He’s back, he’s old but he’s not obsolete. That’s a lot of what we get from Arnold Schwarzenegger in this return to an “old school” style of Terminator film. Terminator Genisys takes a route very similar to what J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek by taking the familiar concepts of the franchise then pulling the rug out from under it and seeing where everything lands. Surprisingly a lot of it is still left standing.
Once again the story is about a killer cyborg sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke), future mother to the leader of humanity’s resistance against the machines. But unlike the original film, Genisys actually shows what lead to a Terminator being sent into the past followed by resistance fighter Kyle Reese (A Good Day to Die Hard‘s Jai Courtney).
Reese’s trip back to 1984 begins in a very familiar fashion (great job is done copying scenes from The Terminator) then turns to something else entirely when Sarah Connor appears unexpectedly. From this point it becomes clear that this Sarah Connor is a very different person to the one he was tasked to protect; showing up armed to the hilt and sporting her own Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, who she calls “Pops”) as a guardian.
It seems the timeline has been royally messed up with all of these incursions into the past, leading to some significant changes to Sarah’s own life which has now required her to be prepared from childhood for the upcoming apocalypse. She already knows Reese’s role in history (in being the father of her future son) and wants nothing to do with it. In addition Skynet, the future artificial intelligence destined to start World War 3, will now arrive in the form of a globally networked operating system and so once more it has to be stopped.
There’s been some criticism of the chemistry between Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney but the film doesn’t really create much opportunity for the characters to build up that kind of connection until the very end. Of the two, Clarke makes best use of her opportunity. Once you see a gun in her hand, she both looks and act the part. Courtney has a bit of a tougher job who’s character this time seems more the follower than the instigator of the first film.
Arnold does what Arnold does best. How a much older Schwarzenegger can still play the killer ‘bot from 30 years ago is explained clearly enough (skin ages, the robot does not) and enough happens to further reinforce that time has passed for that character. It works well enough and some good effects work has also been done to create convincing younger versions of his character too. The re-enactments are surprisingly good. It’s certainly a better than Bruce Willis’ faux robot hair in Surrogates anyway.
This is not a bad movie at all. Alot of concepts are thrown at viewers early on that seem a bit much for those catching up on the story and maybe are only for the benefit of straightening out the franchise and trimming the offending bits. But once that is cleared up it strongly echoes Terminator 2: Judgement Day with an action packed spectacle; a Cyberdyne (creators of Skynet) building even gets blown up in the process.
The self referential parts in the beginning really are handled brilliantly and do well to set the initial tone of the film. The visual style is even reminiscent of James Cameron’s work and avoids too many connections to other films in the franchise (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation). Kudos to Alan Taylor’s direction in making some very convincing shot for shot scenes based on the original 1984 film and then adding a new spin; it works better than you might expect.
The biggest shame though is that the trailer effectively ruins the biggest twist in the whole film. I’ll avoid giving it away here but it really lessens the impact of seeing the film for the first time. A couple of the big action scenes are also affected too but that’s an unfortunate trait of most movie trailers now.
The film does borrow lot from previous installments, even the short lived television series, so it doesn’t seem like it’s totally original in some of its ideas but they are executed really well. And despite the ending having a strong conclusion, there are more than enough unanswered questions left for the future.
To paraphrase a killer cyborg from the future: they’ll be back.