Film Review: Terminator: Genisys

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Terminator: Genisys Plot Summary:

In 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke) and the resistance are on the verge of defeating the machines that nearly wiped out humanity in 1997. In order to save their future, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), the mother of John.  When Kyle arrives, he finds the past has altered, and tries to navigate an uncertain timeline in order to save the future.

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If you’re a Terminator fan, you will like this movie. Actually, scratch that. If you’re a Terminator fan that won’t come in with their arms folded and mind already made up, you will like this movie. Sorry. Had to add that little caveat. Yeah, I’m getting on my soapbox, so strap in. Is this the greatest movie ever made?  No. But it’s a damn good one. The attitude towards Terminator Genisys is the result of a nit-picky film blog society who already decided this movie sucked months ago. The movie has flaws, but as I watch this fifth entry in the franchise, I’m not sure what Terminator fans are looking for.  Ever since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), we’ve been searching for the holy grail of Terminator movies. This obviously isn’t the caliber of the first two films, but I’m not sure how much better you could have done. It’s time to get on board, dammit!  This is a great Terminator movie!

We start in the future (2029), the point where it all ends for Skynet, forcing them to send a Terminator back in time to kill the mother of John Connor, leader of the human resistance.  Yeah, yeah, we know this.  They essentially wipe out Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, and stick with the original prophecy of the first film (judgment day still happens in 1997). If you want to still count those in your Terminator continuity though, you can. It’s time travel, folks. I admit the first five minutes are kind of rough. It’s not bad, and visually everything looks great, but the acting and rhythm are flat, very Terminator Salvation-esque.  The problem is the opening sequence is heavily contingent on the chemistry between Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese and Jason Clarke’s John Connor, but they have none.  These two actors were a concern of mine going on, but we’ll get to that later.  Once the T-800 is sent back, and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger appears on the grimy streets of 1984 Los Angeles, we are rocking and rolling.

It’s no secret this film screws with the original events of the first movie, and boy do they ever.  It’s utterly insane, but I mean that in a good way.  Maybe some purists will hem and haw, but this to me is the charm of Terminator Genisys. The story is ambitious, and they go all out in delivering crazy time line shenanigans. Maybe I’m just a sucker for time travel, but I ate this up with a spoon. You so desperately want to learn what the hell happened, and that’s what keeps you engaged.  The film almost acts as a Terminator All-Star game, as classic characters suddenly arrive on the scene like in a Royal Rumble.

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Let’s talk about those classic Terminator characters.  I’ve never been a fan of Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney, so I was disappointed to learn they got these iconic roles.  In the stupid trailers, they spoil what’s going on with John Connor, in that he’s become some kind of robot. They do some interesting bits with John this time around, but another actor could have made this incredible. Clarke is decent, but fairly flat. He’s definitely my least favorite performance in the film.

While very Jai Courtney-esque at the beginning, I started to endear myself to Kyle Reese. It’s like he gains charisma as the movie goes on. Part of this is the interplay he was with Sarah Connor and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It’s interesting to see Reese almost bitter that the timeline has changed, like he got cheated of being the one to rescue Sarah Connor. This made for a real interesting dynamic between him and Sarah that is vastly different from the original series. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Emilia Clarke did a great job. She’s lighter than Linda Hamilton’s Connor from T2, but the fighter is still unquestionably there. The problem is the dialogue. There are a couple moments where she talks like a teenage girl. Yeah, it’s cringe-worthy, but can I please stress to people not to let this ruin the movie for you, because I know that’s what many will glom onto. We’re talking about two or three lines, alright. Everybody relax.

As far as the characters go, I buried the lead, because the best element to this entire film is Arnold Schwarzenegger. As the good guy T-800, he’s basically doing his Terminator 2 arc, but because of the nature of the story, we get to see it play out more. He is a truly empathetic character, and the relationship between him and Sarah Connor is the most powerful element in the whole movie. They also do a great job of developing the relationship between him and Kyle Reese. It’s simple, but effective. In a movie filled with explosions and action, we actually get several good character moments, including one involving The Ramone’s “I Wanna Be Sedated” that is one of my favorite Arnold moments from the entire series. Every moment Arnold is on screen, you are captivated. The big bad villain at the end gives the T-800 a line of dialogue that makes you want to see Arnold bash this guy’s face in. It’s awesome!

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As far as the other characters go, Byung-hun Lee is no Robert Patrick, but was very effective as the T-1000. I’d also be remised if I didn’t mention my boy J.K. Simmons, who’s underutilized, but plays a great role that was an ingenious way of playing with time travel.

When you’re talking about a Terminator film though, you got to have great action, and Genisys passes that test. It’s all crisp and clean, no shaky cam non-sense. There are some incredible aerial shots, including a sequence where everybody hangs off the Golden Gate Bridge that was a sight to see. The effects were top notch, especially the liquid metal. The young digital Arnold also looks fantastic. I really don’t know how much better you could have done with that. It works.

As good as the action is, the film could have been better with another director in place. Alan Taylor isn’t exactly James Cameron. He does a commendable job here, but you can feel some sense of epic-ness missing. He makes up for it with the pacing though, which does move fast. The script is hit-or-miss, with a lot of cliché lines, but when they hit, they hit hard. There are some truly brilliant moments, especially with how Kyle Reese becomes affected by the new timeline. If some of the smaller issues were cleared up, this could have been closer to the first two films. When the score wasn’t playing the original music, it left a lot to be desired. There’s also an unfortunate usage of the COPS theme. Really? The COPS theme? Ugh.

Bottom-line: This is a great entry in the series, and deserves better  It also has great callbacks, and essentially becomes a rehash of T2, but in a good way. It also gives a big middle finger to our over use of technology, so that’s always going to tickle my fancy. This feels like it could have been Terminator 3, and if it came out a few years after the second one, before the age of movie blogger snarky-ness, people would have gone ape shit for it. For whatever reason, this movie had a bad perception from the beginning. I even admitted the trailers looked bad, but you know what, I actually waited to see the film before I passed judgment. Give this a chance. Don’t look at the BS Rotten Tomato score. I fear this could be the last Terminator film due to box office, and if that’s the case, I can be at peace with this ending. While it certainly leaves the door open for sequels, it’s also a legit end point. If for anything else, the movie is worth the price of admission for Arnold.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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