You have to realize that my bar (like I believe most of the bars out there) was ratcheted at quite a low level. I regretted watching Terminator 3 in the theaters, and I watched Salvation twice (on TV) but couldn’t exactly keep track of why dreary-drab Christian Bale was bailing out other dreary-drab people. None of the movies after Judgment Day were directed by James Cameron. Genisys is directed by Alan Taylor, who also did Thor: The Dark World – not exactly one of Marvel’s best showings. The big reveal (John Connor is a Terminator) was blown in the trailers … I honestly expected disaster, or at the very least Bayhem.
What we have, is actually a pretty decent action movie, with a relatively self-contained (relative for a time travel movie with multiple ‘reboots’ or alternative timelines) plot, drawing heavily on the nostalgia for the first two movies. As in the first movie, Kyle Reese (this time played by Jai Courtney) is sent back in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, no relation). Only this time, both the T-800 and T-1000 are already waiting. And because of PLOT (although they do try to lampshade and explain it later), Sarah Connor already knows she’s being hunted, and she and her guardian Arnie (he’s called Pops!) join forces with Kyle to battle the two Terminators in 1984.
They then jump forward in time (yes they built a time machine), not to 1997 (Terminator 2’s Judgment Day), but to 2017, because Kyle knows it is the correct ‘new’ time that Skynet is born, because PLOT. They plan to blow up Skynet ‘before it is born’, but they meet John Connor, who turns out to be ANOTHER Terminator. And so they battle John Connor this time, who is trying to protect Skynet. Explosions ensue.
I admit that the plot has more holes than Arnie after a fight with Terminators, but it’s a time travel movie. With Matt Smith. I expected timey-wimey hand waving in the service of moving things long. Genisys is also helped by its fairly solid cast, chief among them JK Simmons and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Terminator has always been Arnie’s movie, and the writers managed a pretty neat explanation to why his character has aged. Strangely enough, this small plot point gives Arnie a little bit more pathos, as he struggles with handing the guardian role to Kyle, and tries to maintain his relevance.
The action is also sharp enough – but I think PG-13 is sufficient for the movie. Maybe ratings have gotten looser since Judgement day? What was appreciated however, was the relative steadiness of the camera. I was seated in a row close to the front, in IMAX 3d, and I was still able to follow most of the action (of which there is sufficient) without eyestrain. In a Michael Bay movie, I’d be nursing an eyestrain-related headache 20 minutes into the movie. It might have been a conscious decision to follow the cinematography of the 80s-90s, to maintain a sort of visual connection to the first two movies, or it might have been pure coincidence, but it definitely made the action a lot easier to follow. The visual effects are pretty good too. I’m glad that they stuck to the 80-90s effects during the first half of the movie, some of the effects were almost indistinguishable from the effects used in the original two movies.
In the end, Genisys is an acceptable romp through one of sci-fi’s best movie franchises. It is strange that it follows so closely after Jurassic World, with both being the most recent of their series based on classic movies, whose franchises suffered through less than mediocre sequels. Both have hewn closely to the original movie, and beat many of the same cinematic and visual tropes in a nostalgic “return to their roots”. Both are also well done, but they are more like echoes of an older, greater movie than a movie in their own right, and I worry about the standard of the sequels coming after both Jurassic World as well as Genisys.
(By the way, stay for the mid-credits sting)
Terminator Genisys opens in Singapore Jun 25.