I’m not sure whether to applaud or scratch my head at this newest entry in the Terminator mythos. On the one hand, I love the 21st Century revamping. Look; people have cell phones! Tablets! On the other hand, all the previous time-traveling/time-warps have left Genisys with a patchwork timeline that it has to scramble to connect to a coherent storyline. It succeeds on a basic level, but viewers who long for the deeper pull of the original will leave the theater disappointed. Grade: B-
The Terminator films know how to show you a good time. (Okay, maybe not Salvation. But we’re all allowed a screw-up.) Fun special effects, a time-travel mythology that doesn’t shy away from the problems it may cause, and even a touch of romance. And let’s not forget “I’ll be back“! But years after the original and it’s excellent sequel, the mythology is starting to trip up on its own particular string theory. With so many connections, cross-connections, timeline revisits, Terminator Genisys has it’s work cut out for it trying to keep everything straight. But it wisely decides to jettison Rise of the Machines and Salvation, instead focusing on Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. In Genisys, it’s 2029 and the rebels have finally won the war against the machines. But there’s a possible new threat, and John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to protect Sarah Connor…however, in 1984 things aren’t the way Reese had been told they’d be. Sarah, Reese and “Pops” — a re-engineered T-800 Terminator — need to figure out a new way to save the world. Again.
Director Alan Taylor knows that a wink and a smile is needed at times. Seeing footage of a younger, more bulked-up Ah-nuld, and then checking out his older, “Pops” version, you’ll definitely see the difference. But his “I am old, not obsolete” quip will make older fans giggle, and likely hit Amazon for a possible t-shirt tie-in.
Taylor is also able to keep twists and turns under wraps, something I’m sure he’s learned in his work on Game of Thrones. Pity this film’s PR department didn’t take a lesson; the trailer spoils the best twists, watering them down to hiccups by the time you settle in at the multiplex. With Taylor voicing his displeasure at that bomb of a trailer, I’m guessing the studio’s request for press feedback wasn’t simply a sweet gesture.
But back to the task at hand. Is the film amazing to look at? Yes. Of course, with today’s CGI bells & whistles, you’d really have to gak up the works if you’ve got a $170 million dollar budget to play with. And screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier keep the story moving while managing to leave in romance, the beginnings of Skynet, the various Terminators, and some genuinely touching moments between Sarah and Pops.
That doesn’t mean the story is coherent, it just has its moments. Kalogridis’ work on the muddled Shutter Island, and Lussier’s on the fun but empty Dracula 2000 should be a hint and a half that Genisys is gonna be more of the same; patches of heart, a pretty face, but no real soul to hang on to. I did like their “the future is not set” theme, which is not only a great cheesy motivational poster idea, but a nice way to take the mythos where they want it to go. But ultimately, as much as I marveled at Genisys, I wasn’t in it. And for a roller-coaster ride to really hit ya, you’ve gotta be present. I wasn’t. I let the CGI pretty and the sweet nostalgia wash over me, but the story never grabbed me. Perhaps that’s because it was too busy trying to grab at everything around it to focus on the one thing it really needed to; be easily understandable to newbies, and entertaining for the old pals. Flash and dazzle goes a long way, but both newbies and long-time fans won’t truly find what they’re looking for. Perhaps Bono could help.
The acting is is pretty damn good for a sci-fi romp though. I really enjoyed Emilia Clarke as the new Sarah Connor. She’s got the gritty no-nonsense Linda Hamilton had in the earlier films, with a touch of vulnerability that lends credibility to scenes where she has to decide whether or not to tell Kyle Reese about their future/his past/whatever. Jai Courtney does a similarly admirable performance as Reese, though he’s a lot bulkier that Michael Biehn, which had me flashing back to Arnold’s first trip in the time-machine when it’s Reese’s turn to go.
The only real stumbling point in this film was the sub-plot regarding Officer O’Brien, a police officer from ’84 that recognizes Sarah and Reese in ’09. The entire O’Brien storyline feels shoehorned-in, a way to use the incredible J.K. Simmons. As wonderful as Simmons is (and as much as I love seeing him flex those chops onscreen), they could have cut all of this and not lost a thing. In the film it feels like Simmons was game for being in the film, and nobody knew what to do with him. Ditto Matt Smith, whose character is a cipher; part of that is necessary, but I came away feeling like his incredibly brief time onscreen was a wasted opportunity.
Stay in your seats for the end credits; there’s a post-credits tidbit. More on that I will not say. The trailer has spoiled enough, I won’t spoil more than that.