Moviegoers looking for something new have two options this weekend: Magic Mike XXL and Terminator: Genisys. As nerds, we’re more likely to opt for the robot- and time travel-filled latter film, but I’m here to tell you: Channing Tatum Shakes His Butt for Two Hours is the better option. Or at least the more memorable one. Terminator: Genisys is one big bucket of blehhhhhhh.
The premise of Genisys, as explained in the trailer, is that Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) goes back in time to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who’s been sent to kill her, as in James Cameron’s original film. Only when Reese gets to 1984, he discovers that something funky has happened with alternate timelines; this Sarah already knows about killer robots and the future nuclear apocalypse, and she’s more like the gun-toting hardass T2: Judgement Day Sarah than the innocent, feathered-hair Terminator version.
While not a franchise reboot, the time travel shenanigans of Terminator: Genisys are such that certain small moments from the original Terminator get redone, often with a little twist. So we get Jai Courtney running through a department store and picking up some Velcro Nike high-tops and Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor delivering the iconic line “Come with me if you want to live” (which went to Reese and the Terminator in the first two films, respectively). The unfortunate effect of these callbacks, which are fun in theory, is to put a glaring spotlight on the movie’s biggest flaw: Genisys’ new actors are nowhere close to being as good as their predecessors.
Emilia Clarke is a pale, unconvincing shade of Linda Hamilton, her Sarah Connor coming across less as a complete character than someone who found her mom’s black tank top and guns in the closet and decided to play dress-up. Jason Clarke is similarly unexceptional as John Connor, which should have been the meatiest, most dramatic role in the film. And Jai Courtney may have the bulging muscles and the male model good looks that The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn lacked, but Biehn’s Kyle Reese felt like a war-hardened soldier from a post-apocalyptic wasteland, while Courtney’s Reese is just bland. Which is Courtney’s thing, really. I don’t get why he keeps getting all these big movies. A Good Day to Die Hard. Divergent. Suicide Squad. He’s like some sort of boredom disease that franchises keep passing around.
J.K. Simmons as new character O’Brien works, because J.K. Simmons is always great even when he has less than stellar material to work with. Seeing Dayo Okeniyi, as Miles Dyson, try to make something out of his nothing role made me thank God that John Boyega, who originally had the part, was able to jump ship and swim to Star Wars. Matt Smith is… there. And Arnold Schwarzenegger… I never though I’d say this, but his acting is among the best in the film. He kills it as the Terminator. A little funny, a little emotional, a little offbeat, but not too much. Every time he’s on-screen, he gives Genisys a shot in the arm it desperately needed, because Arnie is the Terminator, and he knows what the f*ck he is doing. This movie was like a two-hour session of him trying to teach the law firm of Clarke, Clarke, and Courtney how to have screen presence, only none of them were getting it.
Genisys went balls-out with the time travel twistiness, which I like, and the effects were good, unsettlingly plastic-looking young Schwarzenegger from early in the film aside. But none of it means anything with main characters who are so damn bland. It makes me worried for the two planned sequels, because it’s a pretty big problem, and I don’t know how they can fix it. Bringing in a new director able to wring compelling performances out of the milequetoast materials he has to work with could do it… but I haven’t seen much to convince me that’s possible with Courtney, and I’ve always found Emilia Clarke a bit wooden on Game of Thrones.
Schwarzenegger needs to hold a hardcore intervention for those two and Jason Clarke before the second movie starts filming. If nothing else, Genisys has made me appreciate him as an actor. He may not be Oscar-worthy talent, but dammit, he’s great at what he does. There’s a reason he’s iconic as he is. The man knows how to work the camera.
Arnie: Take the kids to school.