Writing a good time travel movie is tricky business, writing a good time travel movie franchise is almost impossible, but that doesn’t stop the makers of The Terminator movies from trying. Bless their greedy little hearts. I’ve previously discussed the mess Time Travel and The Terminator Movies bring to the genre and Terminator Genisys is no exception, director Alan Taylor relies on explosions and fast action to distract the audience from the nonsensical plot. This works to some extent but will certainly be hurt by repeated viewings.
Terminator Genisys pretty much ignores the sequels, with only a few nods to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and focuses on divergent timelines caused by even more time traveling heroes and villains. In this movie we finally get to see future war hero John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading the final assault on Skynet and the time travel complex. John of course knows the importance of this place and the need to send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to stop the T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and knock up his mom.
But just as Kyle is entering the time vortex he’s sees John attacked, and possibly killed by a Terminator posing as a resistance fighter, and while zipping through time he is flooded with childhood memories from an alternate timeline. This is our first tip-off that things may not be going according to plan. When Kyle arrives in 1984 the events begin exactly as they did in the original movie, but then the cop chasing Kyle through the back alleys of Los Angeles turns out to be a T-1000 and the T-800 sent to kill Sarah is attacked by an aged version of that same Arnie model. Kyle is even more shocked to find himself rescued by a combat ready Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) who is completely aware of who he is and all about Judgement Day. It seems parties unknown sent a T-800 back to 1973 to save nine year old Sarah Connor and he’s been her guardian ever since.
Kyle is, needless to say, confused. Everything he’s been briefed on is no longer the case. Sarah isn’t the helpless waitress he was expecting; now she’s a warrior in her own right and has her own Terminator that she calls Pops. Though he does still have one important job do and is the basis of a nice running gag; The Terminator is constantly reminding Sarah that she has to “mate” with Kyle to ensure that John Connor exists. It’s these moments between Emilia Clarke and Arnold Schwarzenegger that make me wish I was watching a movie or television series based on their adventures together that led up to this point. And for once a machine acting quirky, if not downright emotional, makes sense as he’s been with her for decades and has picked up a few things.
Turns out Sarah and her guardian cyborg have a plan that involves their own time machine and a jaunt into the future to prevent Skynet from ever existing. To say the time travel in this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense would be a gross understatement. In this franchise we’ve had Skynet and the Resistance sending multiple robots and soldiers through time and each time neither side actually accomplish much anything, and this movie basically ends up just like the rest. The cool thing about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was the idea that Judgement Day is inevitable, no matter what either side does it’s going to happen. At most the actual date of Skynet nuking the world is just delayed as “Time” will heal any alterations to its grand design. This idea, along with many things from the sequels, is jettisoned in favor of more explosions and improbable chases. In Terminator Genisys, time is treated like a game of Boggle, just keep shaking it up until you get the result you want.
When Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released back in 1991 the marketing campaign was quick to spoil the fact that Arnie was back, but was now he was on the side of the angels, and apparently the same marketing team is on board this one because the trailers for Terminator Genisys spoil a major plot twist. Arnie, Sarah and Reese run into John Connor in 2017 and it turns out he’s our new chief villain.
I will now state for the record that I am officially bored with Terminator on Terminator slugfests. Seeing two nigh indestructible guys slamming each other through walls was cool…the first six or seven times we saw it. Not so much anymore. What little suspense and excitement we had watching those types of fight sequences is long gone, and now they’ve become just a clichéd action sequence that is stuck in these movies simply because its expected. Though the winner for worst action sequence in this film has to go to the helicopter chase between our heroes and evil robot John Connor. Not only did it look incredibly fake but it was silly beyond measure and went on way too long. Not that there weren’t some great action moments, and there is a bus battle on Golden Gate Bridge that is pretty damn cool, but overall the heavy reliance on CGI compositing and graphics here make the sequels, made decades earlier, look so much better.
For me the one character that stood out among all the explosions and insanely senseless expository dialogue was the cop played by J.K. Simmons, who in 1984 witnessed Kyle Reese and gang taking on a T-1000, and who has spent the last 30 years dwelling on the existence of killer robots and the possibility of time travel. Director Alan Taylor tries to infuse a lot of humor in this movie, and sadly most of it falls flat, but all the stuff with J.K. Simmons is just gold. The film could have used more of him and less of evil mustache twirling John Connor.
Terminator Genisys is not a terrible summer flick, but it falls into the same camp as Jurassic World for being a film that exists solely to capitalize on the nostalgia of the originals. This film also introduces a couple of mysteries that it doesn’t solve, and has a not at all surprising credit cookie, so it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that two more films have already been greenlit.
No one goes into a Terminator movie looking for a treatise on the mechanics of time travel, but this movie makes Bill and Ted’s adventures look sensible. For the most part, the action is great and the cast all seem to be having a great time, so if you are looking for a nice summer distraction this one will fill the bill.