Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

From the franchise that had its glory years with two memorable films, hit a roadblock with a third lackluster flick, and finally took us to the future with an even more lacking tale of man vs. machine, comes Terminator Genisys, a reboot of sorts that takes the franchise into both new and old territory. Marking the official return of killer-robot veteran Arnold Schwarzenegger as the famed T-800, the newest addition to this flawed series may pack a load of gracious nostalgia and action, but in the end, isn't as memorable as the two films that started it all. With a fresh faced cast fighting alongside the "old but not obsolete" Arnie, and some massive time-jumping here and there, Genisys will hold you, but may not leave you with much.

In the not-so-distant future, resistance leader John Conner (Jason Clarke) leads the war against the towering robotic army of Skynet, with young protégé Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) by his side. In a final attempt to kill Skynet and everything that it stands for, Conner and Reese infiltrate a Skynet base, only to find out that they've sent a Terminator back in time to kill John's mother, therefore erasing him from existence. In a last resort, John realizes the only way to save his mother is to send Kyle back to 1984, where he must save Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke) from being killed. However, once Reese is sent back, he soon discovers that all is not as it seems, as he encounters a highly-trained Sarah as opposed to the weak and scared waitress John told him about. Aided by a mysterious reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) who has raised Sarah to become the warrior she is now, the trio must reset the past in order to save the future. Facing new and old enemies, from the deadly T-1000 (Lee Byung‑hun) to the highly-advanced T-3000, the team quickly learns that saving the future may not be the simplest task.

Taking us back into the world of deadly machines and courageous human soldiers out to stay alive, Terminator Genisys may not have James Cameron behind its direction, but it still manages to be a worthy successor to the previous two films in the franchise. Following the great and unexpected success of 1984's sci-fi romp The Terminator, as well as its high-exalted 1991 sequel, both which aided in putting James Cameron's name on the hot market of film directors, the franchise took a bit of a dip as it suffered through two lackluster sequels. Definitely as action-packed and sci-fi centric as their predecessors, the sequels, 2003's Rise of the Machines and 2009's Terminator Salvation, unfortunately suffered when it came to plot and performances. Genisys, which didn't offer anything phenomenal in terms of performances other than the return of an aging Arnold, definitely delivers when it comes to explosive action (I'll touch on that later). As for plot, well, that's where it gets a bit interesting.  

With four films under your belt, and the last two lacking in story, among other things, once you hit that next stage, there comes a time when every franchise must cut all (or most) ties with the past and start anew. With a franchise such as this, with the mysterious (and convenient) ways of time-travel at its disposal, it was only a matter of time when things would be reset. Genisys, which begins to take us down a similar road of the first film, quickly transforms into its own beast as it shakes things up with an altered timeline. But, as we know, some beasts have their old tricks. Gliding down this new timeline, which sees 1984 Sarah Conner now a bad-ass warrior with her very own cyborg bodyguard, it may look like a new tale, but the film still borrows distinct elements from the franchise. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't get completely obvious, Genisys began to feel a lot like a tribute to the franchise, or at least the best parts of it. With a story deep-seated in its mythology and past, full of nostalgia for the fans, the film begs to be as great as Terminator and Judgement Day, all while somewhat forcing a new timeline onto one that was already pretty confusing. Yes, while we have those distinct moments, from Schwarzenegger beaming down into 1984 stark nude and deadly as hell to the whole Sarah Conner-Kyle Reese thing (with a lot less chemistry this time, unfortunately), Genisys tells its own tale with somewhat decent effort, also relying on old callbacks to roll it along.

Along with a burdening timeline many find hard to follow (including partial Terminator fans like me who don't follow the franchise as well as they should), one of the most distinctive elements of the franchise has to be its breathtaking action scenes. Full of explosive car chases, liquid metal sword-fighting, and gun-blazing cyborgs, one thing this franchise doesn't lack in (for the most part) is action. However, with the newest installment, something it does lack, oddly enough, is true thrill. What made the first two Terminator films so amazing, for one, was the intense horror of a human-looking, human-hunting cyborg relentlessly pursuing innocent people. Starting things off back in 1984 with the massive and stone-cold Arnold Schwarzenegger literally ripping through bystanders to get his hands on Sarah Conner, the franchise has unfortunately lost that Jason Voorhees-like horror to it, ultimately missing the scary cyborgs the Terminators once were. Yes, while the newest film may have all the explosive action you can handle, as well as Arnie back in the front seat, the series obviously doesn't have the same nail-biting thrill factor that it once had.

