“Terminator Genisys” (2015) is an Incomprehensible Mess


3.5/10

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Here’s what it’s like watching “Terminator Genisys” (2015).

If you’ve seen the original Terminator series, the reboot/remake feels like the people who helmed this mess took the most memorable scenes from the best films, jammed those parts together with loud but shallow action sequences for half an hour, then felt the need to take the story and the characters into uncharted waters, with disastrous results.

If you’ve never seen a Terminator movie before, the film is completely incomprehensible, having no semblance of continuity in time and logical inconsistencies explained away by meaningless technical mumbo jumbo.

In other words, this movie won’t satisfy anyone.

At least those who’ve seen the classic “The Terminator” (1984) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) movies from director and writer James Cameron will get some nostalgia out of “Terminator Genisys”.  The story of the battle of the humans against the machines, the rise of John Connor as the savior of the humans and how Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect John’s mother, Sarah, against the machines who are determined to ensure that John Conner is never born is all too familiar.  The original terminators return, too, with even the young Arnold Schwarzenegger making an appearance as the T-800, as does the T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

Other than nostalgia, about the only thing that can be said for this part of the film is Lee Byung-hun’s performance as the T-1000.  Robert Patrick’s portrayal of the T-1000 was a major reason the 1991 sequel surpassed the 1984 original, so it’s quite an accomplishment that Byung-hun is able to give due respect to Patrick’s original performance.

The rest of the remake, sadly, is rather forgettable.  The special effects of the shapeshifting T-1000, which seemed so advanced in the 90s, simply feels dated in 2015, and the return of the old Arnold is a trick that’s been seen before (in “Terminator Salvation” (2009), in fact).  The poor remaking of classic scenes and revival of old characters only highlight how director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier are quite a few notches below James Cameron in tact and filmmaking.

But being entirely forgettable is far better than being memorable for all the wrong reasons, which is exactly what happens to the film when the nostalgia is over.  “Terminator Genisys” provides the wrong answer to the question all remakes / reboots face:  how faithful to the original should the new film be?  If the shot-by-shot remake of “Psycho” (1998) was slammed for lacking originality, “Terminator Genisys” is a cautionary tale about how originality for the sake of originality can equally be disastrous.

The movie completely falls apart when the plot and the characters go into unfamiliar territory.  Kalogridis and Lussier decided to place this movie in an alternative timeline in which a T-800 comes to rescue Sarah Connor long before Kyle Reese arrives.  It’s never made clear who sent this T-800 from the future back into the 1970s, but that’s okay because it’s equally unclear how John Connor turns evil in year 2029 but appears as the nemesis in the year 2017.

The timeline in this movie is utter nonsense.  The plot jumps from 2029 to 1984 back to 2017 while raising all sorts of questions like “Aren’t changes to the past supposed to affect the future?” and “Why are future events affecting the past?” Eventually, you give up trying to make sense of it all upon coming to the realization that the writers kept on adding more unexplainable plot twists, down to the very last scene, hoping that by muddling things to the point of confusion, nothing need be explained.

The script ensured that this film was doomed long before filming even began, but casting didn’t help either.  It’s hard to criticize Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance since he created the character T-800.  The problems are with the supporting cast.   Jason Clarke as John Connor looks more like a villain than a hero, which wouldn’t be so much of an issue in this movie’s plot if Kyle Reese didn’t obsess so much about how John was a hero in his future.   Sarah Connor is supposed to be a fighting warrior from the moment Kyle meets her, but Emilia Clarke is far too much of a lightweight to make this believable.  Speaking of lacking presence, less said about the performance of Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the better.

Paramount Pictures, which own the rights to the Terminator series, tried to keep the series going without Schwarzenegger, with increasingly less success.  They’ve now tried to revive the franchise by bringing back the original star, only to sink the franchise further into the abyss.  The final scene from the latest installment suggests Paramount wants to continue the franchise, but it’s time to bury the Terminator series for good.  Enough damage has already been done to not one but two classics.

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