Terminator Genisys

There are some people who are just born with the tools they need to succeed. I've read that one reason why Michael Phillips has broken so many Olympic records is because he has freakishly long arms, and that one reason why Lance Armstrong won so many Tour De France races was because he was born with unusually large lungs. (Also: he was completely willing to cheat his ass off, but that's a topic for another time.) 

As for me? Well, I was born with the sort of unbreakable brain that is necessary for successfully watching shitty movies.

You see, I watched Terminator Genisys last night and it was about as good as you'd expect the fifth movie in a franchise about time traveling robots to be. Which is to say that it is okay - most franchises have learned where their bread is buttered by the fifth installment, and as expected Genisys delivers several decent robot-on-robot catfights. But that is also to say that Genisys is kind of awful because the whole Terminator endeavor feels pretty exhausted at this point; so many different creative teams have stacked so many convoluted time travel stories on top of each other for so long that trying to figure out what the hell is going on in any individual installment is increasingly impossible. Even worse, the main characters have been photocopied so many times that they feel more like walking backstories than actual people. In other words, these movies have stopped being movies and started being excuses for setpieces...

Which is fine, except for the fact that those setpieces are best described as "decent" - not as groundbreaking, not truly lackluster... Just "decent". 

Consider this: at around the ninety minute mark the three main good guys - (a soldier from the future named Kyle Reese; a reprogrammed T-800 robot nicknamed "Pops"; and Sarah Connor, the plucky young woman who is destined to give birth to humanity's savior) - get into a big fight with an evil Terminator on the Golden Gate bridge. That's right: the same Golden Gate bridge where James Franco fought all the apes in the climax of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And which was also destroyed in the Godzilla reboot from 2014. And which was also assaulted by monsters in Pacific Rim. And which is in San Francisco, which was utterly destroyed in Star Trek into Darkness.

That's four other movies in the last five years that had extremely similar scenes in extremely similar locations. So, yes, Genisys' big Golden Gate fight scene is totally fine - but who cares? You've seen it before. 

Now, a normal mortal would probably have found Terminator Genisys to be dispiriting; this is the sort of unasked-for unnecessary sequel that regularly crushes weak-willed viewers. But I'm no mere mortal and I refuse to bow down before bad blockbusters. And fortunately I have the skill set necessary to alchemize an underwhelming movie like this into something enjoyable. So while your average viewer was wasting their time trying to figure out how all of the multiple contradictory potential timelines interacted with each other, or making futile attempts at empathizing with these cardboard characters, I was making up a more interesting film in my own mind.

For example, in Terminator 2 Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 robot comes from the future to save Sarah Connor when she is a full grown woman, but in Genisys he goes back farther in time and saves her when she's 9 years old. He's called "Pops" in this movie because he basically raised her - which is an interesting premise that this film just uses as a set-up for a few forgettable one-liner quips. But what if Genisys had really explored their relationship? What would it be like to grow up with a killer robot as a father figure?

In my mind this version of Terminator Genisys is a lot like one of those bad 80's sitcoms where some poor schlubby dad suddenly has to raise his kids all by himself (except way more violent.) So you'd have the episode where "Pops" has to explain puberty to poor Sarah, which of course would go poorly; there's no way that he would be able to explain menstruation to her in any sort of satisfactory way. And then he'd probably end up making it up to her by building her a mechanical puppy or by exploding some future assassins who wanted to crash her birthday party. Or there would be the episode where some bratty kid named Becky insults Sarah's outfit and then instantly regrets it after "Pops" crushes her larynx in his oversize hands...

Or if you don't like the idea of a father-daughter comedy there are other options. At the end of Genisys' first act Sarah and Kyle time-jump from 1984 to 2017, leaving "Pops" behind. He meets them in the future the hard way - by living a day at a time until thirty years have passed. The movie does nothing to establish how he spent these lost years - well, it does show that he built a giant underground base full of military equipment underneath a very popular San Francisco tourist attraction, which seems likes a stretch but whatever. Still, hauling grenades into an underground bunker without getting noticed by any out-of-towners can't have taken him the full three decades. So what was he doing? Mastering Tetris? Cruising for cyborg strange on Grindr? Attempting to govern California? I want a version of Genisys that is just like the John Prine song "Jesus: The Missing Years" except with fewer miracles and more mayhem.

Alas, those are just the movies that exist in my mind and not the movie we actually got. But that's fine; the real Genisys is just competent enough to be watchable, and if you watch it long enough then it can give you some decent food for thought / joke fodder, and if you're willing to do the uphill work yourself then you can end up having a good enough time. Maybe that sounds like too much hassle for you - and that's fair enough. But I'm willing to do that work. Hell, I was born to do that work. So make room on the winner's podium, Michael and Lance - you're about to be joined on the winner's podium by another freak who is at the peak of his craft.

Winner: Draw

Terminator Genisys on IMDB