It’s the summer of franchises and killer robots (and the end of the world yet again) as the Terminator franchise returns to the big screen, this time with the T-800 himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger – unlike the 2009 bomb Terminator Salvation.
I was never the biggest fan of the franchise. Sure, I saw three of the four earlier films (on DVD), but they didn’t quite have the heart or emotional impact to stick around as favorites. Luckily enough, you only need to be familiar with the core conceits of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day going into this 5th installment of the now 31-year-old franchise – even if the theatrical poster, trailers, and TV spots have been giving away the film’s main twist.
Audiences are returned to the night in bombed out 2029 LA that the Resistance takes down Skynet, only for the prophet-like John Connor (played this time by Australian actor Jason Clarke) to send his right-hand man Kyle Reese (fellow Australian actor Jai Courtney) back in time after the T-800 sent to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke; no relation to Jason). Reese arrives in an unfamiliar 1984, chased through an empty department store by a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee instead of Robert Patrick this time around) and is rescued by Sarah and Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a reprogrammed T-800 sent back to protect and train Sarah as a child from 1973 onward. From that point on, the film jumps ahead not to 1997 to stop Judgment Day but to 2017, spurred on by Reese’s memories of a new timeline and an “ultimate killer app” called Genisys, and the trio is out to stop Skynet yet again.
Terminator Genisys is almost unrelenting with its action sequences, hopping from fight sequence to chase sequence and back and forth with a little time for dialogue and exposition. The practical stunts impress to an extent, but the CG during some sequences (like the raid on Skynet’s main facility in 2029 and the helicopter chase through 2017 metropolitan Los Angeles) could have been a mite more convincing. The same goes for the practical and CG effects – namely the Arnold vs. “Arnold” fight, without further delving into spoiler territory. What can be accomplished with body doubles and CG facial mapping is incredible, but there’s something that can’t quite be captured when it comes to de-aging characters (like Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy).
Alan Taylor is in the director’s chair for yet another big-name franchise (after Thor: The Dark World), and he certainly brings the scope to some moments in the film – namely the Time Displacement Machine chamber. That, however, might also be in part due to the 3D conversion. I’m also not usually one to see films converted up to 3D in 3D, but for the most part, I didn’t mind with Terminator Genisys. The action wasn’t nauseating to follow, there wasn’t too much flying out of the screen, and the 3D conversion helped add depth to the chambers and large rooms throughout the film, but the blur factor was heavy at times and I felt that, above all, it wasn’t necessary.
The film toys with the idea of fate, destiny, and foreknowledge (least of all John Connor’s Christ-like prophet status (John Connor, Jesus Christ … you get the idea)), but most of the characters stay on their predestined paths. Sarah Connor fights for her freedom from her destiny of sleeping with Kyle Reese and being the mother of the revolution; Kyle fights to keep Sarah safe and stop Skynet while falling more for Sarah; and the Terminator continues to grow as a cybernetic humanoid, maybe even more so than in the previous films. The latter is perhaps the quiet hidden heart of the film, occupying the calmer moments the trio spend together. However, this is all bogged down a bit by the near-relentless action and the time travel logic and loopholes, as well as the unanswered questions left for the rest of the planned but not yet green-lit trilogy. And while Lorne Balfe’s score evokes the classic Terminator theme at times, it doesn’t do much else. Two nice touches, though, are the slight comic relief provided by J.K. Simmons as O’Brien and the twist on the Dyson-Cyberdyne legacy (Dayo Okeniyi as the young tech entrepreneur and Cyberdyne head Danny Dyson and Courtney B. Vance as his father and adviser Myles Dyson).
All in all, Terminator Genisys is the spiritual successor that the first two films deserved, just maybe 24 years too late and updated a touch for the plugged-in smartphone generation.