Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matthew Smith
The Terminator franchise has definitely had it’s ups and downs throughout the years. The top of the top is obviously Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and the lowest of the low is Terminator Salvation (2009). When Terminator Genisys – the fifth in the film series – was released, one could not reasonably expect anything nearly as good as Terminator 2 nor anything as truly bad as Terminator Salvation, so the chances were always pretty high that it was going to be a half decent movie. And half decent it is.
Terminator Genisys welcomes back our monotone hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the unstoppable T-800 Model 101 – which proves beyond a doubt that you should never make a Terminator movie without him (CGI does not count, Salvation!). We start in the future where we see John Connor and Kyle Reese preparing to carry out the final battle of the war, and arriving too late to stop the original Terminator from going back in time to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect her – the plot of the original The Terminator – and arrives in a shot for shot remake of the opening scenes of that movie.
Before going back in time, though, something goes terribly wrong in the future that never happened before in that timeline – John Connor is attacked by an infiltrating Terminator (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, cleverly disguised in the opening credits as Matthew Smith). Everything in 1984 goes as before until Reese is attacked by a T-1000 who has been expecting his arrival, and older T-800 terminates the T-800 model sent back to kill Sarah Connor. Everything is pretty time-wimey (technical term), but the nutshell is that older Arnold is Sarah Connor’s guardian and that Sarah is already well schooled in the coming rise of the machines. Together they must navigate through the altered timeline, fight a new enemy, and take down Skynet to stop Judgement Day from ever happening. The goals are the same, but the future is now unknown.
Nothing ever feels as right as it does in 1984. While the movie as a whole is action-packed, entertaining, and competently directed, there’s something that feels so right about Terminator being in the 80s that the movie never quite recovers for me. That being said, I love a good time-altering storyline and the premise expertly reboots the franchise for future sequels, giving old Arnold a place in further films, and leaving some of the causal time-altering agents a mystery to be investigated later. And should you fear that Genisys goes too far in replicating The Terminator, the reprisal of those initial events and the consequent twisting of them reminded me a little of Back to the Future 2, in which much of the movie is a separate yet interconnected replaying of events from the first movie. I found it quite smartly done, despite playing on the audience’s nostalgia for the original film.
While I’m not exactly an Arnold fan, he’s never as good as he is as the Terminator – its really what he’s meant to be and I could watch him do it all day long. Emilia Clarke is a wonderful Sarah Connor – reminiscent enough of Linda Hamilton to be slightly uncanny, yet uniquely portrayed in these new circumstances. And then there’s the surprise of Matt Smith (or Matthew Smith), whose importance to the plot is at first dramatically underplayed but turns out to be insanely significant. I may or may not be giving something away to say that Smith is the new main villain of the Terminator series.
I’m also a big fan of that T-1000 as played by Byung-hun Lee, mostly because I’m incredibly impressed that the casting directors managed to find a guy with the facial structure and movements of Robert Patrick. My take away from that is that all T-1000s look and move the same way as part of their design. Last but not least, J.K. Simmons puts in a funny and fascinating performance as the eccentric, conspiracy-theorist cop who helps the time-traveling trio complete their mission.
Overall, Terminator Genisys is definitely good for a fun night at the movies. Director Alan Taylor, formerly the director of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, brings something new and exciting to the franchise while still maintaining what we love so much about it. That, and it helps to have Arnold on board if you’re going to do a Terminator movie.