The good thing about a franchise compromising of two universally praised films and two universally panned films is that a director, in this case Alan Taylor, only has to aim for mediocre in order to be regarded as the third best. Of course, it helps if the film is more on the side of good though. In that regard Alan Taylor has pretty much managed to hit a home run. In as much as Terminator Genisys is pretty decent and enough above mediocre to be on the right side of enjoyable. But lets go into more detail shall we? A semi spoilery review coming up. Although none more spoilery than the trailers have been really.
So the plot to Terminator Genisys, and yes, that is a stupid title, is pretty simple and not convoluted at all. Here goes. The film opens with John Conner (Jason Clarke) leading the final push against Skynet we heard about in the first film from Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). This is the battle that leads the resistance to winning the war and prompts Skynet to send a T-800 (Digital Arnold) back in time to kill John’s mother Sarah before he can be born. Kyle volunteers to go back because he’s a bit obsessed with John’s mother, he even has a picture of her… which burned up in a flashback in the first film… but never mind. Anyway, as he’s time travelling and stuff someone attacks John and Kyle is sent into the timestream whilst suddenly experiencing memories of a childhood he never had. He arrives in the specific time of 1:52AM 1984, steals some trousers, asks a cop what the date is and what year… what year!!!! Turns out the cop is a T-1000 (Byung-Hun Lee)… which is quite surprising to Kyle as they didn’t exist in his future past. I’m gonna need a second paragraph for this aren’t I?
So kyle runs into a sports store, steals some Nike Terminators and gets saved by a truck driving Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke) and a slightly older than normal T-800 (Actual Arnold). She explains that Pops, her nickname for the Terminator, was sent back to her in 1973 to protect her against against future attacks by Skynet. All this time travel-me-do has made for quite the messy 1984, so, the logical thing to do is as follows. Travel through time to the future of 2017 because they’ve delayed Skynet enough that it’s now being stealth launched a an OS for all electronic devices called Genisys, hence the stupid title, and that’s what Kyle remembers from his weird time travel memories. Also, Sarah Conner and T-800 built a time travel machine in 1984. We’ll let that slide. Also, spoilers I guess, John Conner has gone back in time to 2014 and set up this whole Genisys/Skynet thing to ensure the machines victory because he is now a super high tech terminator too. Got all that? Good. Let’s move on.
So that story is a bit of a timey whimey mess isn’t it? Guess that’s what happens when they give Dr Who a role in the film. If you’re willing to accept the silliness of it all you’re probably going to get on with Terminator Phyl Collyns. Building a time machine in 1984 is probably a bit much but there’s a crazy Doc who makes one out of a Delorean 2 years later so, whatever, right? The film hurtles along with only a few short respites between action scenes, usually as a few of the cast are in the custody of the police. There’s little in the way of scenes showing how the antagonist Terminator is keeping up with Sarah and Kyle, which I’ve always felt was a really nice touch in the first 2 films. Here he just kinda sees them racing away or makes an educated guess where they’ll be. The majority of the film is the leads being chased, which is kinda what Terminators 1 and 2 were, but they were at least filled with other story elements and character moments to keep the pace switching about. Genisys is more concerned with reaching the next action sequence than it is building character.
That lack of strong character building is a little worrying. Considering practically every character has had their world changed in ways that makes them significantly different to previous incarnations you’d think some more time would be spent showing just how different they are. Weirdly, the only character that shouldn’t be changed at all, Kyle Reese, is played entirely differently to how Michael Biehn played him in the original film, displaying almost none of the same character traits. He’s all real American Hero GI JOE here, rather than the desperate and battered warrior he was before. Sarah is somewhere between her character in the first and second film, a fighter but not as hard edged. The T-800 is basically and extrapolation of how he would have been had he survived T-2, although he’s also oddly expository. Really, he talks a lot. As does John Conner too, which even results in a punchline later in the film. You know your villain talks too much when that becomes a joke.
This film has been spoken about as being the start of a new trilogy and, with that in mind, it actually succeeds. Not to ruin the end but the film ends up in a position that means we should get sequels that aren’t the straight usual increasingly dangerous robot sent back in time to kill a Conner. Probably, who knows how much they screwed up the timeline now. I do quite like how this film decided to go the whole hog with time travel craziness. It’s gotten to the point where characters now exist in a timeline that they really shouldn’t be able to. That’s some good broken time travel stuff there. You could argue that’s bad time travel story writing, but, as Bruce Willis said in Looper, if you tried figuring all this stuff out you’d be here all day. It’s best to just accept that there is no logic to time travel except for what the film presents and Terminator Genisys has pretty much flipped the table and shouted “FUCK IT” at all concepts of rules. I’m cool with that, you know, what with time travel being a thing that doesn’t exist anyway.
Action scenes are very set piece driven and generally involve cars. The chase format being used to keep all these sequences as fast moving as possible. Thankfully the attempts to recreate moments from previous films are all out of the way in the first 25 minutes, which is pretty awesome considering how much the trailer made it look like the whole film was going to be riffing on the past entries. Terminator Salvation isn’t referenced once. Terminator 3 is equally ignored. Although a flipping bus stunt is similar to a flipping crane truck stunt in that film. These are good things. You can easily go from Terminator 2 to this one and it’ll feel more like a direct sequel that Rise of the Machines ever did. I don’t hate Rise of the Machines, I could easily watch it again, but it is not a good film. Great ending though. Salvation on the other hand can go die in a fire. I thought I had reviewed it on here. Turns out I didn’t. I’m not watching it again. As a film Genisys is easily the third best in the series, but as mentioned earlier that doesn’t mean much. Still, I’d say it’s very much several levels above Salvation. As forgettable as most of its action scenes are they’re still better than anything in that McG directed pile of shite.
Overall Terminator Mega Dryve could have been a lot worse. I quite like Byung-hun Lee as the T-1000, as brief as his part was. Actions scenes were forgettable but had a few cool stunt moments, such as the bus flipping. I’m a sucker big cars flipping. CGI effects were pretty poor on pretty much every vehicle, for some reason. Like, every other effect was great but if it was a helicopter or a future robot HK thing it looked like early 2000s effects. The extrapolation of the T-800’s personality led to some fun moments. Characters were all quite fresh feeling, in some cases for the better, in some cases for the worse. The 3D (yeah I saw it in 3D) wasn’t amazingly well done but it actually felt like a 3D film the whole way through. Which is more than can be said for most 3D films. It’s a decent film that didn’t leave me angry and that’s kind of, rather sadly, become my low passing bar for summer blockbusters these days. Could it be better? Hells yes. Most films can be. But as it is I was decently entertained and it felt like an actual significant progression of the series as a whole. That’s pretty important really when most of these big films feel like all that’s achieved by the end is a status quo being restored. And I’ll take Genesis over Status Quo any day of the week. Pre Phil Collins lead Genesis of course.