Terminator: Genisys Reboots the Franchise for the 21st Century

A picture of a man with parts of his skin wounded enough to reveal metal underneath, holding a smoking shotgun, in front of a black font with some fog. The words "Terminator Genisys" are written over him.

Image: Skydance via Den of Geek

Genre: Action/Sci-fi

Synopsis: John Connor is the leader of the resistance in a world where humanity is being obliterated by Skynet, a self-aware artificial intelligence. Without him, humanity stands no chance. In the original Terminator movie from 1984, Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill John’s mother Sarah before he can be born. John sends back a trusted colleague, Kyle Reese, to protect his mother. However, in Terminator: Genisys, this has already happened.

John’s mother has raised him with the knowledge that a Terminator will be sent back to kill her, and that he sends Kyle Reese to stop it–and that Reese will father him, then die shortly afterwards to protect Sarah. But because it’s already happened, Skynet knows this too.

So when Reese is sent back in time, it doesn’t happen the way John told him it would. A Terminator is waiting for him in the exact time and place he arrives. Sarah Connor has been fighting off Terminators since she was 9 years old, because Skynet had sent assassins even further back in her timeline. And she’s been all but raised by a reprogrammed Terminator sent back in time to protect her.

Nothing is happening the way it’s supposed to, and Skynet has changed tactics based on its knowledge of the timeline the same way the Connors have. Sarah and Reese will have to adapt, working together to destroy Skynet once and for all. Because the program won’t make the same mistakes again.

Verdict: Pretty good, if confusing for anyone who doesn’t already know the premise and a bit too fast-paced.

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This movie tries to do for the Terminator franchise what Days of Future Past did for the X-Men movies–reset the storyline for a new generation. Using time travel, it updates the story for modern times and brings the action out of 1984, into 2017.

My knowledge of the Terminator franchise comes from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was an interesting TV exploration of Sarah Connor’s fight to protect a teenage John Connor from time-traveling threats, raise him to be the man he’s meant to be, and fight the emergence of Skynet in the present day. Which means I’m pretty familiar with the lore without ever having seen one of the movies.

That’s good, because if it wasn’t for that, I would have no idea what was going on in the beginning. This is because the previous Terminator movies all serve as backstory for this one, and several of the characters are fully aware of that backstory the entire time. (Note how I had to detail the plot of the 1984 movie in my synopsis above.)

I like the premise, that the timeline has been even further altered from the original movie. And it was pretty entertaining to watch Kyle Reese go back in time thinking he knew what was supposed to happen, and then having the rug pulled out from under him. The explanation of what was happening up to that point may not have been the best, but once Reese went back, I really started enjoying the movie.

Beyond that, this story worked to make the conflict personal. There are a lot of interesting parts to the set up, and I only wish more time was spent on to exploring its emotional impact. As it was, the movie tended to lodge a few introspection scenes in between numerous action scenes. But those few scenes were well done, and still managed to convey a host of complicated feelings.

Like the huge distrust Reese carries for Sarah’s robot foster dad, an old terminator programmed to protect her and whom she calls Pops. That’s to be expected, but there’s this nice 5 second moment where the movie shows us the impact of Reese constantly badgering Sarah about it. It’s there and it’s gone, but it addresses something subtle.

Then there’s the conflict that Sarah, and even to a certain extent Reese, feel with respect to how their destiny and future had been laid out before them. There’s the fact that Sarah knows she’s supposed to fall in love with Reese years before she ever meets him. There’s Reese finding out he’s supposed to fall in love with Sarah days after meeting her. Their relationship just barely keeps from being rushed because they’re both a little in love with the idea of each other before having to interact–especially Reese, who’s been listening to his hero (John Connor) hero-worshiping her for much of his life.

Pops–played by Arnold Schwarzenegger–had a great dynamic with Sarah and Reese. There was that bit of disconnect based on his non-human processing, but a nice hint of dry humor to a number of their interactions. It was cool, and added a good bit of character to the scenes–especially the action scenes, which would otherwise have been like hundreds of other scenes I’ve seen in hundreds of other movies.

The ideas played with in this movie are intriguing. A number of character progressing scenes are handled with skill. But it just doesn’t feel like enough, to get too deep into the material. Terminator: Genisys leans heavily on the action, and I like action movies–almost every movie I’ve written about so far has been an action movie. But I want substance from them. And this movie does have substance, except it just doesn’t feel like the priority. It was a pretty decent movie as it stood, but I absolutely thought it had potential for more.

Favorite Quotes:

“All you people know how to do is kill what you don’t understand.”

“The future is not set.”

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