Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys, with a y, is the fifth and latest installment in this over 30-year franchise. I wasn’t expecting much, considering the last two films, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, were both disappointing, but was still hopeful that this would be a chance for someone to redeem this dwindling franchise. I left the theater not in awe or disappointment, but in a state of confusion. It took me quite awhile to fully wrap my head around what it was I just watched. And, after careful deliberation, as well as going back to watch the first (and best) two films in the franchise, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, I was finally able to gather my thoughts and write this review.
The makers of this film pretty much sealed its fate as a critical failure before they even began filming with the decision to cast Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. They are both very talented rising stars, but I did not see them as suitable choices to play such iconic characters. Clarke, who plays the platinum-blonde mother of dragons on HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, clearly tries to capture the same edginess and ferocity that Linda Hamilton did when she portrayed this emblem of female power so well in the first two films, but unfortunately fails. Clarke is an extremely talented young actress who is destined for international stardom, but this was not her best moment. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) on the other hand, does not get as much screen time as he deserves and is captivating as John Connor, who undergoes a transformation from leader of the resistance to Sarah and Kyle’s main setback when he is unexpectedly turned into a completely different breed of machine altogether, as John says himself in the film, “I’m not a man, not a machine…I’m more.”
The film starts off in the year 2029, when John Connor is the leader of the Resistance against Skynet. He is worshipped by everyone and hailed as a hero. His right-hand man is Kyle Reese, who does not know yet that he is actually John’s father. Reese volunteers to go back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah, guaranteeing John’s existence. When Reese shows up he is surprised to find out that Sarah is already aware of all of this, as well as being a skilled fighter instead of a struggling waitress. Her constant companion and protector all these years has been a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Together they all travel to the year 2017, with the hopes of stopping Skynet then.
Some critics have castigated Arnold Schwarzenegger for reprising his role as a cyborg that Sarah Connor refers to as “Pops”, but I found him the most charming part of this movie. Early into the film “Pops” faces off against another cyborg, a younger-looking version of himself, sent back to kill Sarah Connor. I don’t know how they managed to pull off that scene, but it was the neatest action sequence to watch, from my perspective.
The key aspect that made the first two films so fantastic that is absent in this film is a story, which is where most sub-par action films go wrong. There was no connection the audience would have to these characters from this film alone, no reason to root for them, that we didn’t get from the previous films in the franchise. The only thing that could make up for that, which this film also fails to do, that is an essential part of all summer blockbusters, is to be really, really fun.