Action Adventure

'Terminator Genisys' Film Review: Round five in the ongoing saga of man vs. machine doesn't just hit the reset button, it smashes it to bits

July 1, 2015Ben MK

When Arnold Schwarzenegger first uttered those three little words — "I'll be back" — in James Cameron's The Terminator, no one could've possibly imagined that the phrase would still be ringing true three decades later. Yet, here we are; it's 2015, and despite the diminishing returns provided by the last two sequels, the franchise is back for a fifth installment.

Terminator Genisys is a movie that promises to redefine everything we thought we knew about the war between man and machine. However, it begins on very familiar footing: with the nuclear devastation unleashed by Skynet on Judgment Day, followed by scenes set in the resulting post-apocalyptic future, where resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) rallies the last vestiges of humanity in a last-ditch assault against the enemy. Surprisingly, they manage to bring down Skynet, though not before the evil A.I. can send a T-800 back in time to 1984 to try and kill John's mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke).

What happens next effectively rewrites the mythology of the entire Terminator franchise. Because when John sends his top soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), back to 1984 to protect his mother, the version of events that plays out is much different than the one presented in James Cameron's tech-noir original.

Instead of a 1984 where Kyle must defend a helpless Sarah Connor from the unrelenting attacks of the dead-eyed T-800 model sent back to kill her, Kyle finds himself in an alternate timeline, one where Sarah is already an accomplished badass thirsting to take on Skynet, thanks to having spent the past 11 years being raised by a Guardian T-800 (Schwarzenegger) she affectionately calls "Pops." As for the T-800 Kyle was originally supposed to stop, Sarah and Pops make short work of him before Kyle even arrives, paving the way for a new mission, one in which Sarah and Kyle must time travel to 2017 — the revised Judgment Day — and stop Skynet — now a "killer app" called "Genisys" — from ever coming online.

The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier never does bother explaining who it was that sent Papa Terminator back in time. Hence, in some ways, you could say that the movie fails to justify its own existence. More than likely, however, this is a mystery director Alan Taylor has deliberately left for future sequels to address. And in hindsight, it's probably better that way, because viewers will need to concentrate all their focus if they intend on keeping up with the story's time-twisting, paradox-surfing plot mechanics.

That's not to say the movie isn't enjoyable. Its time travel logic may be a bit fuzzy at times, but once you wrap your head around it — or simply surrender to its silliness — the film does manage to deliver a decent amount of fun, the kind worthy of a Summer blockbuster. Not only does it serve up a ton of homages to the first two Terminator films, but it also provides Schwarzenegger with ample opportunity to poke a little fun at his own aging action hero persona, as he's been doing in movies like The Expendables 2 and The Last Stand.

The end result, however, is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have a movie that rides high on spectacular action set pieces and painstaking recreations of key sequences from the earlier films. But on the other, it also flips the series' mythology and many of the character dynamics completely on their head, most notably by transforming a long-standing franchise hero into the story's primary villain. It's enough that die-hard Terminator fans may question how much it deserves to be called — as James Cameron himself put it — the real third film in the franchise.

Either way, Terminator Genisys is definitely a rebirth for the iconic series. But if you don't like the direction things are headed in, rest assured. With Hollywood being the way that it is, odds are that you'll only need to wait a few years for it to be rebooted again anyway.

Terminator Genisys releases July 1st, 2015 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 5 Mins.

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