When Skynet is on the verge of losing its battle against humanity, the artificial intelligence sends a Terminator Model 101 back in time to 1984 to assassinate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), the mother of Human Resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke). Volunteering to protect Sarah from the Terminator, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), John’s right-hand man, volunteers to travel back to May 12, 1984 and protect Sarah from the Terminator and ensure John’s existence. But when he arrives in 1984, he’s discovered the timeline has changed and that Sarah has been raised by another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) programmed to train and protect her from Skynet.
Terminator Genisys is a sequel/reboot to the first two entries of the Terminator franchise. Much like how the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is an alternate timeline that doesn’t connect to Terminator 3, Genisys is another alternate timeline that ignores the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation.
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves: Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation were garbage. I didn’t hate Terminator 3 because it didn’t live up to Terminator 2; I hated Terminator 3 because it took everything James Cameron established and took a dump on it. From awkward humor that missed its mark to crappy special effects, boring character development between John and Kate Brewster and a plot that gave the middle finger to Terminator 2, the third film left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Six years later, director McG attempted to revitalize the franchise with Terminator Salvation. His intent was creating a new trilogy that showed John’s early fights with the machines years after the events of T3. Although Salvation had an interesting premise, it ended up as a careless attempt to make a post-apocalyptic action flick, not to mention it featured a badly miscast Christian Bale as John Connor and a cheap attempt at digitally inserting Schwarzenegger’s face on a T-800. I personally gravitated toward Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as the true follow-up to the first two films, feeling that it was more true to the Terminator source material than T3 or Salvation.
Just when it looked like the franchise was terminated, Schwarzenegger returned to acting after his stint as Governor of California. This meant that another Terminator film was a must and the result is the new film.
The majority of critics have been harsh in reviewing Genisys, labeling it as the worst entry in the franchise. Scott Mendelson of Forbes is one of these notorious critics, ripping the film as being uninteresting, constantly comparing the film to the standards of Terminator 2 while sliding over the two recent sequels. Even World of Entertainment’s Paul Sell went on about the film having so many plot holes that it made the film difficult to enjoy.
I highly disagree with these assessments.
Genisys is not the best entry of the franchise, but it distances itself greatly from the likes of T3 and Salvation and stays true to the established Terminator lore. It may take elements of what makes the first and second movies great, but it manages to hold its own and polish off the rust that built up between 1991 and 2015. The film even goes out of its way to re-create and honor subtle moments from the beginning of The Terminator, from the punk kids meeting the T-800 to Kyle Reese adjusting his Nike shoes while hiding from a police officer. Although it may not have the suspense that the first two films excelled at, Genisys has more memorable action sequences than Salvation and much better humor than what was in T3. It’s all about enjoying yourself at the movies, and Genisys manages to accomplish that without going overboard on the disaster porn.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s clearly the star of the film as he reprises his role as a Model 101 T-800. This time, he plays an older T-800 model known as The Guardian, who was sent by a mysterious individual to go back in time and protect 9-year-old Sarah Connor. This particular T-800 acts as a surrogate father to Sarah, whom she develops an emotional attachment to and refers to him as “Pops.” Since Terminators are living tissue over a metal endoskeleton, Pops is susceptible to the aging process just like any other human, making him one of the more unique Terminators in the franchise. Pops is like a spiritual successor to Terminator 2’s “Uncle Bob,” and it was fun seeing a Terminator with established human-like traits, even if it’s still an awkward sight for those around him to see him smile. While still a machine underneath the living flesh, it’s clear that Pops has adapted to learning human emotion, as there are moments where you get the sense he has a bond with Sarah.
New to the franchise is Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), who does a fantastic job of portraying Sarah Connor. Because of the changes in the timeline, her 1984 portrayal of Sarah has qualities of the older trained soldier Linda Hamilton played in T2. However, Clarke puts her own spin on it to make Sarah her own as well while maintaining the standards Hamilton set. Not only does she keep in line with her predecessor, Clarke’s hair and facial expressions bear a strong resemblance to young Hamilton, and she delivers with a convincing performance. While some may criticize that Sarah shouldn’t be trusting a Terminator based on her hatred of machines in T2, but this is a different timeline where this Sarah was never hunted by a T-800. Because of this, she has a vastly different opinion of the T-800 she calls Pops. While it’s weird to see Sarah be so trusting of a Terminator, it was a nice twist to see her experience what her future son experienced with Uncle Bob in another timeline.
Jason Clarke becomes the fifth actor on film to portray John Connor on film. Jason’s portrayal of John matches up with the stories of future John that has been described in previous films, right down to the facial scar seen in T2, and his confidence is through the roof because of his knowledge of the future. Unlike Nick Stahl or Christian Bale, Clarke’s portrayal adds a side nobody ever thought of before; what if the man to save humanity became its biggest threat? If you saw the trailer, you know it revealed a big plot spoiler that John is transformed into a Terminator. While the twist in the film doesn’t have the intended effect due to the trailer, it brings a different perspective on the character we’ve been told countless times is the savior of the human race. For the first time, John is the humanity’s enemy, and it tests your feelings toward the character.
As for John’s trusted right-hand man, Kyle Reese is played by Jai Courtney. Courtney may have the soldier’s look about him, but he lacks some of the emotional aspects that made Reese such a beloved character. In the original film, Michael Biehn played Reese as a soldier who’s clearly damaged and exhausted by the war. Courtney gets the soldier part right, but there’s never a sense he’s exhausted from the fighting, making him just about as robotic as a Terminator. Some of the scenes between Reese and Kyle lack the chemistry that Hamilton and Biehn had in the original movie, but that could very well be due to the timeline change. Either way, Courtney fills the role decently, but doesn’t channel a young Michael Biehn in the way Emilia Clarke channeled Linda Hamilton.
Although there are many great aspects to Genisys that critics are blind to, there’s no denying it has its faults. The majority of the fingers point at the number of plot holes in the film. Since it involves time travel and numerous changes to the timeline, there’s bound to be plot holes in time travel logic. Most films involving time travel have inconsistencies regarding how time travel works and the ripple effect it can cause to future people and events. There are plenty of questions that the film does not answer, but considering that Genisys is intended to be the start of a new trilogy, there’s bound to be withheld information that would be revealed in future sequels.
Overall, Genisys is an enjoyable movie that is much better what the film snobs say it is. The movie is anything but boring; it’s an interesting film and while it may not meet the standards of T2, the entertainment factor is high and it doesn’t drag as T3 or Salvation did. If you’re a stickler for absolute concrete details and can’t allow yourself to let some time travel plot holes prevent you from enjoying Genisys, then you won’t like it. However, if you’re open minded, then do yourself a favor and allow yourself to enjoy the movie for what it is.
Grade: 4 out of 5.