Disaster. That’s what I was expecting when I went to see Terminator: Genisys tonight. The critical reviews were so low that I walked into this thinking that somehow it was going to be worse than Terminator: Salvation, which I didn’t think was possible for a movie in this franchise. Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film at 26%. That’s Adam Sandler movie territory (and roughly what I expect Pixels to get when it comes out). Well, you know what? Walking out of T5, the two things I’m maddest at are the critics that make up Rotten Tomatoes ever-increasing unreliability and the unbelievable meathead who put together the movie’s trailers. This is not a disaster. This is a TERMINATOR MOVIE! Like I said, I like T3, but this makes the most sense as a direct sequel to Jim Cameron’s first two films in the franchise and it is a more than worthy entry.
Terminator: Genisys is a clear attempt to take what was done with 2011’s Star Trek and apply it to the Terminator franchise to give it new life. While it’s not as brilliant or as smooth a shift as JJ Abrams pulled off in Trek, Alan Taylor directs a film that should put Terminator back in the game (this is the first of three planned films if Jurassic World and reviews don’t sink it). The method of the reboot is that someone has messed with the timelines. When Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) arrives in 1984 to protect a waitress named Sarah Connor who will someday be the mother of humanity’s protector, instead of a waitress, he finds a battle-hardened warrior who has been fending off Terminators since she was 9.
She’s done so with the help of a Terminator tasked to protect her (Arnold…duh), and who has trained her for the day Kyle Reese and the original T-800 would arrive. Who sent the original Terminators back, both good and evil, well that is going to be – I think – the central question at the heart of this trilogy. I will say that you really cannot walk into this film cold with no knowledge of the Terminator universe. You have to have seen the Jim Cameron films (especially the first one) to truly appreciate what is happening because this film weaves in seamlessly with the events of those.
It’s so good to see Arnold back in Terminator mode. His absence is really one of the things that just killed Terminator: Salvation and it will the franchise eventually if they can’t figure out a way to make a film where he’s not the linchpin. When 1984 CGI Arnold shows up as he does in The Terminator, “Pops” (Sarah named him when she was 9, and it’s not as annoying as you’d think) is more than ready for him and we get a look at an aspect of the future of film. Arnold’s 1984 CGI self looks dead real. Given some of the clunky make-up in the first film, he looks even better. There is a brawl between the two Arnolds and it’s awesome! They have to tweak Schwarzenegger’s age several times over the course of the film, and they come up with a simple, but brilliant explanation for how a robot is aging. The organic skin covering the Terminators is biological and ages at a normal rate; we’ve just never seen one survive long enough to do so. Brilliant fix; totally plausible and it makes a sixty-ish T-800 a non-issue. Actors being able to alter their age through make-up is as old as film, but being able to completely take decades off of an actor through a CGI double has never been done, to my knowledge as well as in T5.
I’m going to do a courtesy that the marketing idiots didn’t and not reveal the giant spoiler in the trailer below (do NOT watch if you haven’t already), but it turns the entire franchise right on its head. Since the plot is largely connected to that twist, my summary of it is going to stop there, except to tell you to wait for a mid-credits sequence that will give you a hint of what to expect in T6. I can say that my favorite part of the film is the first 15-20 minutes that take place in the future where we finally get to see the war against the Terminators and the human resistance lead by John Connor (Jason Clarke). It almost feels like something Cameron would have opened the first film with if he’d had the tech, because it’s a direct prologue to that film.
So I’ve told you the film is more than worth seeing, it’s a blast and a treat for Terminator fans. Is it the equal of the two films Cameron did? Not by a long shot. Jai Courteny is too bland to make much of an impact as Kyle Reese and Reese is the film’s main character. I didn’t find Jason Clarke very compelling either. Emilia Clarke does make a fine torch-bearer for Linda Hamilton, but the quality of the acting and dialogue in the film is far below Cameron’s bar. Then there’s JK Simmons’ subplot that, while narratively necessary, is clunky. On the upside though, they finally got a Terminator movie with a fantastic score that makes stellar use of the iconic theme throughout the film.
If you’re a fan of the Terminator films and are thinking this is going to be anything like Salvation; don’t. Even if you hated Rise of the Machines, I urge you to try this because it really feels like the true successor to the themes and tone of Terminators 1 and 2. Ignore the idiot critics (except me, of course) and try to go in as cold as you can. If they hadn’t ruined that twist for me, I’d probably be jumping up and down and rate the film even higher, but this is solid sci-fi summer action that is a badly needed course correction for a landmark franchise.