Review: Terminator Genisys Is Unable To Re-Capture The Old Magic

Walker Sayen ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Hollywood has become obsessed with the “retcon reboot”. And this summer has become the textbook example of the formula. A “retcon reboot” is when a franchise that has lost its heat tries to rejuvenate itself by restarting a narrative and diverting the story to disregard dead-end plot lines. This approach is all done without having to “remake” the original. A perfect example of this trend is the 2009 Star Trek film which uses time-travel to create a whole new chronology that doesn’t have to obey the requirements set by old Star Trek plot lines. Terminator Genisys is the latest installment in this trend.

The summer has already featured several “retcon reboots”, most significantly Mad Max: Fury Road and Jurassic World, and it is interesting to consider the latest Terminator film in the context of these other reboots. All three films play into a nostalgia for the classic original films in the respective franchises. They do so by taking the elements of the original stories that worked the best, and try to meld the parts together into a high octane new story. However, the three successive major reboots that have come out this summer have completely different levels of success.

Emilia Clarke and J.K. Simmons in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Emilia Clarke and J.K. Simmons in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Mad Max: Fury Road is by far the most successful. This is partially because even though it is taking the most definitive aspects of the original trilogy and revamping them for a new continuity, there are also enough new ideas and genuine passion to make the film work as a completely individual entity. In contrast, Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys are almost completely reliant on the audience’s nostalgic memory for the classic elements of the original entries in the respective franchises. One of the reasons Jurassic World has become such a worldwide phenomenon, is because it plays into all of the elements that made the original Jurassic Park a classic, while disregarding the critically derided sequels. And while this means that the film leans very heavily on borrowed, already used elements, and thus is indebted to the original for its success, it plays the nostalgia card very well, and thus is able to tap into audience’s love for the property to great money-making success. This is the same card that Terminator Genisys is trying to play, but less successfully.

Like Jurassic World, the formula that Terminator Genisys is trying to utilize is to genetically splice together every single classic scene, character and aspect that fans remember, disregard the bad sequels, and establish a new continuity. This will lay fertile ground for a new series, not bound by any old narrative constraints. And while theoretically this is a great notion that works fairly well in Jurassic World, for the fifth Terminator film, it ends up just turning the movie into a super-cut. It’s a muddled homage to better films, that is all borrowed content, and very little cohesive unity. The end result doesn’t feel like a complete, whole meal, but instead more like a pretender, playing at being one of the original two Terminator films, but is in the end just borrowed nostalgia.

Emilia Clarke in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Emilia Clarke in Terminator Genisys. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

However, despite the failure of the “retcon reboot” formula, Genisys does have some redeeming qualities. It is by far the third best Terminator movie (however that isn’t saying that much, considering the low bar set by the 3rd and 4th installments). But it is genuinely fun to see Arnold back in the saddle, and he has a lot of fun returning to his most iconic role. Some of the set-pieces, especially one on the Golden Gate Bridge, are well staged and suitably high-octane. And the callbacks to the originals are fun, especially the reworking of a classic scene from the first film, but with the addition of a young Arnold vs old Arnold fight. These parts certainly make the movie watchable, and a somewhat enjoyable diversion. But overall, the time-travel plot-line and attempt to create a whole new timeline is a little too complicated, and while it allows for the reworking of classic scenes with a twist, it just isn’t enough to add up to a film that is able to stand on its own two feet.

Overall Grade: C+

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