Two ground-breaking and truly awesome films plus two severely underwhelming sequels later, I was scarcely hopeful when I learned that the Terminator franchise was getting yet another installment. In a way, it made sense to do one now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is pretty much 100% back among the Hollywood stars, but since the last two sequels messed with the timeline so aggressively, I can’t imagine many fans were optimistic, even if the return of Arnold is a welcome one.
It did, however, seem as though the makers of this new film were aware of how illogical the Terminator-timeline has become, and decided to go all out with this one by utterly rewriting everything we know. And in spite of revealing far too many of these twists and subversions in its ads, the final movie did entertain me a lot more than I ever thought it would. In fact, I’m not gonna lie – it is the best one since Terminator 2! And it doesn’t hurt that it totally ignores the continuity of Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation either.
Terminator Genisys, as this film is so eloquently called, begins by taking us back to that post-apocalyptic future ruled by the machines of Skynet that we saw in the original films, and this time it looks far more similar to the future depicted in the originals than that snore-fest Salvation did. Renowned war hero John Connor (Jason Clarke this time) is leading his team of rebels to the HQ of Skynet, which they finally succeed in destroying, only to discover that Skynet have sent one of their human-impersonating robots back in time – a Terminator, model T-800 to be precise – to prevent Connor’s birth and thus humanity’s victory against the machines. Oops.
John Connor knows what must be done, so he sends a sergeant he saved as a child, named Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), back to the same time period as the T-800, namely 1984, to stop it from killing John’s mother Sarah Connor, portrayed by Emilia Clarke here and previously played by Linda Hamilton and Lena Headey, making this the second time Sarah Connor is played by a Game of Thrones star.
At this point in the film, it looks as if we’re watching a remake of James Cameron‘s original Terminator from 1984, but just as we’ve seen a reenactment of the classic scene where Arnold as the T-800 steals clothing from a group of thugs, complete with a CG’d younger version of Arnold, things begin to look a little different. The T-800 is suddenly cornered and destroyed by a much older-looking version of himself (also Arnold, minus CG), and Kyle Reese quickly discovers that this older robot is working together with Sarah Connor (she calls it “Pops”), who’s not exactly the damsel in distress he expected. Kyle realizes that he has, in fact, been sent to a whole different timeline. And not only that, but he also harbors “alternate” memories from his past, which may hold the key to undoing the very day Skynet rose – Judgement Day! How confusingly convenient.
After a run-in with another threat sent from the future, a T-1000 – known for its regenerating liquid metal and played by Lee Byung-hun instead of Robert Patrick – our heroes make it to the base of Sarah and “Pops”, where the two have managed to construct a crude copy of Skynet’s time machine. They use it to send Sarah and Kyle to 2017, the year from which Kyle has new/”alternate” memories of a certain app leading to the start of Skynet’s reign. They’re supposed to rejoin an even older “Pops” here but alas, they are arrested, and they have a run-in with a paranoid policeman who remembers them from the 80’s (J.K. Simmons) and another enemy sent from the future which I won’t reveal. Or, okay, since the trailers already spoiled it – it’s John Connor, turned into a new type of Terminator that can regenerate via nanotechnology.
I don’t really see the point of including so many twists and plot details in the film’s promotional material. You’d think we would have learned a lesson from the equally spoiler-heavy advertising of Terminator 2. Obviously not, I guess.
Now, as much as I surprisingly enjoyed Terminator Genisys, it does suffer from a fair share of trite action clichés, one such example being “car dangling off a bridge with the heroes inside”, and sometimes the action scenes themselves are a bit too long for their own good. Sometimes, mind you.
On that note, let us discuss the visual effects, which are thankfully a lot better in the finished film than in promo clips such as this ungodly one (seriously, get a load of poor Arnold’s superimposed face on that stunt bod). My favourite CG effect was probably that of the “Nano Terminator”, and the younger version of Arnold looks much more convincing here than in Terminator: Salvation. Even if the film suffers from Jurassic World‘s problem of not being as genuinely awe-inspiring in its effects as “the original” – or at least Terminator 2 in this case – it’s still good enough to entice you, particularly thanks to the splendid sound design during, for instance, the robot fights. It gives the CGI a sense of weight, perhaps even more successfully here than in Jurassic World.
The actors do a fine job and their characters are compelling enough to keep things interesting. I could stomach Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, I liked Jason Clarke’s John Connor even more, post-assimilation at least, and I fancied the idea of casting Doctor Who star Matt Smith as a certain side-character. The only true bore is Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, who doesn’t even look like Michael Biehn. He looks hunky and pretty, though, and I suppose that’s all this generation needs.
And with regards to good old Arnold Schwarzenegger, I simply must say: the corny one-liners and other call-backs to his days of prime are much greater a charm here than they were in, say, The Expendables 3. But, y’know, it would have been considerably MORE awesome if we got to hear Brad Fiedel‘s classic Terminator theme during other parts of the film besides the end credits. We don’t even get a proper Terminator-esque title sequence. We just get the title “Terminator: Genisys” briefly flashed in our faces accompanied by that overused “BWAAAMHH” sound effect made inexplicably popular by Inception.
That, my friends, was such an abysmal sign that it makes me even happier that I had no need to hate this movie as much as I thought I would. I say give this film a shot. If you don’t fall for the nostalgia, you may still have a fun and explosive time that doesn’t take itself too seriously in terms of time travel logic. It also connects modern humanity’s over-reliance on smart phones and social networking with “the rise of the machines” and I cannot help but find that a little but funny.
I dare go so far as to say that, to me, this is the real Terminator 3. Not a tired repeat of the second film, just a fun follow-up that does something new entirely with the franchise and mostly keeps you interested (but let’s be honest, it’s a better “time travel” movie than it is a genuine Terminator movie). I just hope this is it for the series. The way this one ends, I really hope they’re wise enough to say “Hasta la vista” instead of “I’ll be back”.
EDIT: I only just now caught on to the fact that Genisys is actually meant to be the beginning of a planned “reboot” trilogy, possibly explaining why some of this film’s questions remained unanswered. So maybe it isn’t “Hasta la vista” just yet.