SYNOPSIS: James Cameron's sci-fi classic gets rebooted in this Paramount production designed as the first installment in a new trilogy.
Okay – I’ll admit it. I have a bad case of sequelitis, meaning that while I’m watching a reboot of a favorite classic, in this case The Terminator (1984), I develop uncontrollable yearning for the excellence of the original. That was the case when I saw this summer’s smash Jurassic World, and it’s now the case with the fifth Terminator film, Terminator Genisys. There’s just no substitute for James Cameron, who regains the rights to the Terminator franchise in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, he decides to do with it. For the purposes of the current film, you can just ignore films #3 and #4, because it’s more or less a continuance of the first two Cameron-directed films, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Terminator Genisys returns to the original formula of travelling back through time to change a future outcome. Arnold Swarzenegger returns as the re-programmed “good” Terminator, Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor, Jason Clarke plays John Connor, and Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese. The Terminator role is tailor-made for Schwarzenegger – limited dialogue spoken in a monotone. His obvious age is explained by Sarah commenting that his organic, exterior skin ages just like all human skin does. In the “arrival” scene, the T-800 is played by Brett Azar with a CGI’d young Schwarzenegger face.
As the film opens, John Connor and Kyle Reese are acting chummy in the post-apocalyptic war against Skynet. Once again, Connor sends Reese back to 1984 to prevent the murder of his mother Sarah. However, once Reese arrives in 1984 LA, he discovers that things have changed, and a new “time thread” is in play. The word “quantum” is thrown around frequently to explain the different time threads, but it doesn’t really. Probably better not to reflect too much on this, or it will become a distraction. Reese “remembers” that a future program, Genisys, a fancy new operating system that will link all electronics, is to debut in 2017, and just about everyone plans to download it as soon as it comes online. He also reaizes that Genisys is actually Skynet.
In this 1984, Sarah has been fighting T-800’s and T-1000’s since she was rescued, at nine years old, by Schwarzenegger’s good terminator. She calls him “Pop,” and has a hard time convincing Kyle not to kill him. The new mission becomes the three of them working together to destroy Genisys before it can spur the take-over by the machines as Skynet. Kyle and Sarah realize they’ll have to time-travel to 2017 to destroy Genisys before it becomes operational. I won’t reveal any details about how they plan to do this, or if they’re successful. Let me just say that Paramount has already green-lit two sequels before Cameron regains the rights in 2019. (And if you stay through the credits, you’ll see a hint about the next film.)
Jason Clarke’s John Connor has a very different role to play in this film, and I can’t really say that he’s all that appealing in the role. Christian Bale (who played the character in the last film) was unavailable for the role, but I think he would have been much better. Jai Courtney looks much too buff and well-fed to have lived in the post-apocalyptic future fighting the machines underground. He also has little chemistry with Emilia Clarke’s Sarah. Emilia Clarke certainly gives us a spunky Sarah, but she lacks the gritty resilience of Linda Hamilton’s original. Likewise, Courtney lacks the lean, steely strength and tortured reserve of Michael Biehn’s original Kyle Reese. It never feels like the desperate situation that it is. I know it’s a different time thread, but director Alan Taylor could have preserved some of the core characters’ power.
Most fans will probably see the film for its special effects, which are many and over-the-top. It’s basically a chase film, so car crashes, explosions, and fire-power abound. For so much mayhem, there are surprisingly few dead bodies. I don’t think more and louder effects are necessarily better, but the preview audience applauded at the end, so I think I’m in the minority. Cameron’s first two installments were mainly character-driven, and were, therefore, better narratives. I never felt the connection with this cast that I felt in those first two films. Today’s audience, though, who’ve possibly only seen those films on television or DVD, will most likely not be as picky as me. - JoAnne Hyde