Genisys has polarized critics. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Forbes - slammed it. Other voices like Slashfilm, and series creator James Cameron, have praised the film. Cameron even described it as the series' 'true third installment.' Now, as a hardcore Terminator fan, I'm putting my bets down that come Friday, love for Genisys will catch fire with audiences. I saw an advance screening, and I LOVED IT. It's a triumphant action extravaganza. Like Jurassic World, it's ballsy, emotional, beautifully filmed. Dense and complex. There's even red-hot sexual tension. Terminator at its best is nothing short of folk lore, and Genisys charges the mythos forward reverently. I punched the air during credits. I've watched a great Terminator film again.
Terminator Genisys begins in 2029, a hellish future ruled by machines. Our main protagonist is Kyle Reese [Jai Courtney] a brave soldier in the service of John Connor [Jason Clarke] - mythic leader of the resistance. In a climactic siege, the rebels launch a final strike on Skynet, crushing it's army. But a Terminator escapes through a time machine, to 1984. Its plan - Kill John's mother Sarah before John is even born, erasing him from history and dooming man forever. Kyle nobly follows through the portal in pursuit... Only to find a changed past. At 19, Sarah Connor is already a hardened warrior, trained and raised by an aged Terminator she calls 'Pops'. New enemies are after them, not just the hulking young T-800, but the shape-shifting liquid metal T-1000 and a host of other devious hybrids. Kyle must bond with Sarah and her new 'father' to survive, but that will be a difficult and humorous task.
Schwarzenegger electrifies again in his classic role. But Genisys' focuses on Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, lovers-to-be flung together across time. Kyle is destined to protect Sarah, and eventually, father her child. Of course, events doesn't work out straight away.
The plot has been controversial amongst fans, but it's the movie's strength. It's twisty, turny, full of compelling heroes, and ghastly villains. The love story will help the series' win new female, younger fans. The father-daughter arc is the most touching element of the movie - reaching out to all ages young and old. Unlike Terminator 3 and 4, Genisys clearly has a beating human heart pounding at it's core.
The narrative is very dense but this forces us to pay attention rather than check our brains. Some plot threads are going to be controversial - namely that of John Connor. His arc breaks from the series' lore, giving the film suspense and drama, but also probably upsetting fans. There's a glut of side characters in Genisys. Korean actor Byung Hong Lee is frightening as the T-1000 , a shape-shifting monster straight from the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series. The plot has little use for him though. Other antagonists also appear - including a young, murderous, Arnold Schwarzenegger re-created with make-up and digital effects. Character actors J.K. Simmons and Dayo Okenini also appear as a drunk detective and scientist Miles Dyson, but are both fairly useless.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a revelation again as the T-800. His character is dangerous, hulking, and .... a gentle father. Kyle is as confused by that last part as the audience is. Like Schwarzenegger in real life, the T-800 has changed- he's raised Sarah Connor for a decade and become her surrogate father. He's still a little off though socially. The new paternal bond he has with Sarah is the backbone of Genisys. Arnold is wise, all-knowing, assuring and incredibly funny, while still a hulking killing machine. Jai Courtney, as Kyle Reese - the main character of Genisys - is the audience's eyes and ears. Admittedly , he's overshadowed by everyone else in the cast. He's likeable but he doesn't have the acting range to keep Reeve's journey engaging. Emilia Clarke is much better. She is beautiful, having the body of a teen, but the pose and destiny of a seasoned woman. Clarke even has a locker room with Jai Courtney using shadows and light that truly drips romantic tension. Jason Clarke as John Connor gets the meatiest role apart from Schwarzenegger - a truly noble man being torn apart by terrible circumstances . It's miles above Christian Bale and Nick Stahl's interpretations, and the best performance of John Connor as an adult to date. J.K. Simmons, despite his throwaway screen time, is fun in the film as a drunk detective, and there's another cult star who has a tiny but very crucial cameo in Genisys that will delight fans.
Visually Genisys is superb. It has a shadowy, vast visual palette. drawing you into the world of Terminator - the opposite of the loud, flashy Marvel movie visuals dominating screens now. The entire atmosphere is doom shrouded - tinged with horror, like the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The cinematography is extremely detailed - intricate landscapes are created full of nuances and character. The story's has many varied locations, all of which are beautifully realised - mirroring the story's climbing stakes. Musically, Genisys is also on point. Composer Lorne Balfe, like his colleague Michael Giacchino in Jurassic World, uses the Terminator theme for full emotional punch at crucial moments. Camera-wise, director Alan Taylor uses a vibrant mix of close ups, pans, zooms, and massive establishing shots to create a colossal, classic cinema experience.
Terminator Genisys has narrative flaws but it's fantastic summer fun. It takes camp-fire pulp lore and elevates it into fiery art - bold and confident. It's proof that if told with care and showmanship, classic stories can be retold and still move audiences. Critics be damned, I'm a Terminator fan and this movie made be proud.
Arnold, you told the truth. You came back.
4 / 5