Nov 1, 2019


With the newest entry in the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate, opening this weekend, let's do some time traveling ourselves and look at the previous piece-of-shit sequel, Terminator Genisys, which, according to Dark Fate, no longer exists. (Thank you!)

It's entirely possible that Terminator Genisys, essentially Terminator 5 no matter what anyone says, was never going to be a good film, regardless of who replaced Cameron as director or the immortal Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. By now, it's unavoidable to recognize the irony in film after film being made in which people (and robots) rely on time travel to keep cleaning up their own messes, all while said films shit the bed and make things even more complicated. The finale of Terminator 2: Judgment Day was supposed to retcon Skynet and all its underlings entirely out of existence. Then they made three more Terminators. And this franchise doesn't lend itself to "what-if?" one-offs where different filmmakers apply their different stamps to see what sticks against the wall. The mythology of the series has become so important that there's no "ignoring" certain entries. Using the same characters and even the same actors will inevitably make any sequel the next chapter in one long killer-robot story. But by now, that story has overstayed its welcome. The first two Cameron films were landmark achievements in storytelling and visual effects. They didn't just spawn from the cinematic movement, but they defined what the movement was all about. They were, and are, important.

Terminator Genisys is not.

While Terminator Genisys does offer a reasonable amount of entertainment, and it's always fun to see Arnold take on one of his most famous characters in a different way, even if he's guilty of committing sacrilege as he does so, it had a responsibility to try and live up to the two landmark films it was attempting to reboot/recreate/retcon all at the same time. But it not only doesn't, it comes nowhere close. Terminator Genisys is the film that would exist in the satirical cinematic universe of something like Tropic Thunder, or even The Naked Gun, where of course a Terminator 5 would be ridiculous, and of course it would try to explain how a robot can age (it's real skin!) and of course it would be a little dumbed down and neutered to appeal to as many people as possible. (For example, in 1995, the sketch comedy series Mad TV made a fake trailer for a film called Apollo the 13th: Jason Takes NASA, in which Jason went to space. In 2001, New Line Cinema sent Jason to space...for real. When the order is parody first and reality later, that's bad!)  T2 had some pretty weighty themes about fate, about life and death, about the hard choices for the greater good. It wanted to entertain its audience, but it also wanted them to think. Meanwhile, the convolution of Genisys's plot feels manufactured, under the guise of being smart, as if its events and ramifications were made purposely complex in order to let its audience off the hook for trying to understand them, instead patting them on the head and saying, "Just enjoy all the carnage, m'kay?" Even the film's own director has said:
“Arnold has one of the most unpronounceable, impenetrable expositional lines in the movie when he says, ‘It’s possible to remember two time frames when you enter the quantum field during a nexus moment,’ and nobody has any idea what he’s talking about. But yes, it makes sense. We don’t expect anybody to get it—then Kyle turns to Sarah and says, ‘Can you make him stop talking like that?’ It’s a way to say, you don’t really have to get this. If you want to nerd out, it’s all there, I think it’s coherent. But hopefully we can move on.”

Terminator Genisys is a greatest hits compilation performed by a shitty cover band. It's desperate to hit all the same beats that made the first two Terminator films so memorable and effective, but it doesn't really want to try earning them. It wants Sarah and Kyle to fall in love. It wants to show that even a cybernetic organism of living tissue over a metal endoskeleton can learn to be human. It wants to resurrect the T-1,000, a terminator even more famous and recognizable than Arnold's iteration. It wants to talk about fate. But it's in too much of a hurry to bask in the love established for those aspects from the first two films. It doesn't want to be patient and slowly but deliberately lead up to those revelations. Instead, Sarah and Kyle will be forced to naked-hug, which = express love. Instead, the T-800 will already show traits of a human being since he's been around forever and we can just skip all that "becoming" human stuff. Instead, the first appearance of this new-fangled version of the T-1,000 will feel obligatory. And forget fate--conversations about it can't be had when the plot is this impossible to decipher. Genisys thinks that by revisiting all these common themes from the first two films it will be grandfathered into their upper echelons of respectability, but it does nothing to earn that respect beyond riding the coattails of a legacy and calling it homage.

