Past the Popcorn: Yes, Schwarzenegger is Back in Terminator Genisys

by Jeff Walls

Whether or not you were ready for more Terminator movies, you are getting them.  The franchise rights revert back to its creator James Cameron in 2019 and current rights owner Paramount intends to release a full trilogy before that happens.  The first is this summer’s Terminator Genisys, a movie that is both a sequel to the original films and a reboot of sorts.  If you thought the Terminator timeline was confusing already, this movie’s time-traveling plot is really going to drive you crazy.

After the standard opening narration that similarly opens every Terminator movie, the story begins in the future.  John Connor and the resistance have backed Skynet into a corner and are on the verge of victory.  The machines have a new weapon in the form of a time displacement machine, though, and the human soldiers arrive too late at the factory to stop the Terminator from going back in time to 1984.  Fortunately, the resistance is able to send a lone warrior, Kyle Reese, back in time to protect young Sarah Connor.

terminator-genisys-insetIf this sounds familiar, it is because it is the set up to the original The Terminator from 1984, and the next few scenes do a good job of recreating scenes from that original film before throwing a giant Arnold Schwarzenegger-sized wrench into the fray.  We soon learn that at some point in the future, a Terminator was sent back to kill Sarah when she was only a little girl and a T-800 model was reprogrammed and sent back to protect her.  This has changed everything that Sarah’s lessons had previously taught the future John Connor about the past, who in turn relayed it to Kyle.  With the timeline changed, Kyle, Sarah, and her protector (whom she calls ‘Pops’) must seek out and destroy Skynet before it can become sentient and take over the world.

If that description sounded like a spoiler to you, rest assured that I have only told you half of the plot twists that were already spoiled by each and every trailer for the movie.  Furthermore, what could have been the movie’s biggest surprise was ruined not only in the trailer, but also right there on the movie’s poster (I saved you that one).  If this movie fails at the box office and Paramount wants a scapegoat, then they should look no further than their own marketing department.  These could have been great plot twists, if only the studio had kept things a little closer to the chest.

Spoiled plot twists might not be the only thing to sink this movie, though.  The movie works so hard to creatively play with the existing timeline that turns it into one big jumbled mess.  Paradoxes are abundant in this movie and I found myself on multiple occasions arguing silently that what is happening shouldn’t be happening because it should have been reset by what they just did in the previous scene.  It also doesn’t help that the new Terminator villain that is introduced halfway through the movie just fails to impress.  Remember how in awe movie audiences were when Cameron introduced us to the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day?  This latest model does not inspire the same sense of wonder.  The fact that this movie gives us a T-1000 in the first half only drives home the fact in the second half that no Terminator has lived up to that robot’s level of amazement.

Even with the confusing timeline and underwhelming villains, Terminator Genisys does give us some moderately exciting action scenes and despite its flaws, it keeps us entertained from start to finish.  I did like how it played off our expectations with its reinterpretation of the original movie’s opening, and the tie-in with our current device-obsessed culture was a nice plot touch.  It is also nice to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his signature role and the reasoning given for his obvious increasing age is actually somewhat believable.   Even if it weren’t, you really just have to go with it at this point.

The rest of the actors underwhelm, though.  Hollywood has been trying to turn Jai Courtney into a star, but he lacks the charisma and screen presence.  Emilia Clarke is decent as Sarah, but can’t quite live up to her predecessors both on the big and small screen.  Then there is Jason Clarke as John Connor.  So good in last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Clarke’s performance just seems somewhat off here.

This is the fifth Terminator movie and although there is still entertainment value to be found, you just have to wonder if they should have just stopped after the first two movies.  None of the movies since have come anywhere close to matching the sheer awesomeness of those two movies, nor have any of the movie’s special effects lived up to those given to us way back in 1991.  Whether we want or not, though, Terminator is back.  I guess you can’t say he didn’t warn us.

Terminator Genisys opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and the AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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