I am of two entirely disparate, irreconcilable minds when it comes to Terminator Genisys. It’s pointless and it’s necessary. It’s dumb and it’s amazing. It’s contrived and it’s original. It’s spineless and it has balls of steel. I’m left only to conclude that the fate of Genisys lies strictly in the choices of its watcher. It’s either as terrible as you expect it to be or as awesome as you wish it were. Are you able to shrug off silliness and say to yourself “okay sure, of course that’s happening, I’ll buy that”? Because, if you are, then you’ll probably have a great time. If, however, your cynicism is unbudging then you, too, will remain unmoved.
Personally speaking, I’ve seen enough movies in my day to understand that the great films—the truly meaningful works that transcend the form to become pieces of art—are few and far between. If we’re lucky, we get one or two fantastic movies a year. The rest exist solely as the cogs that keep the machinations of Hollywood ever turning. They are, then, to be seen merely as entertainment. Works of mass entertainment should be looked upon differently than works of unmitigated genius, and a work of unmitigated genius Terminator Genisys sure as shit ain’t.
So what is it then? Depending on which perspective you take—that of fun loving moviegoer or immovable cynic—it’s either a slam-bang summer popcorn movie extravaganza, or a pointless cash grab that does little but shit upon the memories of your youth. For what it’s worth, I had fun with it, enjoying the twists on the classic franchise despite the movie’s numerous flaws. It’s the twists that’ll determine where you fall on the love-hate scale. Some will no doubt hate the way Terminator Genisys completely destroys the timelines of the first two movies (Rise of the Machine and Salvation appear to have been erased altogether) while others will embrace these changes as a refreshing way to reboot a series without undoing the past.
As with the first movie, Genisys begins with a victory. Human rebels have defeated the A.I. nemesis of SkyNet, but not before the mechanized tyrant could send back a terminator to 1984 to kill the woman destined to give birth to the leader of the resistance, Sarah Conner (Mother of Dragons herself, Emilia Clarke, taking the reins from Linda Hamilton). Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, replacing Michael Biehn) is once again drafted to go back in time to protect the matriarch of the revolution, only this time things don’t go quite as expected.
He arrives expecting Sarah to be the mousey, weak woman she was when we met her in James Cameron’s original Terminator, but somewhere along the way, the timeline was changed. In this version of 1984, she’s more akin to the stone-cold badass she became in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It would seem that years prior, when she was a girl, one of the liquid metal T-1000s was sent to terminate her, only to be met with its demise by the classic T-800 Arnold Schwarzenegger model. Though Conner’s parents died in the attack, the T-800 assumes the role of parent/care taker, and raises her with full disclosure regarding her unique and important fate.
None of this is ever explained, really. Who sent the terminators back to Conner’s youth? To what end? What the actual fuck is going on? Does it matter? It doesn’t really, not that I can tell. For the most part, this set up and the unanswered questions it leaves serve mostly as the loose threads with which to weave a trilogy. I could pull at them, sure, and unravel the entire concept, or I can patiently wait for tapestry to be completed before passing my final judgment.
Of course, this merely brings up the obvious question: Does Terminator Genisys deserve a follow up? Eh, probably not, but that’s never stopped them from making another Terminator, has it? In terms of laying the foundations for a new series (as much as that’s debatable as a necessity) this offers them their best chance since…well, since ever. All of this timeline mussing has effectively given them entirely new sandbox to play around in without worrying about stepping on the toes of the original. In this way, it’s not that dissimilar for the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. Rather than just starting over from scratch, they’ve utilized their time travel motifs to spin-off a new universe that exists separately from the original.
However, the script, provided by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, falls despite its ambition, pulling back where it should have dived in and never failing to wade in the shallow when depth would have been nice. Conceptually, it was interesting; I always enjoy time travel shenanigans and there are, of course, plenty of those to be had. But Reese and Arnie’s Terminator are reduced to little more than an expository chorus, cluing the audience in on what’s happening in case they can’t keep up.
Arnie, meanwhile, is showing his age considerably. This ain’t T2’s Schwarzenegger. Hell, it’s not even End of Days Schwarzenegger. This is post-modern “I’m not too old for this shit” Schwarzenegger who, very clearly, isn’t capable of doing the kinds of things he built his early career on. This fact is nodded to throughout the movie as his Terminator repeatedly reminds us that he is “old, not obsolete.” Oh Arnie. We see what you did there.
Clarke, meanwhile, is shocking in how much she manages to channel the look of a young Hamilton. There were times, watching her, that I could almost see Linda in the role. It’s sort of uncanny. I wish she had be given better material to work with, but she makes the most with what she’s got and proves her worth outside of Game of Thrones.
While Terminator Genisys doesn’t quite breathe new life into the franchise, it does appear to have extended it somewhat. The series may still be on life support, but think of this as the experimental treatment that may provide miraculous results. Overall, the film is fun and enjoyable, but only if you don’t think about it too hard in the process. There is no fate, after all, but what we make for ourselves, so I’ll leave yours in your capable hands.
Terminator Genisys is in theaters now.