Terminator Genisys is a good entry point for new viewers, with worthwhile setup for future installments, but falls short in evolving core elements of the series.
In 2029, after decades of war with Skynet, John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a human resistance against the machines in one final offensive. The successful destruction of Skynet’s defense grid allows Connor and his rebel force a fleeting moment of victory – until the malevolent AI deploys a failsafe weapon: a time machine through which a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) will travel back to 1984 and kill John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), before she can give birth to the resistance leader.
John’s closest comrade, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), agrees to follow the T-800 through time to protect Sarah – who, according to John, will be naive, helpless, and unprepared for battles to come. However, when Reese appears in 1984, the past is very different from the one John described, and with that drastically altered past comes the potential for a drastically altered future – where Skynet and its Terminators are more dangerous than ever before.
After the Judgement Day sequel Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and future-set war movie Terminator: Salvation both failed to reignite interest in the Terminator franchise, Paramount Pictures recruited screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier to pen a new entry, Terminator Genisys, that would retcon prior installments and pave the way for a modern trilogy. As a result, director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has delivered an entertaining entry in the franchise – albeit one that spends more time resetting Terminator mythology and educating filmgoers on time-travel mechanics, than presenting imaginative or memorable sci-fi action. To that end, Terminator Genisys is a good entry point for new viewers, with worthwhile setup for future installments, but falls short in evolving core elements of the series.
The Genisys script is entertaining – with intriguing (though not particularly inventive) science fiction ideas, and a fun role for Schwarzenegger’s latest iteration of the T-800 (akin to the “trained” version from Judgement Day). Still, even though Taylor lays a fertile foundation, Genisys stops short of actually developing or exploring any of its philosophical ruminations. The T-800’s “humanity” isn’t a significant progression from John’s protector in T2, and Skynet, in spite of more personification, boils down to a bare “Kill humans. Survive.” motivation. Terminator Salvation may have been a generic franchise failure, but at the very least, the film added a brave idea to Terminator mythology: a Terminator that was programmed to “feel.” Genisys does the opposite: updating the world but doing little outside of major shifts in the timeline, to evolve or provide added understanding of the central cast of characters.
Retconning prior events and establishing an unmapped course, while maintaining narrative continuity, is the film’s biggest success – and the most encouraging aspect of the series going forward. Taylor and the screenwriters plant clever ideas that keep Genisys from rehashing Terminator 1-3 plot beats, but even with a two-hour run time, few of these ideas blossom into bold insights (at least not in a single film). The movie’s action set-pieces are equally undercooked, and in short supply, with above average visual effects that service the storyline but do not represent a memorable leap forward in quality or creativity. The T-3000 has a few new tricks (and one or two cool CGI moments), but is just a slightly faster and more versatile killing machine (think Kristanna Loken’s T-X) – one that is actually less ominous than his sci-fi predecessors (Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable T-800 and Robert Patrick’s terrifying T-1000).
As mentioned, in the face of early skepticism toward Schwarzenegger’s silver-haired T-800 – aka “Pops” – the hero machine is a highlight of the film, as the aging actor gets to blend “too old for this crap” action-hero clichés with the stilted charm and humor of John Connor’s Judgement Day machine protector. Instead of an obsolete machine, worn down by years of fighting, Pops could be the toughest as well as most entertaining T-800 audiences have seen, due to a wry (and at times touching) relationship with Clarke’s battle-hardened Sarah Connor.
Clarke is at her best when interacting with Schwarzenegger, but the actress also brings a fresh layer to Terminator‘s main heroine. Where Linda Hamilton was at first a naive and frail damsel in distress, then a hardened and militaristic resistance fighter, Clarke’s nineteen-year-old Sarah is somewhere in the middle: a skilled warrior, bitter toward her fated role in the war ahead as mother to mankind’s only hope against Skynet. Just as Clarke is competent, but won’t replace Hamilton as the definitive Sarah Connor, Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese is a solid version of the hero, with plenty to work with in Genisys, but unlikely to overtake Michael Biehn’s fan-favorite turn.
Nevertheless, Genisys makes smart use of retconning with a unique twist on Sarah and Kyle’s romance – as well as brief but compelling exploration of John’s relationship with Kyle in the future – before he knowingly sends his father back in time. Jason Clarke injects vulnerability and humanity into his post-Judgement Day John, especially in comparison to Christian Bale’s one-note take in Salvation; though, even with a significant amount of screen time in Genisys, Taylor’s John Connor is the least compelling character – a hollow outline that pales in comparison to the hero’s fictional legacy within the franchise.
Terminator Genisys is also playing in 3D and 3D IMAX theaters – and the right ticket tier will be dependent on a viewer’s pre-screening enthusiasm. Terminator Genisys is not a must-see 3D or IMAX 3D experience but, given the movie’s big budget CGI spectacle, a bigger screen, broader sound, and 3D will provide a more immersive experience for moviegoers who don’t mind the added cost.
After twenty-five years of failed franchise building, Genisys puts the Terminator series back on track, with a mix of good moments and smart world building that make for entertaining viewing, as well as a solid platform for future franchise expansion. Taylor has improved upon previous paint-by-number Terminator sequels – providing an engaging (though half-cooked) successor to James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Terminator Genisys runs 126 minutes and is Rated PG – 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Terminator Genisys Spoilers Discussion. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Terminator Genisys episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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