Movie Review: Schwarzenegger shoulders a lot but ‘Genisys’ just too much
Look, I know “Jurassic World” has left us dopesick waiting for the next fresh hit of buzzy, warm nostalgia, and “Terminator: Genisys” looks like the right kind of summer garbage that could help us all relive that massive, toe-curling high.
But understand, “Terminator Genisys” isn’t pure. Trace elements of “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” are in there, but “Genisys” is mostly cut with the ‘humor-jokes’ of “Terminator 3” and the superfluous, ‘why-does-this-exist’ qualities of “Terminator: Salvation.” Whereas “Jurassic World” massaged every inch of our brains with rose-colored memories of 1993 and Gushers and Nickelodeon Gak and whatever, “Terminator Genisys” will just leave you hunched over, grinding your teeth and with the bitter realization that you’ve been burned again.
Before I go any further, I would like to say that I’m tired of abashed film franchises throwing a tarp over their previous entries and pretending the events of those films didn’t happen. Audiences in 1988 weren’t happy with the events that transpired in “Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach.” But instead of deleting that film from the “Police Academy” canon by having Tackleberry and Zed travel through a wormhole (that can only be entered by falling face first into the asshole of a horse) back to the events of “Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol” – where they’ll cut off Commandant Lassard’s feet before he can be reassigned to Miami in part 5 – they didn’t backpedal, they just made sure there were plenty of scenes of Michael Winslow pretending to be a robot in part 6.
There’s none of that forward momentum in “Genisys.” Functioning as a feature length apology, the film restages the franchise’s greatest moments and rarely offers anything beyond fan service. As in “Jurassic World,” “Genisys” fetishizes its own past. A scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger squares off against an eerie, plasticine version of his younger self echoes the I-Rex/T-Rex throwdown. J.K. Simmons basically reprises Jake Johnson’s audience surrogate role from “Jurassic World” as a nerdy milquetoast who can’t stop making oh, so meta comments about the “Terminator” franchise.
Homage is simultaneously used as a crutch and as a cudgel. There’s a sense of insecurity behind the film. Almost as if director Alan Taylor keeps looking at the audience to ask, “This is good, right? Look, the liquid metal guy is back! You like him, right? Please tell me you love me, dammit!” All of which is a shame because throughout “Genisys” you get occasional glimpses of the better movie it could have been.
For example, the film opens with Kyle Reese (blandly played by Jai Courtney) once again traveling back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia ‘Khaleesi’ Clarke) from the rampaging T-800 (Schwarzenegger) only to find that this time Sarah isn’t a helpless damsel in distress and the T-800 is now an adopted father figure she refers to as Pops. For a while it’s fun to watch these three interact.
Pops plays the role of a dissatisfied sitcom dad who is constantly butting heads with the sulky, displeased Kyle who struggles to find a purpose behind his visit. But instead of building on this dysfunctional relationship, “Genisys” abandons it by sending its trio of characters to the far-flung year of 2017 in order to stop Skynet’s latest plot: an app you put on your phone. An evil app. One that you might call truly ‘app-ocalyptic’ (Bing Bong! A joke’s at the door)! Ugh.
An app as an instrument of destruction? Why do I get the feeling that if this film was made just a few years ago the apocalypse would have been brought on by a sinister version of MySpace? Who the hell wrote this movie? My elderly parents after half-remembering a Fox News report on phishing scams?
If there’s one positive thing to take away from “Terminator Genisys,” it’s the sudden realization that Schwarzenegger was morphing into Leslie Nielsen so gradually that none of us ever noticed. His inner Frank Drebin is on full display in “Genisys” as he flashes pained awkward smiles that makes him resemble a dominant chimp, trundles grimly about with a teddy bear and tells Courtney how rude he is after Courtney attacks him.
Even though the film nearly creaks under the pressure of attempting to explain why an android looks like it’s on Social Security (apparently the skin you see on the T-800 model is made with real human skin that ages), Schwarzenegger is the one true draw to this movie. So much so, I wished “Terminator Genisys” would have spent a little more time with him. Maybe the next film could examine what the Terminator did in Los Angeles for the 30 or so years it took Sarah and Kyle to travel into the future. Whatever he was up to, it has to be far more compelling than what we get here.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“Terminator Genisys ”
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney and Emilia ‘Khaleesi’ Clarke
Director: Alan Taylor
Weekender Rating: WW