Speaking of the returned Arnie, Schwarzenegger makes his grand entrance back into the franchise with a humorously worthy jump back into his T-800 shoes. Less of the stone-cold killer he was back in 1984 and 1991, and less computer-animated (for the most part) than he was in 2009's Terminator Salvation, Schwarzenegger proved that he could be "old but not obsolete" in this film, much like his ass-kicking cyborg counterpart. Working now as the guardian/father figure to Emilia Clarke's Sarah Conner, Schwarzenegger's T-800 may not be killing innocent bystanders like the old days, but still holds his genuine bad-assery that makes him so fun to watch. Along with that bad-assery, we also get the most human Arnold we've ever gotten in this franchise, now that he's a protector, rather than an assassin. From his somewhat corny jokes that still evoked the occasional laughter to his worthy fight scenes with other cyborg baddies, including the likes of a younger version of himself, it's good to see Schwarzenegger back in a franchise that he loves, kicking ass on his home turf. Already confirmed for another sequel following this one, it's clear to see we haven't seen the last of the famous T-800, hopefully packing a bigger and even more memorable punch with his next journey back in time.

The rest of the cast was nothing special, but made for worthy additions to the rebooted franchise. Fresh faced much like the new film, the cast offers typical performances you'd expect from an action film, not nearly as memorable as the action itself (which isn't all that memorable to begin with). Leading the cast, we have the duo of Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese. A duo destined to find each other, save each other, and eventually give birth to the future John Conner, Conner and Reese are the ones we've known about ever since Arnold's T-800 went tracking them down back in 1984. While the cast here can't really compare to the memorable performances of Linda Hamilton's Conner and Michael Biehn's Reese, newcomers Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney offer their own decent interpretations of the characters. While Courtney's Reese is kind of stale, many fans criticizing the casting as completely wrong, his lackluster performance can be mostly overlooked when we look at Clarke's. Playing the fearless warrior of Sarah Conner, a role made famous in the films and even spawned a spin-off television series, Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke offers up a witty and charismatic performance, one that makes her a convincing addition to the franchise. Back to Courtney, his chemistry with Clarke isn't all that great, making their whole love story fall short just a bit. I believe Courtney could be a great actor with just a few more films under his belt, but for now, he doesn't make for a very worthwhile hero as Kyle Reese.           

And then there's John Conner, the high-exalted leader of the future resistance against the machines. If you haven't seen many of the trailers for this film, or even looked at a poster for it, you may be entering SPOILER territory here...So proceed with caution. So speaking on John Conner, the character has been done and redone many times throughout the franchise, from a snarky kid to a brooding soldier. Here, however, he's reborn as something you would never see coming...until you saw the trailers. Starting off as the valiant leader we know he becomes, played decently by Jason Clarke, Conner soon becomes something much more interesting...and confusing. Following the moment he sends Kyle Reese into the past to save his mother, Conner is instantly corrupted by an infiltrator from Skynet, with the goal of turning John into their next killer cyborg. As for the character, Jason Clarke performs well as the villain of sorts for the film, throwing a good twist into the mix of the sub-par plot. While I always saw John Conner as more of a Christian Bale-looking guy (perhaps because I found Terminator Salvation enjoyable when it first came out), Jason Clarke plays a typical yet menacing action flick villain, just with a bad-ass new Terminator under his skin.   

Overall, this muddled reboot allows for a decent rebirth for the fading franchise, with a fresh cast of actors who can always improve and a timeline that can always be changed. While it certainly isn't the hottest film of the summer, with other reboot/sequels for prehistoric dinos and post-apocalyptic mad men taking the crown so far, Terminator Genisys is a fun-filled, high-octane starting point for new fans of the series, as well as a decent addition for veteran fans, with a plethora of great nods to the previous films. The franchise may have lost its flavor for thrills as it went on, but at least its glamour hasn't been completely terminated yet.

I gave this film a 6 out of 10 because while it did have worthwhile action and CGI, and was able to recreate some of the coolest scenes of the series, it continued to deliver not-so-stellar performances and only increased my confusion surrounding the franchise's jumbled timeline. With a moderate cast (as well as a blatant waste of J.K. Simmons' talent), and a mostly exciting 2-hour plot of action and exposition, Terminator Genisys may not be fantastic, but it does so well to correct what made the franchise drop the way it did, it can be at least forgiven for doing that. 

Stay tuned this week for two super-sized posts! First, I weigh my thoughts on the explosively awesome full trailer of DC Comics' Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just released from behind the gates of the San Diego Comic Con. Then, more superhero fun to come as I review Marvel's next big flick Ant-Man, which intends to drop numerous hints at the 2016 opponent to Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War!

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