This movie had the potential to rescue a franchise that badly needed rescuing. The first “Terminator” film was an awesome thriller with excellent character development, and it was exceeded by “Terminator 2,” which had a wonderful emotional payoff. However, the franchise was soon milked by entries that didn’t understand the appeal of the series: the threat of an unstoppable monster, with strong characters sprinkled in.
“Genisys” gets so close to returning to what made the franchise great. But while the characters are well-acted, it has a nonsensical story with almost no heart, filled with more holes than a liquid Terminator post-shotgun-blast.
For one, the film takes place across three time periods, which already invites the plot to become a mess. John Connor and his men are on the brink of winning the war against Skynet. And in fact, they do win. But when Kyle Reese goes back in time to ensure the survival of Sarah Connor, he finds that the 1984 he goes back to is very different from the 1984 he visited in the original “Terminator” movie; Sarah already has a Terminator at her disposal, and they find that the old date of Judgment Day, 1997, has been postponed to 2017. So they go a little bit further to ensure that Skynet, now rechristened “Genisys,” doesn’t go online.
And in addition to Sarah’s Terminator (reprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger; charming as usual), there’s also the Terminator that chased Sarah in the first film (also played by Schwarzenegger), a liquid Terminator, and also John Connor, who has traveled back in time as an odd human/Terminator hybrid of sorts.
So that’s four Terminators, across three time periods. This leads to the obvious problem of making the plot incredibly hard to follow. And while the John Connor Terminator opens itself to a lot of really interesting plot opportunities, the film doesn’t take advantage of any of them. Instead of trying to do something original or interesting, the film is content to keep making references to the first two movies, which leaves holes open and makes the film a whole lot messier.
It’s a film that tries to do too much service to the “Terminator” brand without thinking about what new directions the series could move towards. And as I said earlier, the potential is there; I really like the human/machine hybrid idea, and tying Skynet to today’s always-online society was an idea that really could have worked. And hey, the actors don’t do a bad job, either. But “Genisys” is too nailed to old ideas that once worked in the early simplicity of the franchise, but don’t anymore. This machine doesn’t need simple oil changes anymore. It needs a true overhaul.