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Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Premise: The fifth film in the Terminator series. Overlapping with the events of the original film, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Upon arriving in the past he discovers that circumstances have changed.

What Works: Terminator Genisys is part of a trend of so called “soft reboots” that resume the stories of classic characters in continuity with earlier films. Within this trend, Terminator Genisys is most similar to 2009’s Star Trek in that it is a time travel story that returns to familiar characters and events, recasts some of the major roles, and resets the story. The way in which Genisys incorporates itself into the existing Terminator series is mostly clever. The filmmakers clearly went back to James Cameron’s films and found ways to utilize the existing material but they haven’t overstuffed the movie with homages. The best of the new additions to this film are found in its character work. Terminator Genisys reverses the relationship between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor as seen in the original film; here Kyle is the confused newbie and Sarah is the seasoned warrior. The relationship between Sarah and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also given a twist. It is revealed that a Terminator was sent back through time to Sarah’s childhood, rescuing her when her family was murdered, and the machine has been her protector ever since. The Terminator takes on a fatherly role in the same way it did in Terminator 2: Judgement Day and that gives the movie some emotional impact. Returning to the part that made him a star, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the high point of the picture. Throughout this series Schwarzenegger has demonstrated that he understood the Terminator in a way no one else has and in Genisys Schwarzenegger contributes humor and humanity to the role and to the movie.

What Doesn’t: Time travel stories are prone to logical problems but Terminator Genisys is especially full of plot holes that distract the viewer with so many unanswered questions. For instance, the flashback to Sarah Connor’s childhood raises all sorts of unresolved issues such as who attacked her family and who sent the Terminator to 1973 to protect her? After Kyle arrives in 1984 he and Sarah time travel to 2017 but since they have not produced a child there is no John Connor to save the world and they have effectively done Skynet’s work for it. There is also a practical problem; they jump forward through time to stop the launch of Skynet but instead of arriving weeks or even years ahead of time they land just hours before the deadline. This choice is only made for the sake of creating contrived suspense. The central conflict of Genisys is essentially the same as both Terminator 2 and 3 in which the characters try to avert Judgement Day by preemptively blowing up a computer factory. That worked in 1991 and even in 2003 but in the age of cloud technology this seems quaint. The love story between Sarah and Kyle doesn’t play. This is partly due to the casting of Jai Courtney in the role of Kyle Reese; in the original film Michael Biehn gave Kyle an underlying trauma that made him believable as a veteran of an apocalyptic war. Courtney has none of that complexity. In retelling the love story the filmmakers waste an interesting opportunity. Put in different circumstances, would these people still fall in love? The filmmakers never even consider that question. The action scenes of Terminator Genisys are not especially distinguished. They are competently done but there is nothing new and the chase on the Golden Gate Bridge is right out of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Some of the special effects are disappointingly dodgy, especially the computer animated Terminator skeletons that are frequently less convincing than the practical effects in Terminator 2.

Bottom Line: Terminator Genisys aspires to the greatness of the early films in this series. It falls well short of James Cameron’s films but it is certainly better than Terminator Salvation and is about on par with Terminator 3. Genisys is ultimately an average action picture with a lot of story problems.

Episode: #550 (July 12, 2015)