Yes, Arnold is back. And yes he utters, you know, that line. The only thing harder to kill than an iconic catchphrase may very well be a T-800. Even 31 years into the series, you still can’t have a Terminator movie without Schwarzenegger’s famous killer cyborg. Though in this fifth installment in the franchise, the trail blazing action star makes the most of showing his age and successfully works it the into the time travel mind bender plot that ultimately plagues the over ambitious Terminator Genisys.
This hi-tech mega budgeted re-launch takes many bold liberties with the established continuity from 1984’s Terminator and its groundbreaking 1991 follow-up Terminator 2: Judgement Day and clears the path for a new extremely complicated timeline moving forward. Some revisions sit better than others for long time fans like me, but the film does explore certain aspects in the mythos we haven’t seen before. Much like this summer’s Jurassic World, Genisys ignores the latter installments in the series (and needless to say don’t hold your breath for any nods to Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). New faces are set to familiar characters (except Arnold) and the action set pieces become increasingly explosive and mind numbing as the film jaunts through its over two-hour running time.
As the familiar story goes, years after the doomsday scenario known as Judgment Day, when the computer program Skynet gains sentience and thought it best to nuke 3 billion people, humanity’s war messiah John Connor sends his trusted sergeant Kyle Reese back to 1984 to prevent the assassination of his mom at the hands of the AI’s time traveling Terminator cyborg. Kill Sarah Connor in the past, ergo wipe out the pesky founder of the human resistance in 2029.
Jai Courtney steps in for Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. Game of Thrones‘ Mother of Dragons Emilia Clark is tasked with trying to out tough Linda Hamilton as the new Sarah Connor. Jason Clarke follows Edward Furlong, Nick Stahl and Christian Bale as John Connor.
When Arnold’s T-800 arrives in 1984 in an impressive scene painstakingly recreated from the first film via CGI magic, the iconic machine is immediately taken out by an older model that looks much like the 67 year old Schwarzenegger we know today. Thus begins the skew in the accepted timeline and the complicated maze of plot twists that mix and match familiar elements from both T1 and T2 and into the alternate 1984 timeline. In Genisys it’s Sarah Conner who saves Kyle Reese from danger, though here a morphing liquid metal T-1000, and utters the line “Come with me if you want to live.” Turns out this tough gal T2-esque Connor has been been prepping for her own attempted assassination since 1973 when the now aged Guardian T-800, who she refers to as “Pops,” saved her from Skynet’s first attack.
The catalyst for the big timeline skew is touchy territory that heads into timey whimey spoiler-land, so I’ll refrain from revealing too much on that front. But as someone who considers himself a junkie for time travel concepts in film, I even had a hard time keeping track of the rhyme or reason of the gut punching complications of the story, which narratively jumps from 1984 to 2017 in addition to featuring a fair amount of scenes in post-Judgement Day 2029. Ultimately its up to Sarah, Kyle and the Guardian T-800 to beat Skynet at its own game and kill it before its born.
The big not so secret plot twist, a twist that would have been better left out of the advertising, sees our future John Connor, who travels back to 2017, also happens to be a no good shape shifting Terminator in his own right. The omniscience of the audience regarding this plot point certainly takes the punch out of several scenes, especially the actual moment of revelation on screen that would have played out tremendously better had it been kept under wraps. So there’s that too, humanity’s savior is actually on the enemy payroll. Frankly I don’t see from a promotional point of view, giving this away would be considered a massive tool for getting moviegoers into theaters.
Truthfully I had expected more of the film to take place in 1984, with the same time travel hat trick utilized in Back To The Future II to skip in, out and around a good portion of the first film. To the screenplay’s credit, it doesn’t retread too much and forges onwards to the alternate timeline’s 2017 to prevent an advanced online cloud program called Genisys to become Skynet. The screenplay plays loose with the concept of fixed points in time (i.e. the inevitability of Skynet’s creation or Judgement Day itself), and I’d rather not even get into the utter disregard for what entails creating a paradox.
Arnold as a whole is back in good form in his iconic groundbreaking role. Playing to his age to include him was as good a move as much as it was necessary (storywise the cyborg itself doesn’t age, but the human flesh that covers the endo skeleton does). This “Guardian” T-800 is from the T2 mold, and he becomes Sarah’s foster father after her parents are killed in 1973. Arnold does not have to villain up in Genisys, he gets to be the good guy again. However it’s the rest of the cast who hit bumpy waters in their roles.
Emilia Clark as Sarah Connor doesn’t quite bring enough muscle to the chiseled warrior we met in T2. With her parents murdered when she was young, eleven years later you’d expect her to be even more bat shit crazy than Linda Hamilton’s waitress turned mama bear commando. With Clark’s extremely young looks and every other cast member towering over her, plus burdened with being the only relatable main character on a human level in the broadest sense of the term, Clark is unfortunately out gunned in the overall scheme of things here. Regal robes in Game of Thrones do her well, but blasting heavy artillery next to Arnold Schwarzenegger she seems way out of place.
Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney are for all intents and purposes mere soldiers on a mission and play it off as such. Courtney’s Reese is just a confused fish out of water whose destiny is to sire humanity’s savior. Clarke’s John Connor turned Terminator is a uneven element overall. Beyond one pep rally speech, Clarke never gets to really explore the enigmatic side of the legend who turns the tide of the war with the machines.
Terminator Genisys is a mixed bag of high octane action and constant complicated left turns in the story. It by no means shortchanges you as far as pounding you with entertaining summer popcorn FX-charged sequences go. Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) stages some incredible explosive set pieces that looked great in full IMAX 3D, and obviously tries very hard to stay within the confines of a PG-13 rating. The film also provides the series a narratively needed fifth chapter after the even more over complicated soul less fourth film, 2009’s Terminator: Salvation. If this were made solely to serve as a redemptive final hurrah in the way Rocky Balboa was a welcome swan song apology for Rocky V, I’d say great. But the story is ultimately too intent on setting up this grand new timeline.
It’s hard to say if being well versed in the lore of the original films is a blessing or a curse. I’m fine with taking everything we know and turning it on its ass for the sake of a solid re-launch, but there are numerous questions in Genisys that demand explanation blatantly left in limbo. Sure, we know everything is plotted out for a trilogy, but the film withholds more than enough vital information to leave you simply frustrated, and not counting the days till the inevitable sequel provides a round of necessary answers. Will we hear Arnold say “I’ll be back” one more time? In all likelihood yes, but not without an awful lot of time travel techno babble exposition to go along with it.
Terminator Genisys hits 3D and IMAX theaters on July 1st.
REVIEW RATING: ★★★★★
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Matt Smith, J.K. Simmons, Byung Hun Lee
Screenwriters: Laeta Kalogridid, Patrick Lussier
Studio: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 125 minutes