanker was carrying liquid nitrogen, leading to a cool shattering effect. In this version, the tanker just explodes, signifying nothing. (Message!)

Terminator Genisys does however give Arnold a new catchphrase. He’ll introduce some new MacGuffin with a stream of polysyllabic nonsense, followed by “…theoretically.” As in, “We should be able to reverse the polarity on the time displacement capacitor and temporarily defrag the gravitron. …Theoretically.”

Jesus, when did the Terminator become Doc Brown? “…Theoretically” sounds like a catchphrase you’d give an absent-minded scientist in a cartoon, not an Austrian murder robot. Second-guessing his own calculations doesn’t seem like it’d be in his programming.

The other “new” thing is this “Genisys” business, which turns out to be a new operating system developed by Robot John Connor (don’t ask) and Cyberdyne, set to go live in 2017, complete with a big countdown clock. Everyone in 2017 wants Genisys because it will sync up your tablets and your task rabbits and your smart phones and shoot all your personal data to the cloud! Torn straight from the headlines! Because letting machines control our lives is even more relevant now than it ever was in 1984. RELEVANCE! RELEVAAAAAANCE!

In practice, this means an expository guy gets to explain our smartphone culture to Sarah Connor, who just arrived from 1984 (don’t ask) in a scene that couldn’t be any more dad-smug if Aaron Sorkin had written it. “They take them everywhere now.” (*cut to shot of people walking by, glued to their smartphone screens, and then back to a horrified Sarah Connor as the realization sinks in*)

Dear God… we invited Skynet in through the front door. And all so we could giggle at cat videos on the toilet. This used to be America.

Hokey as it sounds, the “Genisys” plotline might’ve worked if they’d actually pursued it in some meaningful way. At least that would’ve been a take (a hot take, specifically). Instead, the Genisys storyline just sort of withers on the vine while they delve into bizarre daddy issues between Sarah Connor and the robot (?). And Robot John Connor keeps babbling about something, I think he wanted to sell them a time-share? Unclear.

You’d think that, even in the absence of a workable story, this new Terminator chapter might have some new visual or technological innovation, to match how fresh and cool liquid metal looked in 1991. We’ve got cool stuff now, right? Heck, it’s the future! …Nope. The liquid metal is back, stripped of its newness. There’s also the new Terminator, which isn’t liquid metal, but a sort of cyborg where the human tissue has been taken over by nanobots at the cellular level. Decent idea, I suppose, but they never take the time to give us any visceral sense of him.

Probably because they were too busy exploding the Golden Gate Bridge for the umpteenth time this year and staging a bus crash on top of it (didn’t they also do that in one of the Apes movies?). It’s typical of modern studio action filmmaking: ignore the small stuff; stage big, pointless set piece. Why, it’s almost as if all this new movie-making technology is destroying our movies’ very humanity.

OH MY GOD, SKYNET IS CGI! (*strips naked, shaves chest*)(*jumps into the phone booth making time travel noises*)

Grade: D

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.