(This review does contain spoilers but most of them you’ve seen in the trailer)
So TYG and I caught TERMINATOR: GENISYS this afternoon and both enjoyed it. At the same time, I was underwhelmed by it (Fury Road and Sarah Connor Chronicles were much better reboots of their respective franchises).
First the plot: as in the original film, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) goes back in time to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from a Terminator (Schwarzenegger’s face on a younger body). He’s immediately ambushed by a shape-shifting T1000 and saved by Sarah and “Pops” (Schwarzenegger at his current age) who’ve already taken out the Terminator Kyle came her to stop. It turns out someone sent a Terminator after Sarah in childhood, killing her family in the process, but someone else sent Pops to save her (even he doesn’t know who). As a result, the timeline of the original films is null and void.
Sarah plans to travel into the future and destroy Skynet (much as in Sarah Connor Chronicles) but Kyle’s memories of the altered timeline (insert technobabble explanation about nexus points to explain how he has them) reveal that instead of Judgment Day in 1998, the turning point is 2017, when the Genisys OS (designed to link all computers and computerized devices together) comes online as the alt.incarnation of Skynet. They arrive … and discover John Connor (Jason Clarke) from the future is there too. Unfortunately, he’s been infected with Skynet nannites and is now a T1000 himself (not literally) — “He’s not humanity’s savior any more. He’s Skynet’s.” (And may I say this twist would have worked way better if they hadn’t used it in the trailer, nor do I think it was necessary to get butts in seats). Can the good guys avert Genisys coming on line? Can they escape John?
The acting is satisfactory, Clarke is good and Schwarzenegger has fun playing the aging action star (“Old. Not obsolete.”). The action is entertaining enough. And the film is comprehensible even to TYG who hadn’t seen any of the previous versions (as she summed it up, Good Robot Battles Bad Robot. Shit Blows Up). It’s vastly more entertaining and truer to the franchise than Terminator: Salvation. And the twist on the original concept is interesting.
At the same time, it’s very much a remake of T2 with Sarah in the John Connor role—raised on the run by this unusual parent, feeling hemmed in by the history of the future and deprived of choice. And to stop Skynet, they must once again blow up Cyberdine while fighting a shapeshifting cyborg killer. It’s not as unsatisfying as Star Trek: Into Darkness remaking Wrath of Khan, but I’d have liked to see the timeline stray further afield.
And while the action is entertaining enough, T2 in its time (and even more so the original film) was better than that. Unfortunately it’s very hard for action sequences to crank themselves up higher or be more spectacular because the bar is so high. Still, Mad Max: Fury Road managed it.
And finally, Skynet seems less and less interesting with every film. I’d have thought John becoming a Terminator would be a chance for Skynet to try and work with humanity instead of against it, or to negotiate with Sarah and Kyle but no, it seems to be automatically evil like so many other AIs in fiction. Chronicles did better by showing some Terminators might be willing to negotiate peace (regrettably they never got the chance to develop that plotline before cancellation).
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and don’t regret seeing it. But I think it could have been so much more.