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He's Back

Paramount Pictures
 126 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney 
Terminator Genisys

The summer of 2015 is rapidly proving to be the summer of the franchise reboot. All summers are filled with pure sequels, and 2015 is no exception with the likes of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Pitch Perfect 2. But Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road were not, strictly speaking, sequels, but, rather attempts by studios to breath new life into highly profitable but now largely dormant franchises. Jurassic World is a huge hit and Mad Max: Fury Road a modest one. Now, it’s Paramount’s time to try its luck with rebooting the Terminator franchise after a near disastrous last outing set in the future and without Arnold Schwarzenegger. But in Terminator Genisys, Arnold is back, and, at least in this critic’s view, so is the franchise.


Let’s begin by stating the obvious: The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are two of the best action movies of all time. They combine a great concept, great casting of the lead roles, very good scripts, and, above all, the genius of James Cameron, who directed and co-wrote both films. Cameron has few peers as an action director and none when it comes to incorporating state-of-the-art technology to support the story.


However, screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have done a good job of re-imagining the world of Terminator Genisys to make it more interesting. They go back to the original storyline of the first movie, but they tweak it in a number of ways, some big and some small. In addition, they also take full advantage of the time travel theme of the entire franchise by suggesting that these tweaks are a byproduct of people and machines messing around with time and history.


As in the original Terminator, humanity is on the verge of triumphing over their mechanized rivals when the machines try one last ditch effort to win the war. They build a time machine that sends one killer Terminator (a bodybuilder stunt double with the face of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), mother of John Connor (Jason Clarke, no relation), the resistance leader. Their hope is that by killing Sarah they will prevent John from being born and in the changed history, win the war by depriving the humans of their leader. John, in turn, dispatches his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect Sarah. John has ulterior motives for doing so, since, in one of the original story’s great plot twists, Kyle and Sarah fall in love and he winds up fathering John.


However, when Kyle arrives in the past (in a series of scenes that carefully mimic scenes from the original), he finds that Sarah is more than capable of defending herself. Apparently someone else dispatched another Terminator to the year 1973 to save Sarah and the now middle-aged Pops (as Sarah calls him) and Sarah are prepared for what’s going to happen. They save Kyle but figure out that the new threat is in 2017, when a new computer intelligence called Genisys is due to come on line. Genisys is a sort of uber-cloud, linking together all the world’s computers, but actually having a mind of its own. If it does come online, the machines will have a gift wrapped way of defeating the human race.


There are plot potholes aplenty in Terminator Genisys, but almost all of them can be forgiven easily enough by chalking them up to “unforeseen consequences” of time travel. What’s can’t be forgiven is the studio giving away a huge surprise in the script in the trailers for the movie. This twist, which I won’t spoil here for those who somehow still haven’t seen the trailers in questions, introduces yet another new version of Terminator and, in addition, moves the series in an entirely new direction.


For those who enjoyed Robert Patrick’s shape shifting Terminator cop from Judgment Day, one of those shows up as well, this time played by Byung-hun Lee. The screenwriters and director Alan Taylor enjoy throwing out as many bits and pieces from the first two movies in the franchise as possible. This serves both to reintroduce newcomers to the franchise to some of the details that made the movies so memorable and provide a treat for longtime fans.


The biggest treat of all, of course, is Schwarzenegger. Thanks to some computer wizardry, he appears as three versions of himself, a young one as the killer robot, a 40ish one in the 1984 scenes and the Arnold of today in the 2017 scenes. The script explains his varying appearances by noting that his human skin, which is applied over the metal skeleton and other innards, ages normally. What hasn’t aged is Schwarzenegger’s deadpan wit, which was on display in the first two movies and dispenses a combination of new and old one-liners here. In addition, his attempts at a smile are the funniest part of the movie.


The new cast members are a mixed bag. Emilia Clarke is small and not as physically buff as Linda Hamilton was, but she’s got the command presence she displays on Game of Thrones. J.K. Simmons provides comic relief as a cop whose life was changed when he met Kyle and Sarah. The worst blunder was casting Jai Courtney, an actor with lots of muscles but little charisma (he’s a villain in the Divergent series with good reason) or chemistry with Sarah.


What separates Terminator Genisys from the Cameron efforts are the action scenes. Director Taylor is best known for television work (he’s also a Game of Thrones veteran) and the generic sequel Thor: the Dark World. His action scenes are similarly generically staged, easy to follow but lacking any real flair. Plus, too many shots are staged for the sole purpose of providing 3D in-your-face thrills. Despite several chases and fight scenes involving various robotic characters, the movie lacks any memorable action moments.


The fan base has turned on Terminator Genisys with a vengeance, heaping scorn on flaws both real and imagined. The worst complaints involve not being more faithful to the original storyline, treating a James Cameron script that has become someone dated as if it were Shakespearean or Biblical source material. This isn’t sacred prose; it’s summer entertainment and a pretty good way to revisit a beloved franchise. The filmmakers have found a way to tap into the mystique of the first two movies and successfully work a nearly 70-year-old Schwarzenegger into an action film in which he’s tangling with actors half his age. Terminator Genisys has its share of flaws, but the franchise is definitely back.

Read other reviews of Terminator Genisys:


Terminator Genisys (2015) on IMDb