Review by Daniel Rester
Cyborgs are really hard to kill. Apparently so are movie franchises about cyborgs. Terminator Genisys is now the fifth entry in the Terminator film franchise and marks the return of star Arnold Schwarzenegger to the series. But does the film honor the Terminator name or is it another disappointment like the third and fourth entries were for most audience members?
Genisys begins in the year 2029 in Los Angeles, where the humans are near victory against Skynet and the machines. But Skynet has one last plan to try and crush the human resistance: to send a T-800 back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) so that way resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) will never be born. So this leads John Connor to send soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect Sarah. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact plot of The Terminator (1984).
Where things get different with Genisys is when Reese and the T-800 arrive in 1984. The Terminator is quickly destroyed by Sarah and another, older T-800 (Schwarzenegger) called Guardian – and nicknamed “Pops” by Sarah (cringe). Guardian was sent back to 1973 to protect Sarah, so she has since been raised by it in a way up until that point.
The arrival of both Guardian and other machines has caused a fractured timeline that differs from Reese’s. This makes it so events from the previous films – with more focus on the first two films’ events — have been altered in ways. Guardian, Sarah, and Kyle must navigate this new timeline and figure out how to stop Skynet. Much more is in their way past that, but let’s avoid spoiler-territory – in case one hasn’t seen the annoyingly spoiler-heavy trailers for the film yet.
Genisys – written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier and directed by Alan Taylor – puts fans of the Terminator films in a strange position. I must first admit that I do think this is a better film than the third and fourth entries, though it is nowhere near the level of quality of the first two films. It provides enough solid summer entertainment, at least for me, for some of its obvious flaws to be more forgiven.
As far as the strange position goes, I mean that I felt a lot of the movie has a real love and admiration for the James Cameron-directed films — until it doesn’t. This is especially true of the first 20-30 minutes or so, which pays homage to the pictures in classy and detailed ways while also doing its own thing at the same time; the tone and pacing feel a bit Cameron-esque also, though not as masterfully handled as Cameron would handle it. A big issue is that the timeline alteration makes it so the filmmakers change certain elements later on in the film that render the events of the previous films to not matter as much. There is also a certain dealing with John Connor that is alternately interesting and aggravating, though Jason Clarke does play him well throughout.
The rest of the cast is fine too, but Schwarzenegger is the only one who really shines. At age 67, the actor proves he is still a force in this franchise with both his charm and muscularity at play. Emilia Clarke has the looks as Sarah Connor and is game, but I never really felt the weight and believability from her that Linda Hamilton brought to the famous character. Courtney fairs a little better as Reese because the character gets more (welcome) development than he has in the previous films; he lacks the fierce energy that Michael Biehn originally brought to the part though. Big names like J.K. Simmons and Matt Smith also pop up in small but important roles, but their talents mostly feel wasted as the characters they portray don’t feel as developed as they should.
The story in Genisys is a real mixed bag (as described before), and the dialogue is very robotic (haha) and exposition-heavy. Kalogridis and Lussier do come up with a few awesome situations in the screenplay, though, and Taylor’s direction is functional and occasionally impressive. The pacing of the film somehow makes the picture feel like a slog at times, but Taylor does well with capturing both the big set pieces and small-scale action; one scene involving a school bus is especially exciting.
The special effects of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) were groundbreaking when the film came out. While the effects in Genisys are polished for the most part, a lot of the CGI images feel familiar at this point. Seeing liquid-metal cyborgs is still pretty entertaining, but there isn’t too much here in terms of game-changing work. Basically the effects in Genisys are serviceable, but I just didn’t get that wow factor that T2 provided years ago.
It might sound like I’m mixed on a lot of the elements of Genisys, and I am. But the bottom line is that I was also really entertained while watching it. The old Cameron elements prove that they still have impact and enough of the new elements function just good enough. The action scenes – while occasionally choppy – are also fun without being too dumb or chaotic.
Seeing Schwarzenegger back in T-800 mode is great for fans of the actor’s golden days. Sure, it is a bit old hearing recycled uses of classic lines like “I’ll be back,” but at the same time there are plenty of fresh and silly moments that are new that work. For instance, Guardian at one point smashes face-first into the windshield of a car and simply tells the driver “Get out.” Genisys is not an amazing sequel but it has enough of those moments and others that keep my view of it on the positive side.
My Grade: B (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD or See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 5 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: July 1st, 2015.
Here are a couple of pictures I was able to take at a Terminator Genisys press conference in Los Angeles, California: