RECAP: Terminator: Genisys

Terminator: Genisys (2015): Alan Taylor

We’ve waited 12 years for Arnold to return to his signature role. We’ve mostly forgotten that there was a Terminator movie between this summer’s Terminator: Genisys and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. That movie, Terminator: Salvation is by far more famous for the recorded on-set tirade of ‘roided-up Christian Bale. If you remember anything about the finished product, good for you. T5 is meant to be Paramount’s major film franchise in a cinematic world full of film franchises. 

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator!!!!!!!!

Before getting into the component parts, I need to do a plot overview in normal, chronological order. I am doing this as much for myself as for you, Dear Reader, because this movie vexes me. 

1973: “Pops” Terminator arrives at a lake cabin to protect nine-year-old Sarah Connor. All of Sarah’s family is killed, but they’ve passed on that genetic material, so, who cares?

1984: Pops and Sarah have been waiting in Los Angeles for their next confrontation. Pops had knowledge of Skynet’s plans, I guess? Kyle Reese and the T-1000 are on the scene, and Sarah is waiting to save Reese. 

2017: Reese and Sarah go through time to prevent the launching of Genisys, a ubiquitous software that will link everything. It’s gonna be SWAAAAAG. John Connor shows up.

2029: The Resistance wins! Reese goes back in time to 1984. Skynet suuuuuux. John Connor gets machine phased by Skynet’s embodiment: Doctor Who. D’oh!

20??: Someone, or something, sent Pops back to 1973.

Hero (6/10)

Much time (cinematic and temporal) passes before we figure out who the hero of the story is. Is it John Connor, leader of the Resistance, about to triumph over Skynet as the movie begins? Is it Kyle Reese, who volunteers to go back to 1984 to sacrifice his life to save Sarah Connor? Is it Arnold, in the form of a T-101, who’s “been waiting” for a younger version of himself to arrive in California? No to all. Sarah Connor is our hero again. 

Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor, and with great spunk and tenacity. Sarah has seen years of running and hiding and fighting, and those years show well in Clarke’s voice, though not at all in her body (which is as bodacious as anyone off the casting couch). I say this to compare her to Linda Hamilton, who looked grittier, and seemed like she had lived a life, despite not having done so. The Terminator and Terminator: Genisys should have switched their Sarah Conners. 

Villain (6/10)

John Connor is leader of the Resistance. He sends Reese back in time to protect his mother. But right as Reese is in the time portal he sees Skynet attack John. What’s a Resistance borther to do? Nothing, he has to go on living his life as if he’s gonna die in a few days in a gross 1984 Los Angeles. Until Reese hops forward to 2017, where guess who shows up–John Connor. Boy is Reese glad to see him. John is mysteriously scarred in the face as he was/will be in 2029, so you know he came from then. Only problem is, Skynet sent John to 2017. John is now the ultimate machine-man hybrid, and he will set free the human race. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: supreme intelligence fuses self with a very special man, who that intelligence sends to deliver the human race from its own excesses. And in Terminator: Genisys this very special man is the bad guy. 

Jason Clarke plays John Connor. Clarke has a the perfect face for the role–chiseled, looks like it’s seen some shit in its time, but just nefarious enough to make you keep an eye on him during Resistance planning meetings. Clarke delivers the appropriate menace and self delusion to the role of Terminator + Charming Man that should make John Conner-as-cyborg so dangerous, nay, the most dangerous Terminator in the franchise’s long history. I believe Clarke did about as well as he could with this character, and the writers and director let him down with the material. Acting in this movie was like watching Cirque du Soliel performer work inside a refrigerator box. 

Action/Effects (1/10)

James Cameron’s Terminator movies had three things going for them: realistic, intense action; the chase; and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Genisys we get barely any of the latter, the briefest glimpse of a chase, and atrocious action. As a younger man, I would have given years of my life to see what should be the greatest fight in the history of cinema, Arnold vs. Arnold. The Austrian wonder has defeated machines, aliens, even Satan in his film career. How could he beat himself? The question staggers the mind, as if we asked ourselves what Jesus was like during his rebellious teenage years. 

Genisys promised this titanic battle, and it occurred in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The previous sentence underlies my primary critique of the film: it began with the climax. The Resistance penetrates Skynet headquarters, and Reese and the original Terminator go back in time as the movie begins. The two Arnold terminators fight at the start. Their fight is lame. A few punches traded until Sarah puts a very large bullet in the bad terminator’s head–a literal rage against the machine. No buildup to this fight, no good-guy-at-the-end-of-his-rope moment, no music swell. Just a couple of meat computers slugging it out. 

The effects team did solid work with the machine phase John-bot. Black metal rippled across his face as he spoke and stretched through the air like a series of still photographs. For this the movie receives its lone point in the category. 

Sidekicks (3/8)

Finally, I get to talk about Arnold. This movie represents Arnold’s fourth venture as a terminator, and third as a good guy. He shows his age in this one, valiantly, I say, since he’s an action god and gods don’t age. But his character does. Arnold’s terminators draw us because the actor provides just the slightest touch of humanity, humor, and emotions to the machines. His artistry is akin to drawing a paint brush across a filing cabinet. In doing so, we can see the human touch to the metal box. 

Pops Terminator (good band name, yungins) owns the movie’s funniest moment, when he and Reese have a father/son-like man contest. Which of them can faster load an ammo clip? The winner gets to take care of Sarah Conner forever. I forget who won. Oh wait, the audience won. Pops is relegated to true sidekick status, whether this is because Arnold is so old or is no longer a box office heavyweight is up for debate, but he shows up every few scenes to walk very slowly toward his prey. Unlike in past Terminators, Arnold walking slowly in 2015 doesn’t menace so much as it reminds viewers that he is an old dude. Arnold still gets the best lines. He carries the enormous teddy bear into the hospital. He makes fun of San Francisco traffic. 

