[Warning: Possible spoilers]
How can one make endless sequels to a franchise whose sole message is the immutability of time? The premise itself guarantees strict linear repetition. This has been Terminator’s problem since the post-T2 days. However, like John Connor, Paramount is stubborn as a mule. For them, there is no sequel (or continuity) but what they make for themselves.
This has resulted in a mixed bag over the years. Every victory against Skynet only delays its inevitable rise. While Paramount may excuse this as the continuation of the characters’ struggle for agency in the control of their destiny, the reality is a franchise being bled to death. The finality of Judgment Day has become several finalities, which feels utterly hokey. This is why Terminator: Salvation was a step in the right direction despite still being the worst entry. By setting the film in the future instead of the past, Salvation had some leeway for a fresh narrative. It set up the stage for the finality of the future but didn’t rehash it.
So, how then does Terminator: Genisys try to renew interest into its cycle? Why, through nostalgia and infusion of multiple paradoxes of course! The film begins with Skynet’s activation and its dominance over the planet. Humans under the great John Connor (Jason Clarke) fight a resistance against the machines. John Connor and Skynet proceed to begin the causality loop of the franchise with time travel. However, the cycle is disrupted with a change in the flow of events. This causes Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to witness events in his life that never existed before as he travels back in time.
By the end of the film, we find out that these vignettes are another predestination paradox in the films’ lore. This only makes sense if writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier were interpreting the events as simultaneously happening in time instead of a strictly linear perspective. Then there’s the issue of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent to the childhood years of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). That aspect was not caused by the change in the future. It would only make sense if Kyle was not sent back “directly” in time but to an alternate timeline or parallel universe where Skynet’s original plan was to kill Sarah as a child instead of an adult. These inconsistencies do not help the film at all. Gone are the days of James Cameron’s simple time-travel.
Even the cast is caught up in all the confusion. This film was just an excuse for Arnie to do cool things on camera for no reason. His T-800 wasn’t there to protect Sarah Connor but to cover up the holes with rapid fire exposition. Jai Courtney’s skills were always better suited for antagonist roles. To be fair, he was a charismatic enough lead this time compared to previous roles that earned him the status as “the next Sam Worthington” (who was also lackluster in a previous Terminator film). He’s still no Michael Biehn or Anton Yelchin though. J.K. Simmons manages to salvage a meaningless character with his incredible comedic skills. Matt Smith is terribly underused.
Emilia Clarke was just ok. Despite being the most promising casting, it’s difficult to live up to the legacy of Linda Hamilton. Linda was able to bring a physicality to the role that the petite Emilia Clarke could not. She imbibes her performance with the same perseverance against preconceived destiny and the opinions of men but still falls short. Then there is her dynamic with Kyle Reese. While Linda and Michael had flawless chemistry as allies or as lovers, the same could not be said for Emilia and Jai. Their romantic subplot was cringeworthy.
All in all, the film, like its characters, tries to be different and stake a new path. That new path, however, isn’t compelling as it feels like a cheap cash-in. Will Judgment Day ever arrive?
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars