Terminator Genisys

Directed By: Alan Taylor

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Lee Byung-hun, and J. K. Simmons

"Follow a straight line and don't look back.
-Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke)

I recently read an article on Entertainment Weekly's website about the decline of the American actor.  The article espouses that, after generations of heavyweights like Brando, Nicholson, Streep, and Pacino, there's no one picking up the mantle.  The problem is pretty apparent on the big screen today.  When the Brits are giving us Superman, Abe Lincoln, and MLK, we've got a problem (see Man of Steel, Lincoln, and Selma).  It's abundantly clear this Fourth of July weekend with Terminator Genisys as well.  Granted, the perennial import Schwarzenegger is a critical component of this series, the Terminator franchise has long been a symbol of American pop culture at the box office.  When we have two Australians, a Brit, and the original Austrian on deck as our leads, that symbol is truly fading.  The worst part is that the movie is pretty damn good, despite what critics are saying.

Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) has never known the pleasures of the world we know and love today.  The only two things he's ever known are the destruction brought by the machines and the teachings from his friend and leader John Connor (Jason Clarke).  With the Resistance on the verge of defeating Skynet and ending this wave of death, Reese learns from his longtime mentor John that the machines have a secret weapon that they will not use until their most desperate moment, a time machine.  While the main unit of the Resistance is assaulting Skynet's defense grid, Reese, John, and a smaller unit strike a remote storage facility where this time machine is stored.  As Skynet falls, they discover they're too late and that the machines have already used it.  The machines have sent a Terminator back to 1984 to kill John's mother before the Resistance leader is ever born.  With this in mind, John sends his friend Reese back to protect his mother.

As Reese is departing for 1984, he notices John being accosted by someone.  While going back in time, a naturally distressed Reese sees a life he's never lived before and hears his younger self saying “Genisys is Skynet”.  Upon arriving in 1984, Reese learns that the past is very much like the future.  The past is not set.  In fact, Reese doesn't find the helpless Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) John has described or the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back in time to kill her.  What he does find is a bloodthirsty liquid metal T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun).  Ill-equipped to deal with a T-1000, Reese has no choice but to flee.  Ironically, he's rescued by the very person he's come to save, the supposedly helpless Sarah Connor.  She even has her own guardian T-800 named Pops (Schwarzenegger).  Soon thereafter, Reese learns that Sarah and Pops have a plan to stop the Judgement Day they know is coming in August 1997.  Recalling his own words that Genisys is Skynet, Reese points them to a later date, 2017.  Now, all the trio needs is a time machine.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and these foreigners make one hell of a good impression with Terminator Genisys.  Like the box office sensation Jurassic World, this fifth trip into the war between machines and mankind is built around a certain nostalgia factor.  Respecting the original films from James Cameron, director Alan Taylor channels the energy and tone of back in the day.  You can see it in the dark, apocalyptic setting Taylor creates on screen.  You can hear it in his use of the iconic compositions from the first two films.  You can feel it in the relationship between Sarah and Pops that is decidedly reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  All in all, there's no way Taylor could match the originals in quality.  After all, he's working with a PG-13 rating, an aging Schwarzenegger, and plenty of unanswered questions from his screenwriters' amendments to the sagas of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese.  Still, it's quite entertaining to watch him try.

I'm sure there are plenty of purists out there who see the timeline in the original Terminator films as canonical, but James Cameron started something that inevitably others would finish.  Time is cyclical in Cameron's world, and Taylor capitalizes on its fluidity.  Yes, this means that the war waged through time would expand its date range.  Yes, this means there's quite a bit of sci-fi technical jargon on alternate timelines.  Yes, this means that the sagas of both Sarah and John Connor are subject to change.  Ultimately, neither the past nor the future is set, and the masses are wrong to bash this film for tinkering with the timelines.  It's part of the Terminator franchise's DNA, and it doesn’t change the movie magic of the past.

The cast has really big shoes to fill.  First and foremost, we have Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to fill the shoes of his younger self.  It's clear that he embraces his senior citizen status, especially given the film's signature quote "Old, not obsolete". As Pops, the aging T-800 still has some juice left in the tank, and delivers quite a bit of solid action and humor.  Filling the shoes of Michael Biehn, we have Jai Courtney.  He offers a badass character with a great deal of empathy and possibly his first performance as a protagonist worth lauding.  Arguably filling the biggest shoes of them all — those of action heroine Linda Hamilton — we have Emilia Clarke.  If anyone can do it, I'd put my faith in the Mother of Dragons.  Bad to the bone and fighting her destiny, Clarke gives a slightly new spin on the character that makes her more than just the gutsy mother of the leader.  Finally, we have Jason Clarke as John Connor.  The frequent sci-fi star does well here in this pivotal role and puts his own personal stamp on a character that has not always been portrayed brilliantly on the big screen.

Ignore the jabs taken at the film.  Terminator Genisys is a fun ride that harkens back to a different period in blockbuster cinema.  Alan Taylor and his cast don't capture that lightning in a bottle that is movie magic, but they've gotten a lot closer than the prior two Terminator films.  This fifth outing is indeed worth it.  Terminator Genisys gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.