Terminator Genisys Needs More J.K. Simmons, Less Recycling
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2015 1 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 10, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: July 1, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language)
Run Time: 125 min.
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Byung-hun Lee, Courtney B. Vance
It’s not until well into Terminator Genisys—after we’ve been re-introduced to John Connor (Jason Clarke, Lawless), Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, Dom Hemingway), Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Divergent) and to the cyborg that made Arnold Schwarzenegger famous—that J.K. Simmons enters the film. The recent Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner for his portrayal of a volatile jazz-band teacher in Whiplash is a delight as O’Brien, a detective whose theories about time travel have earned him a reputation as a crackpot. Until, that is, the Connors, who he remembers encountering in the 1980s, reappear in 2017. As he slowly puts together the pieces of the story behind the time-traveling humans and the machines (terminators) tasked with killing Sarah Connor, he lights up with the dawning knowledge that could change the world—if only his colleagues would believe him.
Simmons provides the comic highlight of Terminator Genisys, which follows the dreadfully dull Terminator Salvation (2009). That fourth Terminator film (following Terminator , Terminator 2: Judgment Day  and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ) should have killed off the franchise, but in today's Hollywood, one misfire among an otherwise successful film series is not enough to leave the franchise dead and buried. Reviving the Terminator films, it turns out, was as simple as concocting some inelegant time-travel dialogue to justify yet another installment in the series. And, based on the prime July 4 weekend opening slot for Genisys, the studio likely is confident enough in the anticipated audience response that it probably already has another chapter queued up and ready to go into production soon.
Will you be among those buying tickets to Terminator Genisys this weekend? Not if you're the type of viewer who demands that a movie's time-travel storyline makes sense. Terminator Genisys fails to muster a serious explanation for why we're watching the same characters go through a deja vu scenario.
The basic premise remains the same: In the future, John Connor will lead a successful human uprising against the out-of-control computer system Skynet, but just before Connor delivers the death blow, Skynet will send a terminator back to 1984. That necessitates the sending back of Reese to the same year to protect Sarah and thereby preserve the birth of her son, who will lead humanity to victory over Skynet.
But things are different this time around. Sarah is friendly with Pops—the affectionate name given the aged terminator played by Schwarzenegger—who has watched over her since she was a child. The screenplay leaves it to Pops to explain to the film's key characters that Reese experienced a "nexus point" while time traveling that supposedly explains away all the deviations between this Terminator timeline and the events of the earlier films.
The plot is about as fun to watch unfold as it is to explain. The confusion of seeing re-created scenes from the first Terminator subsides once the story shakes out a bit, but what's left is neither exciting nor interesting. Jason Clarke is the best of the new actors in the franchise, giving John a mix of idealism and menace, thanks in no small part to the scars his face carries from the many battles he's fought against Skynet. Courtney can't do much with the poorly-written lines for Reese, but at least he's less distracting than Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor, whose attempts at wacky banter with Pops and Reese fall flat repeatedly. Schwarzenegger's appearance is welcome, but his best lines have a stale quality, leaving Simmons as the movie's most consistently appealing asset.
So here's a humble suggestion for the screenwriters of the next Terminator movie: Make O'Brien the central character next time around. A story with him at the center can't be any worse than Terminator Genisys, and, based on Simmons’ performance here—not to mention his rising stock after that Oscar win—it likely will be much improved.
The only thing better than that possibility would be to end the Terminator franchise altogether, but who are we kidding? While this summer's Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road have reinvigorated those franchises with fresh ideas and well-executed action, the makers of Terminator Genisys appear content to recycle earlier dialogue and to try to build a new story around a scenario that feels increasingly played out.
These characters will be back again soon. Skynet can't defeat them, and today's movie industry needs the franchise's familiarity more than ever.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: The Lord’s name taken in vain; several uses of foul language, including the f-word; “bite me”
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: O’Brien is asked if he’s been drinking, and it’s suggested that he’s a drunk
- Sex/Nudity: Each time-traveling character enters and exits the time travel while nude, although no private parts are shown; John stares at Sarah’s silhouette as she dresses; Pops asks about John and Sarah, “Did you mate?”
- Violence/Crime: An opening voiceover explains that Skynet turned our nuclear weapons against us, and 3 billion people died; extensive battle scenes, gunfire; terminators kill others by impaling them; terminators are shot and wounded, but quickly regenerate; multiple car crashes and reckless driving
- Religion/Marriage/Morals: John is said to have been described as a prophet; discussions about fate
Publication date: July 1, 2015