The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Terminator Genisys

You have to work really hard to produce a Terminator movie that's worse than Terminator Salvation. The makers of Terminator Genisys have worked very hard. This is an example of what ScreenCrush's Matt Singer calls a “selective sequel.” The film conveniently ignores the two previous Terminator sequels and tries to position itself as the third in the series. It doesn't really matter if it's the third, the tenth, or the one hundredth, though, because the movie, in an attempt to get everything right, gets everything so, so wrong.

Here's a simplified version of the plot: In the future, John Connor (Jason Clarke) devises a plan to get rid of Skynet once and for all by sending someone back in time to destroy it before it's born. He's essentially doing to Skynet what Skynet tried to do to him in the original, get it? The person chosen to carry out this mission is, of course, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). He arrives in the past and finds that John's mom, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), is a warrior who hangs around with “the Guardian” (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a reprogrammed version of the Terminator who was sent to kill her once upon a time. Together, they all try to prevent the launch of Genisys, a new operating system that will be responsible for Skynet's rise.

There are many flaws to emphasize in Terminator Genisys: the often confusing timeline, the flat action sequences, the fact that Emilia Clarke (while likeable) lacks Linda Hamilton's intensity as Sarah Connor, and the strange tendency to abruptly abandon certain plot threads, including one with J.K. Simmons as a former cop who senses Sarah and Kyle are time travelers. But let's focus on just one – the one that is the largest and most fatal.

Terminator Genisys plays like the worst piece of fan fiction ever written. After Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation proved largely unsatisfying to the core audience, the edict apparently came down to make this movie as fan-friendly as possible. So much time is spent coming up with ways to pander to the “base” that the movie never takes on a life of its own.

A good sequel will build or expand upon things that came in the previous movies. Terminator Genisys doesn't do that. Instead, it ties itself into knots trying to justify all the callbacks and references to the superior first two films. That includes the forced return of popular catchphrases like Come with me if you want to live! and I'll be back. Other moments are clumsily designed for “awesomeness,” like the one in which the older Schwarzenegger fights the younger version of himself from the original. The story's central twist - and this is revealed in the previews, so don't accuse me of spoiling – is that John Connor becomes a villain. This comes off as a lame attempt at jacking up the franchise's core mythology.

The problem is that none of these things work. They aren't organic, and they certainly aren't seamlessly integrated. From minute to minute, Terminator Genisys strains to “give the audience what they want.” It's sadly obvious, though, that no one involved in the making of this movie has any real clue what the audience wants from the series anymore. (In fairness, the audience may not know this either.) Every imaginable sort of cheap fan gratification is thrown up on the screen, to the point where the film eventually begins to feel desperate. Desperation is the enemy of entertainment.

Attempts at humor, also along those lines, fall pathetically flat. Schwarzenegger seems to be playing a parody of the Terminator here, delivering his one-liners with a knowing wink that undermines the robotic quality that made them funny in the past. One scene, in which our heroes are arrested, has a brief montage of them getting their mug shots taken, while the theme from the TV show Cops (“Bad boy, bad boy. Whatcha gonna do?”) plays on the soundtrack. Again, desperation. Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier fail to create the action/levity balance that is essential to success. They go for what's cheap and easy every time.

Terminator Genisys is intended to start a trilogy, and there's a credit cookie suggesting more to come. Quite frankly, it might be time to give up the ghost. The third, fourth, and now fifth installments have all contorted themselves attempting to extend the mythology. What they came up with is generally more complicated than satisfying. James Cameron's two pictures were near-perfect. They still exist and, better still, they hold up. We've got them. Why do we need any more if he's not going to be involved?

( 1/2 out of four)

Terminator Genisys is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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