Terminator Genisys Cast:
Arnold Schwarzenegger as “Pops”
Jason Clarke as John Connor
Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor
Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese
J.K. Simmons as O’Brien
Dayo Okeniyi as Danny Dyson
Matt Smith as Skynet / T-5000
Courtney B. Vance as Miles Dyson
Byung-hun Lee as Cop / T-1000
Michael Gladis as Lt. Matias
Sandrine Holt as Detective Cheung
Wayne Bastrup as Young O’Brien
Gregory Alan Williams as Detective Harding
Otto Sanchez as Detective Timmons
Matty Ferraro as Agent Janssen
In 2029, the war between humans and the machines has reached a climactic moment but Skynet has a new weapon, a time machine they’ve used to send a cyborg back in time to kill Sarah Connor, mother of resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke). To prevent this, Connor sends his top soldier Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save his mother (Emilia Clarke), but once Kyle gets there, he discovers everything has changed.
Terminator Genisys, directed by Alan Taylor, is the fifth cinematic offering in the franchise that all began with James Cameron’s The Terminator in 198 4. It features Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the role that he is most famed for, and also includes in its cast Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. It’s to my understanding that this film was designed to reboot a franchise and erase a muddled continuity that veered off course with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In that respect, it bears a resemblance to X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m not sure it quite reaches those heights, but it does achieve what it sets out to do, just perhaps not quite as successfully as they would have hoped.
Once we move past the traditional Terminator style monologue, reminding viewers of Judgement Day and the war against the machines, just in case you didn’t get the message the first four times around, the film opens proper with John Connor (as played by Jason Clarke), along with right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), preparing to lead a two-pronged final attack against Skynet. The opening twenty or so minutes really plays out like a love letter to the original film, bringing back the dark backdrop and laser gun shooting resistance in favour of Terminator Salvation’s gritty, desaturated, militaristic presentation. All that was missing from this self-referential introduction was the synthetic score of the Terminator.
Of course, this is all a set up to send Kyle Reese to 1984 to protect the life of future (or past, depending on your point of view) love interest, Sarah Connor. Moments before Reese is sent back, he sees future John Connor attacked by a mysterious figure (portrayed by Doctor Who’s Matt Smith) which alters the timeline irrevocably. Reese arrives and the events we witnessed in The Terminator take a sudden and drastic turn for the worst. This deviation from the original plot is where the film begins to come into its own and the twists on the established continuity, whilst also acknowledging what was, were actually really fun to watch. I must say, I also really enjoyed the T-800’s arrival and the confrontation with the group of punks being broken up by the older Arnold. The body double and effects work done to bring the young, 1984 version of Arnold to life, was extremely effective and looked great.
Unfortunately, once Kyle Reese is united with Sarah Connor, the movie begins to stumble. The exchanges between them are fairly heavy handed, the dialogue bordering on cheesy, and the delivery somewhat stilted. It also leaves Arnold himself, now Sarah’s mysterious machine guardian, nicknamed “Pops”, to spout a great deal of exposition and heavy scientific techno-babble, which was jarring to hear and doesn’t really play to the strengths of the character. The relationship between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese hasn’t really been explored outside of the first film in the franchise, so there’s ground to be broken there, but whilst there’s the odd flash of what might have been, the story doesn’t delve deep enough to give it the pathos the film really requires.
After going to the past, Reese and Sarah travel forward to 2017 of this alternate timeline, creating a time paradox of Back to the Future II level proportions. They ask a lot of questions, such as how Reese is able to remember a life he never lived and how he is able to retain memories of both timelines, but never really take the steps to cover their bases and explain why. The biggest question of all is how Sarah and “Pops” were able to build a time machine in 1984 … did Skynet program all of their Terminators with detailed instructions on how to build time machines out of archaic equipment? Also, just why is “Pops” guarding Sarah in the first place? Regardless, the jaunt to the future introduces the Genisys operating system, created by Danny Dyson (a nice nod to Miles Dyson of T2: Judgment Day, who also shows up later in the film) and a fun little subplot involving JK Simmons as a conspiracy theorist police officer. It doesn’t really lead anywhere nor does it have a payoff, but it’s fairly fun whilst it lasts.
