Here’s something you rarely read about a summer action pic: The story in Terminator: Genisys is clever, but the action is meh. Quite boring, actually. What most likely happened is that the filmmakers got caught between paying homage and giving the audience something awesome to say “wow” about, and homage won, so it all feels recycled. When you’re the fifth film in a franchise and you feel tired from the get-go, not much good follows.
The story, however, is rather ingenious, and not just another reboot. Directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier with fond affection for The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (’91), the movie begins with machines created by man deciding mankind is no longer worthy of living. Three billion people die on what’s called “Judgment Day,” in 1997. In 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke), leading the resistance against the machines, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to 1984 to prevent a killing machine from murdering John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke, no real-life relation to Jason), before John is born.
Fans of the Terminator films are familiar with this setup. What makes Genisys different is what happens when Kyle goes back in time: Sarah is already a warrior, having been visited by a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, now 67) — whom she affectionately calls “Pops” — when she was nine years old and living under his/its protection ever since (they explain why Schwarzenegger’s robot ages – it has real human tissue on its exterior). Other surprises/differences in this alternate timeline abound, including a new form of terminator, a new date for judgment day, and some familiar lines spoken by characters you may not expect. In terms of premise this is quite solid, except for machinations that lead to the main villain, which seem a bit forced.
One problem with the action scenes is that they’re far too quick. There are plenty of them, but they’re fleeting. Early on, modern Arnold’s terminator fights Arnold circa 1984’s terminator (a bodybuilder played ’84 Arnold, then the real ’84 Arnold’s head was digitally inserted via CGI), and it’s a darn cool idea. But they trade only a few quick punches before it ends. Give us more!
When the action scenes do last a bit longer, they play out in ways we’ve seen before: bridge-dangling, a truck driving through an interior setting, chases in which the liquid metal terminator uses blades to open doors and stab at people, and the like. Heck, even the running joke of teaching Pops human expressions is taken straight from Terminator 2. Clearly, Taylor and the writers miscalculated what they thought would play as homage, because the result feels trite and redundant.
Regarding movies like this, we usually complain that the action is great but the story doesn’t hold together. Terminator: Genisys has the opposite problem, and in 2015, that’s unforgiveable. We can accept a so-so plot if the action’s exciting, but a good story with lame action is a bore. And a boring Terminator is not worth paying to see.