Terminator Genisys — released this summer — is an odd case for me in that I still haven’t really settled on how I feel about it, one way or another. When I first saw it, I was convinced that the other critics had seen a different movie because I loved it while everyone else seemed to hate it.
As time passed, though, I found myself left with fewer and fewer positive things to say about it. It got nearly to the point where I felt like I was bashing the film with the best of them. Then, the unthinkable happened: I saw it a second time and the entire cycle began all over again. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular machine character, I just could not pick a side and stay there.
Such mixed feelings seem to be an inevitable and natural response to this film. As the fifth installment of the classic 1980s action movie franchise, Terminator Genisys tries to take the series back to its roots, utilizing the films’ always-prevalent time travel trope in an attempt to relaunch the series timeline.
Obviously, a premise like time travel is always going to be controversial. This choice of reprisal immediately runs the risk of stepping on the toes of fans of the original films. The film also must face the dangers of recasting long-standing and well-loved characters while simultaneously grappling with the already daunting task of simply making a good movie. At its core, this film messes with something fans already love. Most people don’t cope well with that sort of thing, especially when the transition is handled poorly. That being said, to claim that Genisys handles things badly would be a bit of an unfair exaggeration. It handles things… passably.
For those uninitiated into the Terminator franchise, the films are science-fiction action dramas about the apocalyptic rise of machines over the human race. After gaining self-awareness, the military supercomputer Skynet initiates “Judgement Day,” a protocol which triggers the launch of nuclear weapons on a global scale, leading to the fall of society and mankind’s near extinction.
Facing resistance from mankind — led by military strategist John Connor (Jason Clarke) — Skynet develops an army of robots called Terminators that share the sole goal of exterminating the last vestiges of mankind.
In the newest film installment, after the resistance pushes Skynet to the edge, the supercomputer instead sends a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) into the past before “Judgement Day” to kill Connor so that he never gets the chance to lead humanity to victory. Connor, in turn, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) into the past to protect Connor’s mother and ensure that the Terminator fails. As Reese sets off for the past, however, he catches a glimpse of an eerie turn of events, and when he arrives, all is not how it should be.
If Terminator Genisys does anything remarkably well, it’s paying homage to what fans of the series love best. Numerous scenes throughout are crafted with such love and care that one can immediately tell that director Alan Taylor wanted to do the series justice.
As the film primarily deals with distortions to the previously established Terminator timeline, many scenes are created in the spirit of the originals. For instance, the opening chase from the beginning of the original Terminator film is recreated almost shot by shot in painstaking detail.
There’s plenty for diehard fans of the series to enjoy in moments like these. For those who are new to the series, there is still plenty to love, including high-octane action and writing, which at moments can even be surprisingly touching (in true Terminator fashion), although the original experience will likely always be superior.
Not every experimental move in the film is successful, and I feel that’s where a lot of its admittedly legitimate criticism comes from. For every moment in which the film pays loving homage to the classic films, it simultaneously takes further steps to almost shamelessly trample aspects that have been considered staples of the series for years. The relationship between Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor and Courtney’s Reese, for example, never quite meshes as well as it did in the past, primarily because it’s rewritten to be much more broken and angrier than it necessarily needs to be.
Also there is one plot twist that occurs a third of the way through the movie, which inevitably will make any fan of the original series very upset. Even Schwarzenegger, bless his heart, can only do so much to save certain scenes. While seeing him back in his most iconic role is satisfying, some of the machine’s more lighthearted moments end up coming across as goofy and awkward instead of entertaining.
In spite of all this, though, it is the opinion of this reviewer that the film is still deserving of more praise than criticism. While it arguably has several very weak moments, its overall craftsmanship delivers exactly what a Terminator movie should: exhilarating action, futuristic warfare, Arnie’s infamous one liners and of course, the most important aspect of all: the series’ classic theme song. While not the strongest entry the series could’ve had, Terminator Genisys is still definitely worth at least a watch.
Overall Rating: 7/10