If you’ve seen a single TV Spot for Terminator Genisys by now, then you already know the twist. John Connor is corrupted by a physical manifestation of Skynet (Matt Smith’s T-5000), becomes a Terminator himself, and is sent to the past to finish the job of killing his mother and ensure Skynet, through the Genisys operating system, comes to fruition … still with me? Once Clarke’s John Connor re-appears in the second half of the movie, he becomes the de-facto villain, but despite being the most personal antagonist that Sarah and Kyle could come up against, the stakes never really feel raised. The idea of turning John into a terminator and the human/terminator hybrids was touched on and suggested in Salvation, it never had the confidence to hammer it home. Genisys doesn’t falter in that respect, but in what should be an event of franchise altering significance, comes across with more of a whimper than a bang.
That pretty much describes the movie as a whole. There’s a lot of nostalgia at play, and I can’t deny that it brought a smile to my face at times. There were nods the previous entries in the series, even the much-underappreciated Television show “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, but the film doesn’t quite stand on its own weight. Some of the ideas presented lack intrigue or have been done before. The attempt to bring the franchise into the modern day and the social commentary of the connectivity of the world we live in nowadays presenting the ubiquitous threat of Skynet, both work to a degree, but not enough is done to really bring the concept completely to life. There are plot lines, such as the one involving J.K Simmons character that peter out with little to no explanation, and characters that are criminally underused (Matt Smith’s T-5000 springs to mind).
The performances throughout are fine, if unspectacular. Whilst I felt Jai Courtney shared a certain amount of chemistry with co-stars Jason Clarke and Emilia Clarke, he lacked the intensity Michael Bien brought to the role in the original, and even Anton Yelchin held in the much-maligned Salvation. Jason Clarke’s portrayal of John Connor/T-3000 is adequate. I feel as though he wasn’t really given the material to sink his teeth into. His best moments come in the early portions of the film through his interaction with Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese. One of the standout scenes of the entire film was a quiet moment between the two where they ponder what they’ll do when Skynet is defeated and there’s no longer a war left to fight. Emilia Clarke’s interpretation of Sarah Connor is also rather lacklustre. Linda Hamilton brought a certain strength and power to the role that is all but absent here as Clarke is far more youthful and naïve in spirit, not to mention much slighter and lacking the same physical presence. It’s an odd juxtaposition, as this Sarah knows what her future holds, and yet someone seems more in the dark than her 1984 counterpart. Perhaps that was the intent, but something about Sarah Connor uttering the words “bite me” to her parental figure rubs me the wrong way.
Overall, I don’t feel as though Terminator Genisys deserves the mauling it has gotten by critics. It’s hardly a technical or artistic masterpiece. It’s a Terminator film, released in the middle of the Summer Blockbuster season, and it’s a perfectly acceptable entry to the franchise in that vein. The action sequences range from great to bland, although I really feel as though the film ends on a rather anti-climactic note. The ties to the previous instalments and the easy nostalgia plays worked for me as a fan of a series. Honestly, I had about as much fun watching this as I did another belated franchise sequel, Jurassic World, and I’d say they two are fairly comparable in terms of quality. Terminator Genisys is far from a perfect film, but it leaves on a hopeful note, and a blank slate in which to build on. Characters that should be dead are now alive, characters that should be alive, haven’t even been born yet. Genisys has shuffled the deck on the Terminator mythology, and should the rumoured sequels come to fruition, this is a solid foundation on which to build from. Terminator Genisys gets a mild recommendation from me.
Rating (out of 100): 60 “Average”
D. A. Edwards is a writer (and indentured servant) of NovaCritic.com.