Terminator Genisys is one of the more curious attempts at a franchise reboot in recent memory.
The action begins in the apocalyptic future of 2029. Rebel messiah John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads his forces to a major victory over genocidal A.I. Skynet. But the rebels discover Skynet has activated its failsafe weapon: using time travel to dispatch a Terminator android (Arnold Schwarzenegger; more on this in a moment) back to 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke, no relation to Jason), before John can be born. To thwart this, John dispatches trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah.
For the first 10 to 15 minutes, fans might think that Terminator Genisys is a remake of the original. Footage of a young Arnold is so convincing (and shot-for-shot exact), you won’t know if it’s the original footage repurposed or a painstaking digital recreation. At a critical moment, an older Terminator shows up and the story goes balls out insane. It’s at this point one realizes that Terminator Genisys isn’t remaking just the original. It’s remaking the entire franchise (including the underrated TV iteration The Sarah Connor Chronicles) in one movie.
Trying to explain or understand the plot’s tortured path from that moment is a no-win gambit. A viewer has the option of driving himself crazy trying to make it all fit or of going with Sarah’s straightforward bottomlining of events: “we’re trying to stop the end of the world.” If one can pursue the latter path, then Terminator Genisys can be enjoyed as an entertaining spectacle. It’s packed with dynamic fight sequences, car and helicopter chases, explosions and a proliferation of expertly produced action set pieces. It’s not a great movie, but as an entertaining spectacle, it has its charms. If you insist on trying to force any of this into some semblance of logic, good luck.
The big draw of Terminator Genisys is seeing Schwarzenegger return to the franchise. Via production wizardry and make-up, Arnold appears as the titular character at three different stages. He seems to be enjoying himself riffing on his classic lack of effect and for old school fans, it’s endearing having him back onscreen. The real star of the movie is Emilia Clarke. The Game of Thrones standout is sensational in her first major film role. The script frequently strands the cast, but Clarke has the ability to hold audience sympathy regardless of how inane the proceedings get. She grounds Sarah and the whole movie in something relatably human. Her performance portends even better things for the actress in the future.
Jason Clarke is decent in a difficult role, navigating a twist we won’t be spoiling here with as much grace as is possible. Recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons makes a strong impression in a small role, though other familiar faces are mostly wasted in glorified cameos. The weak link is Courtney, a granite slab of an actor who exhibits only one emotional setting. Emilia Clarke manages to inject life into the Sarah/Kyle dynamic almost single-handedly, so little help does she get from Courtney. He may as well have been cast as a Terminator. Even Schwarzenegger showed more life.
The key to a movie like Terminator Genisys is the visuals and those do not disappoint. The film is sleek and propulsive, with lots of energy and well-executed action sequences. The effects and action are modern and state-of-the-art. It looks good, with plenty to distract the eye. The onscreen pyrotechnics hold viewer interest enough to distract from a story that is simultaneously overthought and underwritten. The script seems almost beside the point, beyond fan-baiting quotes of franchise touchstones “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back.” The thoughtfulness and vision of the first two Terminator movies are nowhere in evidence here. It’s a different proposition.
Terminator Genisys seems unlikely to be the franchise rebirth the producers were hoping for (opening weekend grosses were disappointing). As undemanding genre entertainment, it has enough going for it to not be a waste of time, but it’s nothing to rush out for.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on July 6, 2015.