Terminator: Genisys may have boasted Arnie’s return and GoT’s Emilia Clarke, but this couldn’t save a weak script and tortured production.
The 2015 reboot Terminator: Genisys was widely derided by critics and fans of the franchise, so what went so wrong with the much-anticipated installment? Beginning in 1984 with Aliens helmer James Cameron’s original The Terminator, the franchise has since moved on from that film’s sparse, slasher-influenced horror into the more expansive time-traveling action of Judgment Day and Rise of the Machines, the post-apocalyptic war movie Terminator Salvation, and two attempted franchise reboots in Genisys and Dark Fate.
Since James Cameron left the director’s chair after the beloved second movie Judgment Day, the Terminator franchise has struggled to regain the critical acclaim it once enjoyed and in recent years the series had begun to struggle at the box office too. The series is a rare property that, despite inspiring countless action-thrillers and sci-fi series in the years since it began, has managed to produce not one, not two, but three failed reboots. The failure of the first Terminator reboot 2009’s Salvation, has been well documented.
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Originally, Terminator Salvation’s script featured an interesting premise centered around a new character who scavenged the post-apocalyptic future of the franchise, but the screenplay was rewritten when Christian Bale came aboard and became a more conventional, less intriguing thriller. Meanwhile, the failure of 2019’s Dark Fate was easier to predict as fans were no longer enthusiastic about the prospect of a new Terminator after so many disappointing additions, with Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys all letting down viewers and critics. However, not a lot of analysis has been afforded to why 2015’s Terminator: Genisys flopped, and anyone interested in the future of the series would do well to interrogate the reasons this outing fell flat despite boasting the star of Game of Thrones and the return of the original Terminator himself Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Terminator: Genisys’ Development Hell
Languishing in development hell for over a decade, the project that eventually became known as Terminator: Genisys – and the rights to the franchise itself – changed hands countless times. Enthusiasm was not at fever pitch for a new Terminator sequel after the muted reception and critical dismissal Salvation received. Meanwhile, the bankruptcy proceedings of Terminator franchise’s owners the Halcyon Company set in motion a series of copyright reshuffles that further sapped enthusiasm for the sequel’s prospects. Eventually, Paramount Pictures emerged triumphant from a series of negotiations that involved numerous hedge funds, Universal Studios, Skydance, MGM, Sony, and Lionsgate at different junctures. In a bit of promising news for fans, legendary action director/Fast and Furious franchise hero Justin Lin was announced as the director of this proposed franchise relaunch. He then dropped out, and rumors of Dennis Villeneuve and Rian Johnson being attached soon came to nothing.
Terminator: Genisys’ Convoluted Plot
With a plot spanning no less than seven different time periods, the story of Genisys could not have been more complicated. Even for a franchise that was already infamous for its knotty, complicated chronology, that’s saying something. In rough order of onscreen occurrence, the action of Terminator: Genisys sees John Connor send Kyle Reese back in time to save his mother Sarah Connor, only for Kyle to discover she has already been saved and raised by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s aging T-800. Then John himself is killed by a T-5000, who recreates him via nano-bots and sends Terminator-John to kill his parents, who in turn travel in time to stop Skynet (via the titular app) from taking over the world. That’s the cliff notes version, but it’s even more complicated than that sounds. Screenwriters Patrick Lussier (of My Bloody Valentine 3D fame) and Laeta Kalogridis reportedly rejected the opportunity to draft a script twice before accepting, and their reticence is on full display in the messy, over-complicated story of Genisys.
Terminator: Genisys’ Tortured Making Of
With star Emilia Clarke saying that Terminator: Genisys’s eventual director Alan Taylor was “eaten and chewed up on Terminator,” it is clear the production was messy enough to test the well-weathered abilities of a veteran who had worked with Disney, HBO, and even the MCU. No one involved in the production has been particularly forthcoming about the specific issues that plagued the shoot, but Clarke’s admission she was relieved by the movie’s failure precluding any chance of a sequel says a lot about the atmosphere among the cast and crew of Genisys. Clarke also injured her hip during the shooting of Terminator: Genisys and another onset anecdote from the actor claimed the crew of the notoriously troubled 2015 reboot Fantastic 4 wore jackets saying “At Least We’re Not On Terminator.” Cameron’s later admission he only supported the sequel for Schwarzenegger’s sake further proves the movie’s production must have been contentious, given how famously uncompromising Cameron is as a director.
Terminator: Genisys’ Miscasting
A major issue noted by many critics of Terminator: Genisys is the fact there is less than zero chemistry between Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke, the movie’s stars. Typically, an action-thriller could potentially weather this issue with effective setpieces – after all, Terminator 2 was not noted for its romantic content. However, the fact the plot of Genisys centers on their eventual offspring John Connor proves problematic here, as his very existence seems unlikely given the general lack of spark between his supposed parents. On the subject of John, Jason Clarke gives a typically solid performance and the revelation the resistance leader is actually a Terminator in disguise is an effective shock – which makes it unforgivable the trailers for Genisys gave away the fact he became a villain long before audiences saw the movie.
In the years since Genisys was released, Jai Courtney’s charmingly unhinged turn in Suicide Squad, Clarke’s underrated work on the later seasons of Game of Thrones, and Clarke’s terrifying role as a photo-snapping serial killer in The Devil All The Time has proven the cast of Genisys could have fulfilled their roles with aplomb. However, a drawn-out pre-production tangle of rights issues, a messy, convoluted script, and the movie’s apparently awful production process conspired to doom the potential that Terminator: Genisys may have had as a franchise reboot.
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