Following the casting announcement which hailed the return of Arnold to the franchise, each subsequent actor added to the project left people feeling, at the least, ambivalent, and at the most, irritated. Some were adamant that Emilia Clarke would make a good Sarah Connor, citing her role as Daenerys on Game of Thrones as evidence she could play a strong character (even though Daenerys had done nothing more than hire people stronger than herself to do all the heavy lifting--that and ride dragons). However, nearly everyone was dismayed that Jai Courtney, the anthropomorphic equivalent of anti-charisma, was to be featured it yet another franchise. Ironically, it would be the addition of actors worth a damn--Jason Clarke and J.K Simmons--that would result in further frustration, being that they were barely used enough to warrant their presence. Of course seeing Arnold is a delight--seeing him in any film is a delight--but when he's playing second fiddle to Courtney's block-of-wood acting prowess and Emilia Clarke trying not to look like a child with giant plastic guns, the film comes dangerously close to allowing its audience not to take anything seriously.

Not helping things is its unfortunate PG-13 rating, yet another effort on behalf of the studio to reach a new audience. The grisly grindhouseness of the original film is gone, along with the brutality and intensity. (There's not a drop of blood in this thing.) Also gone, probably for good: Arnold playing the villain. By now, his original incarnation of the T-800 has been Uncle Bobbed out of existence. Now, instead of the relentless and bloodthirsty terminator that can't be bargained or reasoned with, and will not stop--ever--he's become the uncool parent dropping off his daughter at school and making her look like an idiot because he doesn't know who Selina Gomez is. Sure, Freddy Krueger grew pretty lame after a while and ended up on kids' t-shirts and lunch boxes, but at least he still violently killed a lot of people in his very bloody, R-rated sequels. For a terminator, Schwarzenegger's T-800 doesn't do a whole lot of terminating. And it's become a rather toothless affair to witness.

Hollywood loves the adage of "never say never," so as long as there's still life in any ol' franchise, and Genisys made just enough money to prove that there is, they will never stop sending people back in time to fight robots alongside other robots. Paramount lost the rights to the Terminator franchise in 2019, at which point Cameron and Deadpool director Tim Miller joined forces to bring the world Terminator: Dark Fate (with Paramount back on board). Many folks seem to be assuming it's a given that since Cameron is involved as producer and co-writer, he'll make a film worthy of the Terminator brand. While of course that's possible, I'm not buying it. Let's not forget that Cameron previously went on record as saying he believed Genisys to be the third "official" sequel and a great movie. Let's also not forget he offered pre-release praise for the widely dismissed Rise of the Machines, which means his overview of the series is now suspect. Regardless of how Terminator: Dark Fate lands with audiences and critics, and regardless of whether or not it turns into a new planned trilogy spearheaded by Cameron and Miller, it's a near certainty that whoever holds the series rights is never going to make another worthy entry. It's also a near certainty they are never going to stop trying. Which is kind of sad, because each new entry that's supposed to recapture the magic of the first two Terminators is, ironically, so far removed from what made them great that it's become fairly evident those in charge have no idea what made them magical in the first place.

Much like Salvation before it, and as Dark Fate is planning, Genisys was supposed to kickstart a brand new Terminator trilogy for a new generation. This, obviously, won't come to pass. Regardless of the studio backing the film or the filmmaker chosen to take the helm, does the world really need any more Terminators? Surely there are people out there who would welcome additional forays into the world of Terminator 3.0, but then there are others out there who fondly remember having seen Cameron's original films (the first was a very adult, R-rated horror/slasher film--did you realize that?) and will decide, with their hard-earned dollars, that a rebooted Terminator franchise is very much obsolete.

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