Unquestionably, two of our favourite movies of all time are Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day — even if the stop-motion Terminator in the original is absurdly fake and high definition has exposed some of the stunt work in the sequel. The series went off the rails, however, with the awful Rise of the Machines before finding a modicum of redemption in the depressing Salvation.
Still, the trip to the future didn’t resonate with fans, so Paramount decided rather than continuing to build on the original fiction it would reshuffle the deck with Terminator Genisys. It starts off with some familiar moments before veering sharply into new territory. Now the question is whether or not that material is worthy of its early predecessors.
We begin in the future with a grown John Connor (Jason Clarke) starting the assault on Skynet that was referenced in the original film. It concludes with Connor and his resistance fighters breaking through to find a T-800 being sent back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). This leads to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) following the Terminator to the past. However, this time, as Reese departs, an infiltrator grabs John, leaving his fate unknown.
Whatever happened has an immediate impact on the past as this time Sarah and an aged T-800 known as the Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) are waiting for the Terminator to arrive. Reese’s arrival is also expected, as one of the beat cops turns out to be a T-1000 (the liquid metal version seen in T2). Sarah and “Pops” — her nickname for the Guardian — must now rescue Reese.
It’s then revealed that Pops has been protecting Sarah since she was a little girl, when Skynet struck at her, and they’ve built a time machine to travel to 1997 and stop judgment day. The ripples through time have changed the future as well, though, and Reese insists they must head to 2017, which, in the now altered timeline is when Skynet becomes self-aware and wipes out the populous.
If you enjoyed the original, the early moments of Genisys are pretty sweet. Seeing the almost shot-by-shot recreations is a nostalgic kick, and the twists and turns of those sequences while still integrating isolated old moments (like Reese grabbing the Nikes) are well done. Even as the opening sprawls into completely new territory it’s still intense and stands as the best action scene in a film filled with them.
Most of the best lines are saved for Arnold, who serves as the conduit to the other films and still does a good job in his role as a Terminator turned protector. Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t T2 Arnold, which was made at the height of his powers, but even given his age he still looks dangerous. We would’ve signed up for more screen time from him.
J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, Whiplash) does a good job as the obsessed detective that was saved by Reese in 1984 and believes there are time-travelling robots in the world. Lee Byung-hun (G.I. Joe) is also solid in an abbreviated turn as a T-1000.
Although the purpose of Genisys is to reshuffle the deck and set the table for an additional two sequels reportedly in the works, the film falls into some traps that often take place prior to the reboot. The biggest such trap is devaluing obstacles that were overcome in previous movies in the series, like when Jurassic Park III had the Spinosaurus be so much more badass than the T-Rex. Here, we now have a magnetic/nano-bot Terminator that makes the T-800 and T-1000 seem basically impotent.
As with the third film, the “wait, what?” aspect of the film’s ever-more-convoluted timeline continues to hurt the series’ impact. The first two made sense on a basic level: Skynet tried to kill the unborn John, it failed, and then it got one more shot at him during his adolescence. Perfect. Now it somehow sent one back to kill Sarah as a girl, and then judgment day was postponed 20 years, but now… It’s just too much — in the same way The Matrix sequels muddied the waters.
As devotees of James Cameron’s Terminator films we were worried we’d hate Genisys with the same fervour we did Rise of the Machines. We didn’t. While it’s by no means the equal of the first two, Genisys is eminently watchable and at least makes us interested in seeing where they go with the franchise moving forward.