TERMINATOR GENISYS (Alan Taylor). 125 minutes. Opens Wednesday (July 1). See listing. Rating: NNN
Where to watch: iTunes
The first question any Terminator movie needs to ask is: do we need another Terminator movie?
Six years ago, McG’s Terminator Salvation showed us the pointlessness of a movie set entirely in the world after Judgment Day – so much shouting! so many clenched jaws! – but if we’re being honest, it’s been a quarter of a century since creator James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day really made the most of the franchise’s time-travelling cyborg assassins. (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, not so much.)
Wisely, screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have gone back to Cameron’s source code, re-sequencing entire chunks of Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the master narrative of Genisys.
Yes, Terminator Genisys is a stupid title. The plot, though? That’s kind of smart.
As every schoolchild knows, Skynet’s final act when the human resistance defeats it in 2029 is to send a terminator – the original model, the one that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger – back to 1984 to kill a woman named Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to her son, John, who’ll grow up to orchestrate Skynet’s defeat.
Aware of this unique assassination attempt, the John of 2029 (Jason Clarke) sends his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) into the past to thwart it. But when Kyle arrives in 1984, Sarah is not the “helpless waitress” he was told to expect. Neither the past nor the future is quite what it was the first time around.
That’s where Genisys really gets interesting, remaking and reworking the opening scenes of its progenitor almost playfully. Certain things happen exactly as they did in James Cameron’s movie, while others are radically different, creating a ripple effect that travels through the entire franchise.
Though they draw heavily on Cameron’s movies, Kalogridis and Lussier also borrow teeny little bits of the non-Cameron sequels, and at least one idea from the short-lived but superior TV spinoff The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Directed as impersonally as possible by Alan Taylor, a Game Of Thrones veteran whose feature credits include Thor: The Dark World, Terminator Genisys doesn’t try to recapture Cameron’s tech-noir intensity or radically change gears like McG’s Salvation did. It is happy just to do its job, content to see people shooting killer robots or running from killer robots or killer robots punching each other.
There are a couple of great car chases, and many explosions. The time-travel logic plays in a way that feels more like the slippery, conceptual twists of T2 than the leaden, ironic thud of T3. And of course there is the movie’s greatest weapon, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
My biggest concern about a new Terminator movie was that Schwarzenegger, having spent all that time running California, seemed to have checked out of the whole action thing. He was great in The Last Stand, but that movie didn’t required him to pretend, even for a second, to be the man he was in 1984.
Terminator Genisys asks us to believe that present-day Arnold not only is that Arnold, but is that Arnold with a robot endoskeleton underneath: that he’s as physically intimidating as ever. And here is the best thing: not only is he still convincing at age 67 as a hulking cyborg, but the role remains the finest he’s ever had, turning every one of his limitations as an actor into a strength. I think he’s even rolled his accent back to an earlier iteration it’s a touch nostalgic and as weirdly considered as Emilia Clarke’s voice cracking in precisely the same way as Linda Hamilton’s on certain Sarah Connor line readings.
After 24 years, it turns out all a Terminator movie needs is Sarah Connor and an Arnold-model terminator. The rest of it is just window dressing.
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