I guess I have to mention Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. I’ll just say that he has a face you want to punch. 

Henchmen (2/8)

With Skynet John Connor calling the shots, it’s hard to say who are the henchmen. The T-1000 from the beginning does a good impression of Robert Patrick’s T-1000, but we don’t get to see him work hard enough to mimic the role. Since Skynet has taken control of human John Connor, maybe John Connor is the henchman. I’ll go with that. I like Jason Clarke’s look, it’s smug and simultaneously intimidating. The human in John-bot does a swell job explaining things. “Why am I here?” “What happened to my face?” “Will I still exist after I kill you, Mom and Dad?” Mostly he just explains a lot, occasionally doing an impression of Pin Art. 

Stunts (2/6)

Part of the success of The Terminator belongs to Kyle Reese, whose physical fragility added to the terminator’s scariness and Sarah Conner’s vulnerability. Every strike against Reese feels like his last. Jai Courtney is too hefty to evoke such feelings. He appears more machine-like than Arnold. Movies thrive on verisimilitude, and in this respect Genisys fails. 

Once in the Los Angeles hideout of Sarah and Pops, the resurrected bad Arnold terminator chases Reese. An earlier acid bath strips the fleshy exterior, leaving only the metal shell that so terrifies with its red eyes and set of teeth. Despite the movie’s flaws, or perhaps in spite of them, a solid-metal terminator trying to catch a human still frightens me to my core. It never stops hunting.

Climax (1/6)

The launching of Skynet will commence in a few hours. The only way to stop it is to get to Cyberdyne headquarters and blow up the mainframe. Sarah, Pops, and Reese steal a helicopter, with the aid of J.K. Simmons’s character who first encountered terminators in 1984. The aforementioned trio can’t shake John Conner-bot, who stole the only other helicopter parked on the roof. They crash into headquarters. But John enters the building first, killing the human guards and taunting the good guys when they enter. 

I don’t want to explain the rest. Hopefully you saw it and and were as confused as I. Instead of explaining, how ‘bout some complaining? 

  • How did John-bot get inside first?
  • How did Genisys “evolve” multiple times in the few minutes Sarah, Reese, and Pops were there, but clearly had not evolved at all beforehand? 
  • Such an enormous software program would require servers of size beyond reckoning. Google and Amazon space their servers across the country. Cyberdyne can’t do the same? 
  • How did John-bot get involved in Cyberdyne to begin with?
  • Why do I care about any of this alternate-timeline shit anyway?

Jokes (1/4)

The best recurring joke comes from, as usual, a machine. Arnold “Pops” Terminator has been learning to smile. He’s really bad at it, even after eleven years of training. Pops is the lone comic relief in the film. In T2, The T-100 is much funnier, but not because of itself, rather the interplay with John makes him funny. Sarah in Genisys is as funny as drywall. Ever watch an improv scene where one player always responds to the other with “Ummmm,” and “No?” That was a terrible scene, and all the interplay was like that. One point to the movie because at least it was Arnold doing the jokes. 

Setting (2/4)

The James Cameron Terminator films take place in Los Angeles. So does Genisys. But the two cities are differ greatly. Cameron filmed his cities as dirty, barren wastelands. Think about how few people are actually in the movies. More pieces of trash float around when the time portals open than people are seen walking the streets. But it looks like L.A. Freeways abound. One chase occurs in the famous concrete rivers. Genisys can be placed best in San Francisco, as one chase occurs on the Golden Gate Bridge. Still, the sets in Genisys felt stale and generic, like those store-brand Graham Crackers in the back of your pantry. When Sarah and Pops lure T-1000 to an abandoned warehouse, the space seems too large and empty, even for an abandoned warehouse. Despite all this, I can’t say the setting detracted from the movie, and really they had little choice with L.A. and tech-heavy Silicon Valley. 

Commentary (1/2)

Everyone’s on their damn phones now! Maybe the filmmakers were on their phones while making this pile of junk. One point because everyone is on their phones. 

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Genisys successfully avoids offending. 


  • Terminator: Genisys jumps through so many plot holes I can’t decide where to start.
  • um
  • uh
  • Ok. Let’s start here. 1973 Pops appears about 25 or 30 years old. 1984 Pops has aged at least as many years, but in only 11 years. Huh?
  • John Connor-as-Terminator goes back to 2017. We assume he was sent by embodied Skynet, but we don’t know. We also assume (having seen the original movie) that the time machine only sent Reese and the Terminator. These assumptions contradict. 
  • (-2) First off, I think some of these plot holes are meant to be filled in upcoming sequels. This is unfair. Leaving questions unanswered or plots unfinished is OK. Plot holes are not.
  • (3) Automatic Arnold bonus

Summary (28/68; 41%)

Terminator: Genisys is the worst in the series. The filmmakers set us up for sequels, but forgot to make a coheretn sorty. Ack! You see what they went and made me do? Coherent story. There. I’m back in this timeline. My timeline. Or am I?

In an interview with the screenwriters about the Skynet character, they explained that he/it was some sort of interdimensional intelligence being, able to influence John Conner in some dimensions. Huh? That sounds well and good for some great sci-fi movie series that does not yet exist, but it doesn’t sound at all like Terminator.

James Cameron’s movies were the best because they mostly ignored the time travel; rather than ruminate on them the audience just accepts them as fact, and worries instead about how two ragamuffins can defeat a merciless, unstoppable killing machine, or, later, how an insane mother can protect her son without letting such protections ruin him. The later films forgot these emotional cores, and thus lost their audience.