Terminator Genisys

Production Year: 2015
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Alan Taylor
Review written by DaveB

I’ll start by saying that James Cameron’s Terminator movies are a thing of the past. They are pop culture monuments representing an age of discovery and pioneering in film. However, since the third film, these are nothing more than shadows feeding off the previous films’ lore and audience. They can be fun, for sure, but they always struck me as something that might appear in a comic book sequel, rather than a major blockbuster film. That’s exactly what Terminator Genisys feels like, a decent comic book miniseries that is entertaining enough, but doesn’t exactly take itself seriously or aspire to be a worthy follow up to the first two films.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the basic premise and several of the surprises. We start with the future war, in full nuclear winter as opposed to the bright, desert setting of the previous film, Terminator: Salvation. This is one of the better sequences of the movie, showing John Connor functioning as the hope of humanity and kicking Terminator butts. The only thing missing from this sequence is the dread and sense of humanity’s impotence felt in Cameron’s depictions of the future. I always took it as a David and Goliath battle, with John Connor leading the resistance to a miraculous It is here that we meet two of our leads, Jason Clarke as John Connor, and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. John Connor has always been a revolving door of sorts, never played by the same actor twice, and Jason Clarke does fine throughout. That said , Jai Courtney is no Michael Beihn. This has a lot to do with the script, which has Reese acting in a manner inconsistent with how the character has been depicted thus far.

If you’re familiar with the first film, you know what happens next. The resistance fighters discover a time-travel chamber and find that Skynet has just sent their own last hope, a single T-800 Terminator, back in time to terminate Sarah Connor, John’s mother. John is prepared for this and sends Kyle Reese back to protect her. It is at this point in the movie that the story begins to skew from what we know.  It is also at this point that we meet our two other leads, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the guardian T-800 “Pops,” and Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor. This is, of course, neo-self-aware Ahnuld, and he plays it so. He’ll be sixty eight years old this month, and it feels like it. In fact, his robotic endoskeleton beginning to deteriorate and malfunction is one of the many running jokes of the films. As Pops so eloquently puts it, “OLD.” I feel bad saying this, but he simply doesn’t have the presence he once did. Even up to Terminator 3, when he’s on screen you can say to yourself, “THAT’S the Terminator!” Here, it’s difficult to say the same, but he is still fun to watch. Emilia Clarke is ok as Sarah Connor, but there’s nothing given to her here that’s meant to show off her range. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, maybe she’s great in that, but here her character, like Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese, is kind of bland and certainly far-removed from Linda Hamilton’s performance in the first two films.

One of the big Hollywood fads right now, as seen in the Star Trek and X-Men series, is the in- universe reboot. An in-universe reboot is a film that can function both as a sequel to the previous entry, as well as a restart of the franchise. As you can guess, Terminator: Genisys falls into this category. I suppose time travel films naturally lend themselves to the concept. This film, like every sequel in the series, flies in the face of the original film’s premise. In the original, Kyle Reese delivers a message to Sarah from John, telling her that “the future is not set. There is no fate, but what we make for ourselves.” This turns out to be false however, as all of man and Skynet’s efforts to alter the future actually set it in stone. If Kyle Reese is never sent back in time, there can be no John Connor, just as if the T-800 is never sent back in time, there can be no Skynet. The implication then, is that it has been and always must be this way, wrapping the film in a nice little contained time-loop. Kyle Reese is always John Connor’s father, the remains of the destroyed T-800 always result in the creation of Skynet, and Skynet is always defeated.

Of course, Cameron blew the doors off all of that as soon as he made Terminator 2, which allowed John and Sarah to alter the future. It wasn’t enough that the defeat of Skynet was ensured, they had to find a way to avoid the war altogether. Personally, I feel this can be forgiven because it allowed him to make possibly the greatest action blockbuster of all time. Even when Cameron changed the rules, care was given to make time-travel seem logically sound, at least to the extent that your disbelief could reasonably be suspended. The story in the original Terminator seemed to be written around a strict set of time-travel guidelines, while the opposite is true for Genisys. The filmmakers in this film alter whatever they want, with regards to time travel and its restrictions, in order to tell the story they are set on telling. Remember in the first film when Dr. Silberman asks Reese, “how are you supposed to get back?” Reese responds, “I can’t. Nobody goes home.” That also is revealed to be false, as not only does the Terminator “trapped” in the past have schematics for the time-machine, but they are actually capable of sending people into the future. For what do our heroes use this? For going to twenty four hours, give or take, before Skynet launches. Maybe there is a reason given in the film for cutting it so close, but I certainly missed it.

The action in the film is decent, but nothing we haven’t seen before. There’s a lot of terminator on terminator fighting, which is fun but might grow a bit tedious. There are actually a few clever shots involving the advanced terminators that I enjoyed. One shows the T-1000, who very briefly serves as the antagonist of the film, facing away from his adversary then beginning to walk backwards, bending his knees in the wrong direction as if actually walking forward, before morphing to face forward. A difficult sight to describe, but it’s eerie looking, and I wish there were more shots like that in the film that actually justified being CGI by nature of their impossibility.

The music by composer Lorne Balfe is, while not offensive in the slightest, completely forgettable. It is stereotypical modern action music in the vein of Hans Zimmer, lacking a unique personality. That being said, it’s difficult to fault this particular composer when many of his peers are guilty of the same thing . Even Danny Elfman, no stranger to memorable film scores, produced a bland composition for Terminator: Salvation. I miss Brad Fiedel’s creativity. For example, I can still recall the inhuman, shrieking musical cues created for the terrifying T-1000 character in Terminator 2.

Overall, this is a fun movie, and really that is all I expected of it. I may come across as overly harsh in this review, but many of these same criticisms, altered rules and stiff characters, for example, can be applied to the two previous films as well. I mentioned that it felt like one of the “expanded universe” comic stories come to the big screen. As someone that has read a fair amount of those comics, I can’t say it’s the worst Terminator story I’ve ever witnessed. I feel that if this movie had been released in 2009 instead of Terminator: Salvation, right when there was a hunger for “clever” Marvel style action films, I might have viewed it less harshly. However, in a post-Mad Max: Fury Road filmscape, it just doesn’t satisfy like it could.

DaveB hails from Texas, home to the best bbq and chainsaw massacres in the country.