A film review by Craig J. Koban July 9, 2015



2015, PG-13, 125 mins.


Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator  /  Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor  /  Jason Clarke as John Connor  /  Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese  /  J.K. Simmons as Detective O'Brien  /  Dayo Okeniyi as Danny Dyson  /  Lee Byung-Hun as T-1000

Directed by Alan Taylor  /  Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier


Despite the fact that THE TERMINATOR series has been one of the more prevailing and popular film mythologies of the last three decades, the franchise fanboy in me was more than a bit reticent at the notion of yet another sequel.  

James Cameron’s landmark 1984 sci-fi/action time travel mind bender gave way to the superior TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (still the most slickly proficient action film of the last quarter century) and later two sequels in TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES and the most recent TERMINATOR: SALVATION (the latter two being quite underrated).  Now we come a bit more full circle with star Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the role that made him a bankable superstar in the early 1980’s in TERMINATOR GENISYS, but seeing as the actor is now approaching senior citizenship the idea of him playing an unstoppable cybernetic organism from the post-apocalyptic future feels, at face value, forced and desperate. 

The good news, though, with the oddly named TERMINATOR GENISYS is that it’s not a lazily executed or paint-by-numbers sequel.  If anything, this new potential franchise re-starter manages to be a three-way hybrid of a prequel, sequel, and remake/reboot all rolled into one.  Much like what the first STAR TREK reboot film did, TERMINATOR GENISYS plays fast and loose with the established Cameron envisioned film milieu (granted, it all but ignores the narrative threads of the last two films) and manages to pay homage to specific events of early films while retrofitting them to this new entry’s storyline.  Unlike, say, this summer’s JURASSIC WORLD (which wallowed in overused and monotonous series conventions), TERMINATOR GENISYS has a sort of go-for-broke and somewhat clever ambitiousness with exploring the very idea of what a sequel can be.  In forging bravely ahead with a whole new – and somewhat compelling – reconfiguring of what has come before in TERMINATOR 1 and 2, GENISYS dares to be different, even when it stumbles in its own attempts to do just that. 



The movie begins as a prequel to the events of the first TERMINATOR film in that we see extended glimpses of the machine run, nuclear devastated future of 2029 where the leader of the human resistance John Connor (Jason Clarke) preps a final crippling blow on Skynet (the A.I. core of the machines).  After successfully completely their strike, Connor and his right hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) discover that the machines have concocted an elaborate time travel machine and have sent back a T-800 Terminator back to 1984 to assassinate Connor’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke).  Kyle bravely volunteers to enter the machine and travel back to 1984 to save and protect Sarah, but when he arrives at his destination (essentially the opening scenes of the 1984 original) things seem (mostly to audiences and somewhat to him) off right from the get-go. 

Firstly, Kyle is chased by what should have been an early 80’s LA police officer, but is instead revealed to be a liquid metal T-1000 Terminator.  To make matters more puzzling, a surprisingly battle hardened Sarah shows up, armed to the teeth, to rescue Kyle from certain death.  Things become even more baffling when Kyle discovers that Sarah has been prepping for his journey for years and actually has been trained by another T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) that was actually sent way, way back to the 1970’s to protect and watch over Sarah since she was a young girl.  Complicating Kyle’s very mission is the fact that “Pops” (Sarah’s nickname for her surrogate father machine) has been secretly devising a time machine of his own in 1984 to send them to the right time in the future to elude detection and shut down Genisys (an omnipotent OS created by Skynet that will eventually destroy mankind).  Kyle and Sarah journey to 2017 to stop Genisys (leaving the Terminator behind, who will have to wait decades to re-team back up with them in the future), but are dealt with some shocking revelations that could derail their mission altogether. 

