There’s something to be said for expectations. You can go into a good movie with too high of expectations and find yourself not enjoying a movie that was otherwise perfectly enjoyable. You can also go in with real low expectations and find that you enjoyed something WAY more than other viewers because you weren’t expecting much.
I know as a journalist/writer/critic we’re not supposed to have any kind of baggage follow us into the theater, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t have bets placed on how a movie is going to do based on its trailer. As a writer, it’s hard to admit that I fall into the old pit fall of “judging a book by its cover” or in this example, a movie by its trailer.
For what it’s worth, I always try and use those two pieces to my advantage though. So in a situation where I’m going into a mindless action film, like Terminator: Genisys’ trailer had set me up for, the bar is pretty damn low.
I mention all this because Genisys, in spite of having a super low bar to get over, fails miserably on virtually every front. I wasn’t expecting an Oscar contender, or even the spiritual successor to T2 that we’ve all been waiting for… just a campy action flick where Arnie punches Arnie.
To its credit, the movie does provide that, along with a healthy amount of comedy. I’m just not sure that the laughs that the film gets were at all intentional.
Some definitely are. Arnold seems to be enjoying his time in the movie and there’s a few hammed moments that were obviously intended as funny. But I highly doubt it was the ridiculous pseudo-science and the gaping plot holes that the writing staff was attempting as some kind of meta-humor.
Coming into the review, I knew what the crux of my “argument against Terminator” would be wasted potential; this movie has a lot of great ideas, some of which have been ruined already by the film’s trailers (which was potential wasted, exhibit A).
What I couldn’t have known, going in, was that wasted potential was going to be a constant theme throughout the film. Considering the trailer has already spoiled the twist, I feel no qualms about announcing it was a massive mistake to let us all know that John Conner is working for the machines in Genisys. That COULD have been a really cool plot twist, something that brings it back to the things I loved about the original franchise; a Terminator suddenly fights for good, the realization you can’t stop Judgement Day, etc. etc.
Several times throughout the movie the writing staff plays with the concepts of time travel and multiple universes, teeing up plot devices that could have been amazing… but instead go nowhere. Set-up, abandonment. Set-up, abandonment. Over and over and over until you get to the end of the film and it ties it all up with an unnecessary bow about time travel that was never needed, not to mention a post-credits scene that feels so forced you can almost feel the gun pressed to the director’s left temple.
There are many, many other examples of the movie setting up potentially interesting plot points for the film, then heading in the other direction, like a child who has lost interest in a toy that’s now an hour too old for their ADD sensibilities. Sarah, in this iteration of the Terminator time-line, has been raised since she was 9 years old to be the machine-destroying beast she evolves to later in the franchise. This could have been a great setup for a storyline where Sarah doesn’t have to deal with the weakness the first film established and then cured her of… instead, it works backwards as the bloated storyline of Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner “needing” to fall in love is pushed to the forefront, effectively making the character de-evolve into the old-Hollywood vision of the female lead: damsel in distress.
For my money, the worst offenses were the rewrites to the Terminator lore that are made seemingly without explanation. Without giving away “pivotal plot information” there are a number of scenes throughout the film that operate in complete contradiction to the rules of time travel and the Terminators set forth by the franchise previous installations. It even goes so far to contradict the multi-verse theory established its own movie as well!
Again, I don’t worry that anyone is going to head into Genisys looking for Terminator 2 again. The trailer, for better or worse, sets the expectations low. It’s unfortunate that the film in its entirety is an extension of that metaphor, ruined promise and potential, but at least it is accurate.
There are plenty of opportunities out there to watch mindless action movies, or action thrillers, or action comedies that will be worth your price of admission. Terminator doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to be though, and therefore strikes out (multiple times) on a journey to find itself… and never quite gets there.
The only positive that I can offer it is that if you are a fan of 3D spectacle Genisys does well to showcase the technology of film today. Even the 3D modeled Arnie from 1984 isn’t terrible (though it more than dips its toe in the uncanny valley).
If you are dead set on seeing Genisys in the theaters this weekend, a word of caution or at least context: Head in expecting to either not care at all for things like continuity, science, or even just story structure. The best that you’re going to get out of this one is 2 hours of 3D explosions leaping from the screen in your general direction in a moment that made me think back to “The Box” of Batman Forever infamy.