Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Courtney B. Vance. Directed by Alan Taylor. (2015, 126 min). PARAMOUNT
Terminator Genisys faced a lot more obstacles than the usual sequel. First and foremost is the huge legacy of the first two films. Not only do they remain James Cameron’s best work, both were arguably the most influential sci-fi action films since the original Star Wars trilogy. Second is a general consensus that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation were vastly inferior, not-to-mention unnecessary. While I personally thought T3 was a lot of destructive fun (and had the balls to end on a somber, apocalyptic note), Salvation (with no Arnold!) strayed way too far into Transformers territory, playing more like a video game than a fourth chapter, with no characters we really cared about (something Cameron would never let happen had he been in charge).
Then there’s the questionable return of Schwarzenegger, now in his late 60s and a generation removed from his box office glory days, along with a deliberately misspelled title which had everyone scratching their collective heads (though it does make sense within the context of the story). In this era of superhero franchises, cinematic universes and the latest reboot of the week, it’s safe to say Terminator Genisys was a sequel few were asking for.
So it’s a credit to everyone involved that this film overcomes most of these obstacles. While not in the same league as Cameron’s classics, Terminator Genisys didn’t deserve the critical drubbing it received (I suspect some critics were prepared to hate it in advance). The story itself may not stand up to much scrutiny, but the time travel element (and its consequences) makes a welcome return to the overall story arc. These characters bounce all over the established timeline more than any film since Back to the Future Part II. Especially amusing are early portions which re-enact scenes from the first Terminator, only with new complications, such as Schwarzenegger as yet-another T-800 who’s been protecting Sarah Connor since she was nine (as her only real guardian, she calls him Pops). Some Terminator purists may also balk at the ultimate fate of John Connor in this one, but I appreciated this film’s bolder story twists in an effort to keep us guessing.
I also appreciated the sly commentary regarding our increasing dependence on personal gadgets and how they could potentially be our undoing, perhaps rendering this a Terminator film for the millennial age.
As for Schwarzenegger...his return to the franchise is a welcome one, and the film deals with his age in a logical manor, actually making his character more endearing, even lovable. Jason Clarke also shines as John Conner since, from a performance standpoint, his is arguably the most complex character in the film. The same can’t be said for Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, forced to step into roles made iconic by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. As such, their performances are serviceable, though nothing really memorable.
But, alas, Terminator Genisys is also hampered by a PG-13 rating (one of the main criticisms of Terminator Salvation). The special effects and action sequences are fine, but lack the brutal, violent intensity of Cameron’s films (or even T3). I suppose such a concession is inevitable in order to compete with other summer movies aiming for the mallrat crowd, but it does prevent this from being the hard core, old school Terminator many of us grew up with.
Still, Terminator Genisys is a lot of big fun, which not only keeps a 30 year old franchise alive & relevant, but tells a complete, self-contained story for newcomers. It also leaves just enough unanswered questions (such as who sent a T-800 back in time to protect Sarah Connor) to justify its existence as part of a proposed new trilogy. Considering its underwhelming box office performance, whether or not that happens is another story.
- 3 Extended Featurettes: "Family Dynamics" (casting); "Infiltration and Termination" (on location behind-the-scenes); "Upgrades" (focusing on the visual effects, which is pretty impressive)
- DVD & Digital Copies