John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.
Many sci-fi fans my age and older grew up with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a household name, and the Terminator franchise was a big part of that. Even today, people who aren’t exactly fans of the series are aware of the origin of the now-iconic “I’ll be back” line, delivered with Arnold’s thick Austrian accent.
The first two films are some of the best (or, at least, most enjoyed) action films of the late 80’s/early 90’s. T2 is still one of my favorite action films, though it may not stand the test of time very well, and nowadays seems way campier than it did when it was first released. The other attempts at continuing the series – Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation – fell way short of expectations.
For me, Terminator Genisys didn’t fall nearly as short as those other films (despite it not doing very well at the box office or with official movie critics), though there are some issues with it.
Time travel is one of my least favorite things in fiction. I always feel like the rules are muddled, contradicted, and create paradox no matter what. Terminator is a huge culprit of doing all of those things, and this film is no exception. The film also brings in the idea of alternate <I>timelines</i>, adding to the already confusing idea of time travel. The movie glosses over any “science” of it, wanting to make sure this is more of an action flick than something that really makes you think deeply. Unfortunately, that approach leaves way too many questions. There are actual plot points that are not addressed in the slightest. I think the idea was that this was originally supposed to be the first in a trilogy, so they planned on answering these questions later, but with the low draw at the box office, we may never have them answered. That’s an annoying tactic to use, for me. I like my movies more self-contained than that.
The action sequences in this film are overall really good. There’s a couple times that anyone with even the basest understanding of physics will look at the screen and say, “that’s definitely not how that works,” but it still looks really cool. I’m sure it looked even cooler in 3D, but I didn’t see it in 3D. One of the most impressive scenes is of Arnold’s T-800 fighting the 1984, much younger version of himself. It’s jarring, but it didn’t have nearly the uncanny valley effect you’d think it would. The special effects team really outdid themselves on that sequence, and I applaud them. All the effects are good, and manage to not be too hokey.
The acting in this is pretty solid for an action film. I enjoyed Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor; I think she followed Linda Hamilton’s footsteps very well, though the character is entirely her own now, with a new history, written for a new audience. Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese is a little whiny for me, and a little bland. He’s a white guy protagonist and it’s a little blah, but since I felt like it was more Sarah’s movie than his, it was all right. The romance annoys me, because it’s too fast. It’s a genre trope I could do with less of, so that lost the film a few points.
There’s definitely some campy moments – regurgitation of famous lines that we all know from the early Terminator films, for instance – but I think without them, the movie would have been too heavy-handed and the narrative wouldn’t have worked. There’s some weird explaining as to why Arnold’s T-800 looks old now, but since no one in the internal world acted like that was weird, it works as a storytelling device.
I’m not an Arnold fan overall, but his comedic timing is spot on. He’s entertaining throughout the film, both in action sequences and just as Sarah’s awkward, looming, robot dad. Jason Clarke’s John Connor – a character long considered a hero in the series, now turned antagonist – is both amiable and frightening. I liked what they did with him. Matt Smith’s small appearance in the film was also one I appreciated.
I think I’m in the minority with my opinion of the film. I thought that, aside from not explaining well enough, this was the best sequel in the series since T2. It can’t live up to T2 entirely, but it brings the franchise into a new generation of technology, but hangs on to the spirit of the original. The writing is as good as films in this genre tend the be. The effects are spectacular. It’s got some very funny moments that I appreciated, and the fight scenes manage to not drag on for so long that the audience loses interest in the action. I sincerely hope we get another installment.
I’d give this probably 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s an enjoyable ride.