It’s really, really complicated.
It seems like every movie involving time travel has at least one instance where one of the characters says something along the lines of, “holy crap this time travel stuff sure is complicated, huh?”
Perhaps Jeff Daniels’ character in Rian Johnson’s twisty time travel thriller Looper sums it up best when he says, “this time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg.”
It’s best if you don’t think about it too much, if you want to avoid said brain-frying.
Such is the case with Terminator Genisys, the fifth film in the venerable Terminator franchise, and the first to star Arnold Schwarzenegger since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The fourth film, Terminator Salvation, released in 2009, had a CGI-assisted Arnold cameo, but that doesn’t really count.
The new film takes a similar approach to last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which similarly used time travel to undo the events of a couple of widely-disliked sequels.
Genisys substantially rejiggers the timeline established by the previous films. I’m sure this decision will anger some fans, but it didn’t really bother me.
First, a quick refresher. In James Cameron’s original 1984 film The Terminator, an evil robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time by an evil artificial intelligence called Skynet to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor’s unborn son John is the leader of the anti-Skynet resistance in the not-too-distant future, and Skynet has sent a killer robot back in time to kill John’s mother before he can born. Anticipating this, John has one of his most trusted lieutenants back in time to protect his mother.
Genisys uses all of this as a jumping-off point. One of the things I liked about it is that the filmmakers clearly have a lot of respect for James Cameron’s original films. There are some scenes early in the new film that are practically shot-for-shot recreations of the same scenes from Cameron’s original. But rest assured, Genisys is not a remake.
It’s hard to say exactly what it is, really. I guess I’d call it a reboot. I hesitate to call it a sequel, since I feel that would imply that it follows the previous films’ continuity, which it really doesn’t. Instead, it rewrites that continuity almost completely.
In Cameron’s original film, Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman, who has no idea that her son will be the leader of the resistance in the future and is understandably skeptical when she meets Kyle Reese and he tells her about the whole “robots from the future” thing. She doesn’t become a badass until Terminator 2.
But when Kyle and the audience meet Sarah in Genisys, she is already a badass. In this timeline, she already knows all about the future war, and has been raised and protected for most of her life by a robot from the future (played of course by Arnold Schwarzenegger), whom she affectionately calls Pops.
From there, Kyle, Sarah, and Pops set out to save the future. This involves more time traveling (forward instead of backward this time), a lot of gunfire and explosions, and one major plot twist that would have been so much more effective had it not already been spoiled by literally every single piece of the movie’s advertising.
I guess you could consider this next part a spoiler, but then again maybe not, since as I said it’s already been spoiled in the movie’s trailers and posters (such as the one pictured above, in which the big plot twist is front and center). The main villain in this film is once again an evil robot from the future, but the twist is that this particular evil robot from the future is none other than the savior of humanity, John Connor himself, whom Skynet has transformed into a sort of human/robot hybrid (although I guess that’s kind of what a cyborg is to begin with), and sent back in time to ensure Skynet’s own existence.
Well, that’s a novel approach. Taking the savior of humanity and turning him into the movie’s main antagonist is actually pretty cool. But the problem is that the movie’s spoiler-filled advertising robbed the twist of much of its impact. It’s really too bad, since it’s not a bad twist at all. I kind of liked it just for its sheer audacity.
Evil John Connor is also a different kind of robot from other Terminator robots we’ve seen before. I think he’s composed of nanobots or something, and is able to transform himself, heal injuries, and is just generally really hard to get rid of. I guess his abilities aren’t all that much different from those of the T-1000, the iconic liquid metal robot played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, but he looks very cool visually and I like the actor who plays him.
He’s played by an actor named Jason Clarke, who’s a guy I like more and more with every movie I see him in. He gives evil robot John Connor a genuine sense of pathos, and I kinda felt bad for him. He seemed like he didn’t really want to be an evil robot, but he had no other choice. I also liked the actress who played Sarah. Sarah is played by the lovely Emilia Clarke, yet another Game of Thrones veteran (this is actually the second time a Game of Thrones actress has played Sarah Connor, Sarah was previously played by GoT alum Lena Headey in the short-lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).
As far as I know, Emilia Clarke and Jason Clarke are not related, although it is kind of ironic since they play mother and son in this movie, even though the son is older than the mother, due to the time travel shenanigans.
One of the things I liked about Genisys is that it doesn’t stop to let its characters have boring conversations about the way that time travel works. Seriously, it always kills the pacing of the movie whenever the characters have boring conversations that are supposed to explain things to the audience. Talking down to the audience is never a good idea, and Genisys benefits greatly from avoiding it. The movie just keeps rolling along, and is all the better for it. Besides, when you’re on a mission to save the future, you don’t have time to stop and talk about it. World ain’t saving itself.
It’s also fun to see Arnold playing one of his most iconic roles again. He’s certainly looking a bit long in the tooth at this point, but he still plays a badass robot. The movie’s special effects are solid, and there are a lot of fun action sequences, including one that involves a school bus dangling precariously from the Golden Gate bridge, because time travel. The movie was directed by Alan Taylor (yet another Game of Thrones veteran, although as a director instead of an actor; he also directed Thor: The Dark World), who capably handles the special effects and action scenes.
Genisys got terrible reviews and only did modest box office business, which makes me sad because I liked it a lot more than Jurassic Mediocre World. It seems to have been liked more by audiences than by critics, so that’s something I guess. It’s not a perfect movie by any means but I still enjoyed it and if you liked previous Terminator films there’s a good chance you’ll like this one too.