If there were one phrase that I would use to describe my attitude towards movies this summer, it would be “cautiously optimistic.” After all, some of the biggest films to hit theaters this season include a number of sequel/reboots of long-running franchises that haven’t exactly given their fans a ton of reasons to be confident. Plus there’s ‘Ant-Man,‘ but don’t get me started on that. But ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and ‘Jurassic World’ definitely surprised audiences and critics alike by being excellent summer blockbusters and then some. And while the jury is still out on Scott Lang’s Marvel Cinematic Universe debut scheduled for later this month, it turns out that ‘Terminator Genisys’ is yet another surprisingly fun cinematic offering.
Arnold Schwarzenegger made good on his promise and he is back in the iconic role that he originated back in 1984. Marking the fifth installment of the ‘Terminator’ series (sixth if you count the criminally short ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ TV show), Alan Taylor’s sci-fi time travel adventure catches up with John Connor in the year 2029 as his Resistance forces wage war against Skynet and its machines. But as he prepares to send Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect his mother Sarah Connor, a Terminator assassin sets into motion a series of events that creates an alternate timeline where Sarah was raised by a Terminator guardian and isn’t in need of saving. Instead, she and Kyle need to team up to take down Skynet before it becomes operational, however, an unexpected foe stands in their way.
First of all, I have to say that Paramount Pictures really screwed the pooch with their promotion of ‘Terminator Genisys.’ By revealing a huge plot point in their trailers and posters, it took away from impact of the reveal. It’s a bummer that director Taylor keeps getting shafted in some way with his major motion pictures. If it isn’t Marvel Studios keeping too much exposition in ‘Thor: The Dark World,’ it’s Paramount giving too much away in the promos. Of course, there are other twists that remained intact, but for anyone that saw the trailers prior to seeing the movie, a big part of the story was spoiled and that’s super unfortunate because it would have been a great twist. That’s why I’m not going to talk about it here in case some lucky person hasn’t been spoiled yet.
Luckily, there is still plenty of good stuff to talk about. For instance, I enjoyed the use of nostalgia throughout the film. Just like ‘Jurassic World,’ I found the musical cues and the references to the original films like the catchphrases, the leather jackets, and the ancillary characters to be very well placed and cleverly modified for the new story. My favorite throwback though was the T-1000 played by Lee Byung-hun. The intimidating liquid metal Terminator originally played by Robert Patrick in ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ had a chance to shine in ‘Genisys’ just as it did back in 1991. The T-1000’s legacy of being one of the greatest villains ever is certainly upheld, but I did wish that we got to spend a little bit more time with it onscreen terrorizing our heroes.
Another thing that I found enjoyable about the film is the alternate timeline created by these events. Probably stemming from my love of ‘Back to the Future 2’ and ‘What If?’ comics, I’m a fan of seeing what would happen to beloved characters had something gone slightly different. Just as the new ‘Star Trek’ films have done’, this also allows the original stories that we’ve come to know and love to be preserved while new tales are told.
Also in altering the timeline, Skynet’s motives were changed from when we were first introduced to the robotic menace. Instead of being instituted by the government, it’s actually an operating system meant to link our devices together. This alteration provides an interesting commentary on our relationship with technology, but that message doesn’t get in the way of the story that it’s trying to tell.
However, something that does get in the way of the story though is the lack of chemistry between stars Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney. The actress from ‘Game of Thrones’ is certainly a badass, but not in the same way that Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor was a badass in ‘Judgment Day.’ Clarke is a great Khaleesi (acting wise), but she’s just not so good as a soldier. Despite that, there were still redeeming qualities about her performance.
Courtney on the other hand was pretty vanilla as Kyle Reese. He wasn’t as edgy or gritty as Michael Biehn was in the role and he didn’t make me believe that he was in love with Sarah at all, which is a problem since that’s supposed to be a pretty big motivation for the character. I don’t know how Courtney keeps landing these roles in major franchises. Studios bring him onto every project that Tom Hardy is too busy for and that needs to stop.
Though this was (at some points unfortunately) Kyle Reese’s story, I feel like the film would have benefited more from focusing on Sarah Connor. There should have been more of Sarah and Pops (the older T-800 unit) growing up in the 70s. I also really wanted to know who sent the Terminator guardian back there in the first place, but I’m guessing that it’s information being withheld until the sequel.
But with these criticisms aside, ‘Terminator Genisys’ was still a solid summer movie. At first, I thought that I had the bar set so low thanks to ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ and ‘Terminator Salvation,’ but after thinking about it for a little while, I found that I legitimately enjoyed watching the newest offering in the series, partially thanks to it ignored the less than stellar sequels in the same way that ‘Jurassic World’ had done. The special effects, action sequences, and CGI were on point. Schwarzenegger was at the top of his game as the heart and humor of the film. And above all, ‘Genisys’ did a great job of revitalizing this franchise that was in a pretty steep downward spiral since it was first revisited in the 2000s. It probably helped that I rewatched the first two before I went to the theater, but it definitely isn’t necessary. As long as you’re ready for the best chapter of ‘Terminator’ mythology since ‘Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time’, you’ll be all set.