The great thing about revolving an entire franchise around time travel and alternate realities is that it has the opportunity to refresh the plot and keep it relevant for new audiences, without needing to go for an outright reboot. On the down side, the complexities of time need only slight mishandling for things to get really messy. And Terminator Genisys is as messy as it is somewhat refreshing.
However, try as hard as it might, this fifth instalment and pseudo-reboot is unable to shake off the fact that the once-legendary franchise has gotten really old really fast. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s T-800 reiterates with what appears to be his new catchphrase, “I’m old, I’m not obsolete.” And to be fair, Genisys is certainly not obsolete, especially to a newer audience. If the movie succeeds at anything, it does revive interest in a recycled plot that has gotten (and still remains) dull with time.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
As John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the resistance to victory over Skynet in 2029, the machines make a last-ditch attempt at erasing this fate, sending a T-800 cyborg back to 1984 to assassinate John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones). In his own counter-move, John Connor sends a resistance soldier (and his eventual father), Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), through the time machine to save the (originally) unsuspecting Sarah.
Instead, the Sarah Connor he meets is one who has been raised by a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, affectionately known as “Pops”) and who is determined to take down Skynet rather than hide in safety. As the trio travel forward in time to stop the newly dated Judgment Day, they find that they are also playing by the rules of a new and unpredictable timeline. And according to these rules, a cyborg-human John Connor is the one they need to defeat rather than save. Meanwhile, Skynet is hours away from being launched under the guise of an omnipresent iCloud-esque artificial intelligence; Genisys.
It is obvious what Terminator Genisys is trying to do; it is attempting to rewrite the series (even converting one of its key heroes into a villain) and resell it to a new audience, while technically keeping the first franchise films valid because they still occurred in their original timelines. Unfortunately, Genisys tries too hard to be different, and it makes too many changes that fans are unlikely to appreciate.
Because Skynet and a future Resistance think they are 5 steps ahead of each other, they go overboard with time-travel. The existing timeline is messed around to the point that Sarah and Kyle’s endeavours seem less focused and less inspiring. Further ridding the movie of genuine thrills is the seemingly invincible John Connor cyborg-hybrid. The new villain is more tedious than intimidating, and attempts to eliminate him are tiring repeats of futile battles that we have already seen with T2‘s more memorable T-1000 shapeshifter.
As with Genisys‘s heavily warped plot, the franchise has rewritten itself to an extent that devoted fans might find it too “alternative” for comfort. However, those who embrace these changes will view the movie more favourably.
While uninspiring, Genisys should not be written off as a flop. By and large, the movie manages to entertain for its entirety. It is up-tempo and always on the move, even if it never gets particularly interesting. The movie is all the more enjoyable for those with little regard for the franchise’s previous eminence. If one does not hold this movie too accountable to the first two Terminator films, Genisys is a decent summer sci-fi flick at the very least.
In their leading roles, Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese do not have much to win audience’s hearts with. But they are passable characters that we are thankfully – as human beings with survival instincts – obliged to root for. We might not love them – and they are not very convincingly in love with each other – but they work just fine as the younger, prettier, buffed-up versions of their characters. And there is no denying Emilia Clarke‘s and Jai Courtney‘s appeal to young fans who have followed them in other franchises.
Schwarzenegger’s “Pops” is mostly a lifeless monotonous cyborg, but his amiable “smiles” and undertone of paternal instincts are easily likeable. There is also, of course, an unavoidable joy that comes from just seeing the Governator back in his trademark character, even if it is mostly for nostalgia’s sake. Schwarzenegger had already won over the fans 31 years ago, and thus he does not have to do much to make the movie more enjoyable besides just showing up and staying on camera. Genisys is a lot better with the legendary action hero than without.
In the end, Genisys gets by as an adequate action movie in its own right, and is acceptable as an unnecessary and mildly-unfaithful Terminator sequel.
But ultimately, the movie still begs the question of whether the franchise has overstayed its welcome. The option of time-travel alone does not justify the retelling of a story that has already worn thin. And Genisys reaffirms that the plot has remained stagnant, even if it does peak our interest by making several (occasionally overboard) changes.
There is hope that some genius will be able to breathe new life into the endless war with Skynet. But until that genius is found, “I’ll be back” has become a groan-inducing reminder of the tiring merry-go-round that has come to define the Terminator movies.
Rating: 3.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Okay, I guess? Could be better.”)