So I rushed out to see Terminator: Genisys (the 5th Terminator flick) after having avoided the spoilerific second trailer. And I may be alone in this (based on the professional reviews), but I really liked this movie. It’s not at the level of Terminator and T2 but it’s easily better than the mediocre Terminator 3 and the rather stupid Terminator: Salvation. I’d say this is one of the best movies of the year so far, in fact… even if Mad Max easily trumps it and Spy comes close.
Terminator: Genisys is the Back to the Future 2 of Terminator movies. It remixes elements of the past four movies AND the Sarah Connor Chronicles in really clever ways (perhaps for the best that it pretty much ignores Salvation). You can see bits of all five story sources in this movie, especially in the first 20 minutes where it does a credible job of retelling a lot of the scenes from the original flick only with Back to the Future 2 type twisty time travel bits. Everything you remember happens again… only things aren’t quite right.
The Terminator movies have always been about mind-bendy paradox-inducing time travel but never more so than in this movie. And I think the fact you have to pay attention and follow the time travel weirdness is what some reviewers are calling “confusing” and “muddled” but I thought was clever and smart. There are some unanswered questions that are clearly inserted as sequel bait but they don’t waste a lot of screen time unlike, for example, the sequel baiting in Jurassic World. Here, it’s used as some explanation for some of the twists but the explanations aren’t supplied… presumably this will be covered in a sequel (if one gets made).
So I won’t go into a lot of detail about the story since, having gone in fairly well unspoiled, I liked the twists and turns the movie gives and don’t want to ruin anything. I saw the first trailer which introduced one of the big changes that the movie clearly doesn’t want you to know… the second trailer (which I watched after seeing the movie) does blow another big spoiler… but interestingly still not all the twists and turns and surprises. So at least the marketing people had a little restraint.
I will say though that the movie has some very credible action scenes that don’t abuse the shaky cam and have a sense of place and tension. I found myself quite surprised by how “into” the action I was getting even if there weren’t big huge set pieces on the level of some of the previous movies.
The movie also takes its time to have character beats that don’t feel like they are just shoved in to give the actors some drama to recite. The humor isn’t always on point but it’s not terrible either. T2 did this and it worked better there, even if Eddie Furlong’s “shine ’em on” shit-eating grin through some of it was skin-itching.
So we have Arnold back and he’s fine and even gives us some twists on his usual stoic T800 character. They do a good job of explaining why he’s old Arnie now and I think that twisty explanation works from a convenience-to-the-plot standpoint but also as a suggestion we don’t know the whole story yet (see sequel-baiting comment above).
Emilia Clarke replaces Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and she does a fine job without ever feeling as fierce as Hamilton did in T2. I liked her performance – she’s physically smaller that her co-stars but she easily stands toe-to-toe with them with the action (so she’s a good tribute to James Cameron’s desire to have strong female leads) and acting (which isn’t hard when your leads are Arnold Scwatzenegger and Jai Courney – more on him later). I have to also mention that Clarke plays Danearys Targaryen (aka Dany aka Khaleesi) on Game of Thrones and she reminds me not at all of that roll. Clarke continues her complete chameleon shape-shifting routine where any time she’s not in a blonde wig and wearing flowing fantasy gowns, she’s unrecognizable as her main claim to fame (the American accent helps too).
The usual block of wood that is Jai Courtney (I really wish Hollywood would stop trying to make him a thing) is not a credible replacement to Michael Beign as Kyle Reese… Courtney is waaay too buff to place a convincing Beign replacement (whose character was supposed to be thin to reflect the imbalance between him and Arnie AND to reflect he grew up starving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland). But I will give him credit that he does some of the better acting in this flick than I’ve seen in previous movies like the last (terrible) Die Hard and the two Divergent flicks. Overall, he gets the job done and he’s fine, etc.
Jason Clarke plays John Connor – yet another actors playing the part after Eddie Furlong from T2, Nick Stahl in T3, and Christian Bale in Salvation. This character gets recast more than even James Bond!. He’s fine – he gets the job done and has some pretty slick action scenes but there’s a certain lack of personality he brings to the part that was disappointing.
JK Simmons sadly replaces either Earl Boen (the character actor who played the psychiatrist Dr. Silberman in T1 and T2) or Lance Henrikson (one of the detectives in the first movie). I love JK Simmons but here he plays a detective who is familiar with the crazy time travel and future soldier stuff and it just screams that he should have been played by one of the previous actors (who might be too old by now – I dunno). It’s a missed opportunity.
One tiny spoiler is that there’s a new model terminator along with the Arnie and liquid metal terminators so I was happy the movie actually advanced some of the mythology of the series instead of just reminding us of its best moments. It’s not TOO different form the liquid metal ones but I did feel it was less all powerful and had a credible weakness that kind of brings the movie’s mythology back to Earth after too much liquid metal madness from T2 and T3. This is getting really geeky so I’ll stop. 🙂
So, all in all, I really enjoyed this movie. I have a feeling that either the movie critics are just hating on it because it’s cool to hate on yet another “not as good as Cameron” Terminator flicks OR I’m just a massively weird outlyer. It wouldn’t be the first time I shockingly enjoyed a movie others hated (or hated a movie others enjoyed). I’d suggest that, if you are a fan of the first two Terminator movies, give this a chance. If you’ve never seen the first or second, don’t see this movie since it assumes you have a certain familiarity with the series. No holding hands here.