Terminator Genisys: A Movie Review

I don’t write movie reviews. This is an Action Figure review site, after all. However, I’ve just seen a movie about which I want to write.

The movie in question (hey, that would be a catchy name for a movie review site, wouldn’t it?) is Terminator Genisys. I’m a pretty big fan of The Terminator and I’d probably rank Terminator 2 in my top five favorite movies.  It goes without saying that I was more than a little disappointed by the two films that followed. I’ve never actually been able to get all the way through T3, and most of Salvation left me cold. I had pretty much written the franchise off, and I kind of figured it was more or less dead.

When the first trailer for Genisys showed up, I was surprised. Somehow, I’d entirely missed the fact that another film was in production. It actually looked pretty decent, as if this might be the movie to turn the franchise around. I was optimistic, if cautiously so. I was still pretty excited, so when it started showing Tuesday night, I headed out to see it. Without saying too much, my optimism paid off and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

Spoiler-Free:

First off, let’s address the film’s biggest draw: Arnold. His return to acting was one of the driving forces of getting the movie made, and a lot of the film’s marketing focused on his big return to the role. This time around, he takes up a part not unlike “Uncle Bob” in T2, operating as Sarah’s father figure “Pops.” The film seems to draw from the learning ability of the T-800’s CPU established in the extended cut of T2. Here it’s been in operation for a while, allowing Arnold to play a character with a little more warmth and human understanding. That’s not to say he’s completely abandoned his robotic nature, though; it makes its way to the forefront a few times, generally in the more action oriented scenes, but also in a few humorous moments.

The film has more than a few humorous moments, sprinkled throughout. It feels like they’ve gotten the mix of humor and drama right this time around. Part of what I enjoyed so much about T2 was its seamless blending of humor and serious moments. The movies that followed never got this balance down. T3 went too goofy and Salvation went too dreary and hopeless, resulting in both films suffering. Genisys gets it right.

Humor is one thing, but a movie is hardly a proper Terminator movie without some action. Genisys offers a nice selection of action sequences. There are lots of call backs to older movies (especially in the first battle with the T-1000) but there’s a lot of new stuff too, which keeps things interesting. Some sequences relied a little too heavily on CGI, but it never gets distracting to the point of pulling the viewer out of the film. The newest version of Terminator plays a big part in making the action feel new and exciting. One of my biggest problems with the last two films was the stagnation of the Terminators. The T-1000 offered a significant upgrade over the first film’s T-800, and this movie’s magnetically-charged nanite-powered Terminator felt like a worthy upgrade to the seemingly unstoppable T-1000.

I spoke about Arnold’s performance, but what about the rest of the cast? Well, if there’s a weak link, it’s probably Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese. The biggest issue is that he really doesn’t look like Kyle Reese. Michael Biehn has a particular look, especially in Terminator. He’s not a clean cut, stacked action hero. Jai Courtney kind of is. His performance isn’t terrible, and he had grown on me by the end of the film, but he still felt a little off. Perhaps if Anton Yelchin’s turn as Kyle in Salvation hadn’t been one of that film’s few redeeming qualities, I’d be more forgiving.

Emilia Clarke, on the other hand, feels like a pretty worthy successor to Linda Hamilton. She plays Sarah with a lot of strength and presence, calling back to the T2 version of the character, but she also manages to still play up a lot of the uncertainty we saw in Terminator, giving us the best of both worlds. She and Arnold Schwarzenegger have a lot of chemistry, which really helped to make the movie work.

Jason Clarke takes over from Christian Bale as John Connor, and is probably the strongest of the re-cast parts. He actually plays the role in such a way that you can understand how this guy could lead the resistance to victory.

Byung-hun Lee gives a good performance as the T-1000, though he feels a little under-utilized here. I’m not sure rehashing the plot of T2 would have been the best way to go, but I felt like he should have had a little more to do.

JK Simmons and Matt Smith both give good performances in their respective roles. Simmons once again feels a little under-used, but the few scenes he does take part in use him pretty well. I’ll talk about Smith’s performance more in the spoiler section.

The film has a running theme of “old, but not obsolete.” This line is said more than once by Arnold’s Pops T-800, and it really
feels like it applies to the franchise as a whole as well. The movie strives to show us that this franchise may be old, but it’s not quite outmoded.

Spoilers after the jump.

Spoiler-y:

(Be Warned, I’m really not kidding. These are spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t go any further)

Okay, so here we are with the spoilers. One of the biggest “twists” the film has to offer is the reveal that the new Terminator is none other than the resistance’s own John Connor, who has been infected with some sort of nanite…thing. Of course, Fox kind of blew this surprise in one of the trailers and on the posters, which was dumb. But, in context, it actually kind of works.

John being the Terminator is a good move for a couple of reasons. First of all, it gives Jason Clarke a much larger role than he might have had otherwise. He gets a chance to really flex his acting muscles, as he plays both the John Connor we’ve all heard the stories of, and a Terminator with determination. The other nice thing is that we finally get to see a John that is more in line with the military strategist described in the first two films. Though he may be a literal killing machine, he’s not just mowing people down. His moves all feel carefully planned, and his style of hunt has him avoiding actual confrontation with the heroes as much as possible. This, coupled with the new style of Terminator he becomes, makes for fight scenes that are refreshingly different from the pure slugfests of T3 and Salvation.

The next bit isn’t so much a twist, but it is something that’s been kept under wraps. Matt Smith is credited as playing “Alex.” I’m not really sure who that is, because he plays no such character. In reality, he is playing the embodiment of Skynet. This is another refreshing change that the movie brings to the franchise. While the abstract Skynet of the first two films is certainly not a bad thing, as the movies delved more and more into the actual future in which Skynet is in control, Skynet’s lack of any real “face” made it hard to really visualize what the heroes were fighting. Helena Bonham Carter sort of acted as a face for the system in Salvation, but she didn’t really interact with the rest of the cast, so the whole thing felt rather hollow. Smith is only in a few small portions of the film, but he is effectively menacing when on screen, and he really helps to make Skynet a credible threat once again.

The last spoiler-y bit is the one that will probably cause the most ire. At the end of the film, Pops does the usual self-sacrifice bit, just like all the “protectors” before him. However, at the last minute, the sacrifice doesn’t take, and his CPU is flung into a pool of un-programed T-1000 goop. The end result is that Arnold is now a T-1000. Now, this bit is pretty spelled out, but I missed where they were going with the clues they planted, until the last second. I can definitely see people disliking this turn, especially since it changes how the film’s usually work. That said, I thought it worked, and it makes sense in the real world, as it means Arnold won’t have to do so much physical work should they make more films.

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