Phew.  That’s a lot of plot to cover, but I’ve really just scratched the convoluted – if not somewhat confusing and exposition heavy – storyline of GENISYS.  Even though I thoroughly enjoyed director Alan Taylor’s (THOR: THE DARK WORLD) attempts at trying to make sense of all of the overlapping timelines and temporal traveling logic, there’s no doubt that the film feels at times that it requires its own road map to make sense of it all.  On one hand, the multiple coalescing temporal tangents are wonderfully varied and help give GENISYS a sense of unpredictable forward momentum (you’re never really sure what will happen next), but upon close scrutiny they don’t seem to completely hold up under paradoxical logic.  Then there is the nature of a key and shocking plot twist involving a major character that was pathetically spoiled in GENISYS’ advertising campaign, which had the damning consequence of robbing it of its seismic impact to audience members.  

Still, though, GENISYS has ample fun playing connect-the-dots with the established timeline present in the first two TERMINATOR films and displays even more giddiness in concocting do-overs of iconic scenes present beforehand.  There’s a rather brilliantly executed scene where the original “younger” Terminator battles and “older” version of himself (young Au-nald is meticulously recreated using a thankless combination of clips from the ’84 original and bravura visual effects).  GENISYS also revels in some incredibly well sustained action beats, like the early aforementioned extended chase between Kyle, Sarah and “Pops” and their T-1000 pursuer, and another late chase sequence involving a school bus on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2017 as the heroes try to fend off their new enemy.  Taylor may not have all of the tools at his disposal to make a cohesive TERMINATOR film on a level of plot cadence and flow, but he sure is adept at delivering on the film’s intended pulse pounding action, which have been franchise staples from the beginning. 

I only wished that the casting of key characters here was as inspired as the film’s technical brilliance.  Jai Courtney certainly has the façade of an action hero, but he lacks star appeal and charisma to make Kyle a truly worthy hero that elicits our rooting interest.  Emilia Clarke is a feisty and empowered actress (as on display in GAME OF THRONES), but she seems oddly miscast here as the battle hardened, gun-totting Sarah (she seems a bit too diminutive and soft considered what Linda Hamilton brought to the table over twenty years ago).  Recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons is a nice addition to the cast whose character has ties to the heroes in both the present and past, but what could have been an intriguing new persona to this new retconned universe is terribly underutilized.  Jason Clarke is strong, assured and authoritative in his fairly meaty role of the Christ-like future messiah who arguably has the trickiest performance task to pull off out of all the cast members.  

Granted, audiences see TERMINATOR movies to bare witness to sight of the unflappable Schwarzenegger (now a ripe 67-years-old) fully embodying his cyborg eradicating his enemies while making puns and attempting (with various degrees of success) to become more human in the process.  GENISYS has a smart (if not overly convenient) explanation as to why this new Terminator looks nearly geriatric (living tissue on the outside can age over the edoskeleton underneath) and also manages to dryly comment on its star's advancing years with some amusing dialogue exchanges.  Nevertheless, it’s a real trip to see Schwarzenegger slip back into his icon role without missing a performance mark.  He clearly hasn’t forgotten how to sell is movie star swagger in this part and he more than confidently makes up for the film’s few casting missteps. 

TERMINATOR GENISYS builds towards a conclusion that’s both fiendishly exhilarating, yet borderline anticlimactic for those that have seen similar third acts in the previous films.  It opens up possibilities for more sequels for its newly minted chronology, but even I would concede that perhaps it's time to put the Arnold T-800/Sarah Connor thirty-plus years story arc to bed…for good…and move on.  Recommending TERMINATOR GENISYS is a challenge for me.  Its chief star is on ample ass-kicking display.  The visual effects and action sequences are top notch. The film’s overall plot is niftily executed (even when it confounds viewers) and has many fresh ideas (something that usually seems to be lost on fifth films in franchises).  TERMINATOR GENISYS didn’t leave me excitedly clamoring for more sequels beyond it, but it should be lauded for not redundantly recycling sequel and series formulas.  You’ve never quite seen a TERMINATOR film quite like this, which is what gives GENISYS that much needed creative jolt of inspiration that so many other sequels lack. 

The series like its aging title character may be old, but it's not totally obsolete.  


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