When I learned of the title for the now fifth Terminator film, I joked, “How much did Zack Snyder have to pay the producers of Terminator to come up with a title worse than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice?” (This is something you can verify in back episodes of the Void Zone Podcast).
It turns out that the title is the worst thing about Terminator: Genisys after all.
The film, as always, centers on a war between humanity and the machines. The humans of 2029 are led by John Connor (Jason Clark), and have just achieved a decisive victory – one that may well lead to humanity reclaiming the world, but the machines rig the game. They send a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 Los Angeles to kill John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), before John can ever be born. In the future, John sends his trusted friend, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to protect her. Fans of the franchise will recognize this exposition as the plot of The Terminator. However, when Kyle Reese arrives in 1984 everything he has been taught to expect is wrong. In addition to the Terminator sent back to 1984, several other Terminators have been sent back to various points in the past. At least two versions of the T-1000 (the villain of Terminator 2: Judgment Day) were sent back in time – one to 1973 and one to 1984. And there is an elderly T-800 who has been protecting Sarah ever since the first attempt on her life in 1973. Time travel antics continue, and Kyle Reese finds himself conscripted into Sarah’s plan to travel from 1984 to 2017 to stop Judgment Day once and for all.
The effects work is staggering. Taking a page from Back to the Future, Part II, Terminator: Genisys finds itself time travelling back into 1984’s The Terminator and depicting the present day Arnold doing battle with his beef-caky younger self. There’s an odd poetry to this moment, but the brisk pace of Terminator: Genisys doesn’t permit us to dwell on it.
Emilia Clarke, who in this movie looks enough like Linda Hamilton to convince me they might be related, turns in a surprisingly nuanced performance. She is torn between her desire to choose her own life for herself and her knowledge of the future. Arnold, of course, nails this role. Playing the Terminator is probably the thing that Arnold does best in the world. He’s not at his physical peak anymore, but he makes good use of our comparisons to the previous entries in the franchise and our good will for this robotic murderer turned foster father. Similarly, Jai Courtney finally turns in a performance worth watching here after a string of middling performances in previous summer action films.
I don’t know if Terminator: Genisys was necessary. This series has already peaked with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room to revisit this material when it’s done, as Terminator: Genisys was, surprisingly well.
From Out in the Void