The latest installment in this series that never dies isn’t necessary, but it is fun.
Time Warp (Again)
When time travel plays a major role in a movie series, it’s pretty easy to find ways to convolute history, rewrite what’s happened in previous movies and keep rebooting the series until something sticks, at least as long as there’s an audience wiling to pony up the cash at the box office to support those endeavors.
With Back to the Future back in the ‘80s, Spielberg and Zemeckis kept it to a trilogy that explored a generous range of the nuances of time and history; that trilogy has itself held up fairly well and withstood the test of time.
The Terminator series, on the other hand, originated in 1984 and has regularly attempted to revive itself during the past 30 years. James Cameron and Judgment Day hit box office gold in 1991, then Rise of the Machines (2003) and Salvation (2009) floundered. And there was the Sarah Connor Chronicles two-season TV series (2008-2009), which is fondly remembered for its casting of Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, in the second season.
Now, with all off that already 6 years in the past, it’s time to try again. The result is a movie that starts off feeling flimsy in premise, and perhaps even a little unwelcome. But Terminator Genisys actually works its way to an entertaining place and quite a bit sticks.
The Skynet Is Falling
So the idea in Genisys is that John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) and the gaggle of characters established in the other movies are finally going to crush Skynet for good. Once and for all. That’s it. Finé. Kaput.
Well, without giving much away, there’s a mid-end credits tease (a la Marvel movies) that says the filmmakers will... uh... be back. Again.
As it happens, the movie starts with a mighty victory scored against Skynet and it seems like maybe everybody will be able to go home early. Alas, before that victory, the bad robots managed to send a terminator back to 1984 to annihilate Sarah Connor. (Once and for all. For good. Toht.) And here we go... Again.
This time, Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney, The Water Diviner), goes back to 1984 in order to protect Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke, HBO’s Game of Thrones).
Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry) don’t spend time delving into how primitive life was back in 1984, when the first Terminator hit movie screens as a relatively low-budget thriller from a then relatively unknown James Cameron. Instead, they settle for bringing back a long forgotten catch phrase, “Bite me,” a reference to T.J. Hooker and a Ramones song (I Wanna Be Sedated, originally released in ’78). There’s merely a casual reference to 1984 technology not being up to snuff compared to this glorious modern age in which we live.
Up until this point, the movie’s a little on the annoying side. Why does it exist, beyond the money-milking thing?
Well, that’s when Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up to kick things into high gear. Schwarzenegger is the secret sauce in Genisys: he gets the best lines, garners the most laughs (intentionally) and still kicks butt with aplomb.
Schwarzenegger makes Gensisys work. But, somehow befitting the muddled logic of this ongoing time travel series, his effectiveness here also reveals how the series has devolved. The first three movies were R-rated affairs; the first one in particular actually had a couple scary moments. Seeing the endoskeleton for the first time, walking through fire, was kinda hot. Now, seeing endoskeletons in flame-filled landscapes is simply the signature element of the series, seemingly a pre-requisite for green-lighting a Terminator movie.
And now the movies are PG-13. The fear is gone. Bring on the humor.
It’s kind of like another series from the ‘80s, Mad Max. The first two were R. Then Thunderdome went for bigger box office with an audience-friendly PG-13. It took 30 years for George Miller to bring Max back to the screen. And he did so in fabulous, full-on, hard R form with Fury Road.
Maybe therein lies the real resentment regarding the Terminator series. It’s been watered down to a more widely palatable tone. There are no real scares in Genisys, but there are some good moments of action. And plenty of laughs.
It’s the humor and the overwhelmingly likable cast that makes Gensisys work as well as it does.
Jai Courtney hasn’t been a particular favorite, but he’s showing more range these days and he does well here as Kyle Reese, a character originated by Michael Biehn and resurrected by Anton Yelchin in Salvation.
Emilia Clarke is a winner and she makes it easy to forget about Linda Hamilton.
But let’s get back to Schwarzenegger. Interesting stuff happens with him. When the story moves to 1984, it’s a CGI Schwarzenegger that looks all buff and toned. That in and of itself is weirdly entertaining. Then the story jumps over to 2017 (to destroy Skynet for reals - and basically crush the whole Internet of Things in the process). There’s a reason why Schwarzenegger shows up again (no need to go into that detail here), but now he’s aged just like a regular human being and he’s sporting gray hair and a not-so-buff figure.
As Schwarzenegger notes on several occasions, “I’m old, not obsolete.”
It’s quite the human sentiment for a lethal piece of machinery. And it’s what gives Genisys its own identity in the Terminator series.
As the movie ends, there’s some yadda yadda yadda about finding answers to questions. It’s some kind of flimsy way to establish a tone for the next inevitable installment.
As the writers — whoever they might be — look at those questions, maybe one should be, “Why did we go to 2017 in order to shut down Skynet, but arrive only minutes before a critical deadline?” Maybe a little more time management is in order for the next go-round of “here we go again.”
Take it easy. Save the world. Have a beer.