Update: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ ended up in 3rd this weekend, with $28.7 million in take, behind ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Jurassic World’, about what one would expect.
(Originally published Wed. 7/1/2015)
Watching the latest Terminator movie is like drinking an off-brand Coke. I mean that in a good way, I think. Every note that you expect a Terminator movie to hit, every catchphrase, every robot joke, the quintessential explosions; everything is about what you’re expecting. That would normally make a movie boring and unnecessary, but somehow Terminator: Genisys repackages the familiar, the classic, in just the right way to make itself palatable.
A quick warning: the most important step towards enjoying the film is to not think at all about timeline continuity.
The movie begins in a familiar place, a future where sentient machines have wiped out much of the human race and a small resistance is led by the messianic, machine masher John Connor (Jason Clarke). As has happened often, Skynet (sentient, borg-like intelligence hub of the machines) sends back a terminator to murder John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke, finally escaped from Meereen), and John must send his trusted right hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to protect her. So far, so good, right?
This, of course, is when the timeline is (rather inexplicably) altered and Kyle ends up in a very different 1984 than the one he’d been sent to in the first Terminator. The Sarah Connor he meets is no meek waitress, but an expertly trained, hardened warrior already, thanks to a T-800 model nicknamed ‘Pops’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has raised her. The gist here is that the writers were able to use the timeline and alternate universe deus ex machinas–classic sci-fi tropes–in order to retcon the series and set up a new trilogy (if this one makes enough money).
Skynet, a program that sounds like the person who named it in the 1980s thought it would sound futuristic in the 1990s, is repackaged as Genisys. The new Ã¼berapp from Cyberdyne Systems connects everything to everything, including all government systems (c’mon future humans, you’re asking to be destroyed!), in what is a pretty naked allusion to the internet of things. In this timeline, Genisys–and thereby Judgement Day–launch in 2017, so our heroes transport themselves there and battle to stop Skynet / Genisys before they get started with the whole human destruction thing.
With squad goal ‘Terminate the Terminators’ set, Sarah, Kyle, and Pops set off. The acting is fine, there’s nothing notable about any particular performance. Arnold is serviceable as the ‘old’ (but not obsolete!) Terminator, and the relatively few laughs are a result of his trademark deadpan. Anyone who’s seen another Terminator movie will recognize the broad strokes. There’s oodles of time travel, lots of action-go-boom, lots of physics jargon masking continuity questions, and enough naked people in lightning bubbles to last a while. There also seem to be quite a few hits borrowed from other classic action stories as well. Throughout, I found myself thinking that particular scenes had taken components from The Matrix, Jaws, even the Mass Effect series of video games. Again, not that it’s a bad thing. Allusions to the such quality titles are pretty appetizing.
In this age of bigger, boomier, CGI-ier action, the sequences become less impressive. This movie is no exception to that rule, but the different sequences were at least serviceable to the story (though not quite memorable). Everything is here: chase scenes, shoot outs, even a wee bit of Judgement Day, again, this time destroying San Francisco instead of L.A. (Aside: So SF is the new Tokyo right? What was the last action / disaster movie that didn’t destroy the Paris of the West? Godzilla, San Andreas, Star Trek Into Darkness? It seems like a pretty desperate, but novel, way to lower property values in the Bay Area!) Watching behind the scenes on the practical effects used in T2 will make one pine for the good old days, but in the realm of digital effects, this movie pulls off a rather non-offensive go of it.
Terminator: Genisys isn’t about the break the mold. It doesn’t have enough story, or deep enough characterization, to survive outside of the universe built by the previous entries. In fact, when you get to the end of the film, it may feel as if an editor took the most iconic parts out of the other movies (sometimes literally) and put them together into a different movie. Yet, if there is a lack of originality on the part of the creators, they at least borrowed the best parts from a lot of good properties to make this version. It may not be the best movie you see all year, certainly not the most original, but if you have two hours to spare this weekend, it’s not a bad way to go. It may not be Classic Coke, but sometimes a Big K Cola will do just fine.