Maybe in the next “Terminator” movie they can go back in time and make some script revisions.
“Terminator Genisys,” the latest sequel to the time-travelling sci-fi franchise, adds yet another timeline to puzzle over. “Genisys” begins in a familiar place as a companion of sorts to the first film, and then criss-crosses across dimensions.
“Genisys” kicks off in the future, where Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) fights with mankind’s last hope John Connor (Jason Clarke) in the resistance. John finds out that Skynet, the evil robotic corporation that turned against mankind, plans to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), to prevent him from ever being born. He sends Reese over to protect her and just like that, we are back to “The Terminator” in 1984.
Suddenly, T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) has made its way into the 1980s as well as some other major changes to this timeline. Once again, fate has been messed with in a major way.
It doesn’t take very long for “Genisys” to jump the shark.
Early on, some scenes from the original “Terminator” are re-created, and they’re both kind of cool and a little uncanny to watch.
It is as if they’re saying, “Here is how we would have made that classic scene if we had this technology back then,” despite the fact that the aged effects actually add some charm to the early films. This might have come off as nostalgic pandering, but the filmmakers literally had no choice, given that they didn’t have the rights to footage from the original film owned by Orion and Hemdale.
Naturally, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is back, and he wants to remind you why he became a movie star in the first place. As James Cameron realised with the first two films, Schwarzenegger is at his best in silence. This brings out both his funniest and most menacing qualities.
In “Genisys,” the way he tries to smile like a normal human is worth it for all the clunky time travel exposition he has to deliver throughout.
It is also a shame that Emilia Clarke, who is so great as Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones,” doesn’t get as much of a chance as she deserves as Sarah Connor. In “Thrones,” Clarke brings a lot of compassion to a tough character, the same way Linda Hamilton did with Sarah Connor. However, Clarke has to wade through so much weak dialogue that she barely gets to showcase her talent.
“John sent me here to save you,” Reese says at one point.
“From the Terminator that was sent back to kill me, I know. But don’t worry, we already took care of him,” Connor replies.
Lines like this feel less like something a human would say in an emergency and more like a moment tailored for a movie trailer.
As the franchise has carried on, Schwarzenegger has gone from terrifying killer to father figure.
Sarah even refers to him as “pops.” This relationship borders on sappy (The Terminator collected her childhood drawings), but at moments it really clicks. In an early scene, Terminator hits Reese over the head and lets Sarah know that he did not kill him (this is something of a callback to “Terminator 2”). Their chemistry in this scene and others can be endearing.
Other times, it’s a bit weird. Cyborgs aren’t supposed to feel, as we’re reminded numerous times, so it’s strange when you see him holding on to items of sentimental value, like childhood drawings of himself and Sarah pinned to a wall. Somewhere buried deep in here, is a fun spin-off about the misadventures of Sarah Connor and her T-800.
The biggest problem with “Genisys” is that the script is a complete mess, and the idea of re-launching the franchise is bogged down in franchise nostalgia.
That’s not to say nostalgia can’t be done right.
Take one or two of the scenes in “Jurassic World.” That stuff had been dormant for a long time, yet always present in popular culture. Given that Arnold most recently turned “I’ll be back” into a punchline in “The Expendables 2,” this line no longer feels special anymore.
The “Terminator” franchise was once groundbreaking in many ways.
By sticking with a PG-13 rating, “Genisys” lacks the edge of the first two “Terminator” movies. After all, the first one feels less like a summer blockbuster and more like “No Country for Old Men” but with a cyborg. 1991’s “Judgment Day” truly made you believe that its villain could not be destroyed. In “Genisys,” the central villain is an Apple-like operating system, clearly as a way to mine off of modern tech fears. From the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation to the modern fear that Siri could murder us, you’ve got to hand it to the “Terminator” franchise: it has closely followed both the evolution and the downside of technology for the past 31 years.
Still, modern AI was tackled in a much bolder way in this year’s “Ex Machina.”
However, like some of its predecessors “Genisys” is a tour-de-force of visual effects. The fights are all solid, and one scene in which a bus dangles off the Golden Gate Bridge is especially eye-popping through a pair of 3D glasses.
This makes for good summer fun, but again, it all goes back to the story, and it feels like if this franchise truly wants to reboot itself, then it needs to stay away from time travel because it has more than run that idea into the ground.
“Terminator Genisys” is about the fight to save humanity, so the stakes should feel higher than ever. However, it is hard to have any emotional stakes if you can change everything by simply adjusting the timelines. T-800 has already come back from the dead enough.
With one character too many confronting their younger selves, the time travel science reaches a level of unintentional self-parody. It is less elegant than “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and more like “Austin Powers.” Even with great action, “Genisys” gets bogged down by science that it really doesn’t understand. The thing that once made the “Terminator” movies so great might now be a bigger threat than Skynet.
In the end, this reboot could probably use a reboot.
“Terminator: Genisys” is in theatres July 1.
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