Terminator Genisys (2015)

(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) Where to begin? Terminator Genisys is a big mess of a movie. Not that I care all that much: After all, I’m on record as saying that the first two movies of the Terminator series are bona fide classics, and that the third and fourth ones are nothing more than ascended fan fiction. This fifth instalment has the saving grace of being more ambitious than it could have been, but at this point the Terminator mythos has been trampled so thoroughly that we’re well into the degenerate phase of the franchise: everything gets remixed endlessly and the result is best appreciated as postmodern mush for the fans. Enough is enough: let the whole thing go! But that will never happen and given this certitude, the only thing left to do is to appreciate the good bits and moan about the bad ones. What works is Schwarzenegger being cast age-appropriately and the various contortions the plot has to go through in order to make it happen. The re-creation of the 1984 original is interesting, and so is the craziness of seeing so many temporal loops crashing into each other. On the other hand… Emilia Clarke and Jai Courteney are terrible lifeless choices for the iconic roles they’re meant to reprise. Jason Clarke does better—but while I like the manic episode he gets to play, it severely undermines that character he’s supposed to be. The dumbness of the film can’t be overstated, and its self-conscious status as the first in a new trilogy means that it can’t be relied upon to answer some basic plot questions, leaving them to a sequel that looks as if it will never exist as of this writing given Genisys’s tepid commercial success. (Forget Terminator 6: I want a movie about how the Terminator franchise is being sabotaged by time-travellers who fear that the next film will succeed and bring untold devastation to the world.) At charitable times, I’d call Genisys “interesting”—but at others, I’d call it overstuffed, under-thought, meandering and frustrating. The ruthless simplicity of the first film’s ongoing nightmare has been replaced by a tangled web of fan-service, while the themes and pulse-pounding action of the sequel have been muddled in generic action sequences and puddle-deep snark about modern technology. I would at the very least expect any new Terminator to have something to say about our relationship to machines. Otherwise, well, we’re back to ascended fan fiction.

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