Terminator: Genisys

"Come with me if you want to live!"

Trying to make something good, while at the same time paying homage to what has gone before, is an incredibly hard thing to do. The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are arguably two of the best science fiction action movies ever made. They were hard, unrelenting, and iconic. The two movies that followed them, Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation, were not very good. Terminator: Genisys was a major improvement over those two sequels, but it still had some major flaws.

I won't spoil the ending, but I'm going to discuss some details about the first two Terminator films, and some stuff about Terminator: Genisys that would be considered SPOILERS, so proceed at your own risk.

The writers of Terminator: Genisys clearly tried to come up with a good story. There was time and attention paid to details, and the plot was satisfactorily timey whimey and plot twisty, focusing on multiple timelines and time periods. Ultimately it was a homage and hodgepodge of the best of Terminator and Terminator 2 while still managing to be its own thing, with a new threat and continuity. Seriously, on paper this movie was exactly what I wanted. They even managed to pull Arnold out of retirement to do yet another new version of the 'good' Terminator.

So why didn't it totally work? What was wrong with this film? In short, it was too complicated, and the shadows of the original actors made it hard to connect to the new actors standing in for these iconic roles.

Sarah Connor was one of the original female bad-asses. She was unhinged, and lethal, and very cool. This version of Sarah, played by Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke, started off as a bad-ass. We didn't get to see her formative moments as a victim and her fight to become the strong character she eventually turned into. While this shorthand for her character arc meant she was already superficially cool, it undermined something important. We didn't have time to connect with her emotionally. We got an entire movie to fall in love with Sarah Connor, and to understand why Kyle went back in time for her.

I'm not saying that Clarke's performance was lacking. She did a good job with the material she was given. I think the producers and writers felt that since we already loved the character we didn't need to see her vulnerable again. And while this would've been fine if the same actress had been playing her, this was basically a fresh start. Unfortunately, the story wouldn't have allowed for that kind of flashback, and so they attempted to give her an emotional arc relating to her destiny. Although that arc did work to a degree, it wasn't nearly as effective as Sarah's original character arc.

Unfortunately, while Clarke gave a decent performance, I cannot say the same for Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. He wasn't outright bad, but he actually said in an interview that he didn't even bother looking at Michael Biehn's performance as a baseline for his own. Which was obvious, because there was nothing resembling the Kyle Reese from the original film here. There was almost no hint of his borderline insanity, or his desperation and hopeless romanticism. He has been boiled down to a stock hero, with a bit more than a passing infatuation with Sarah. The tragic love of Sarah's life became a paper cutout, and that was more than disappointing.

Okay, moving on from the characters, there was some really cool stuff going on in this film. The reproductions of the original Terminator scenes with alterations to the outcomes were just a blast to watch. The new T-1000 was nearly as intimidating a presence as Robert Patrick was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. There were references to Miles Dyson, and we even got some major face time with John Connor, specifically the scene where he sent Kyle back in time to save Sarah.

The action was generally very cool, but occasionally went on too long. There were a couple of breaks for character moments, but they didn't really feel long enough or maybe they just weren't effective enough. Then there was the major changes to continuity, which were all neat, but perhaps not as well thought out as they could've been. The story worked, and I did feel there was some major potential for the franchise to continue from where they left things.

I felt there was a lot to like in this film, enough that the positives outweighed the negatives overall. Would I go back and watch it again and again? I'm not sure, I've only seen it once. But it did feel like a nice companion to the first two films. Perhaps additional viewings will bring out the good stuff and drown out the bad, or maybe the flaws will become unpalatable. The thing is, either way, I do want to see it again.

2 1/2 out of 4 Cyborgs sent back in time.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.


Patti said...

I just caught this yesterday on demand and did enjoy it. I agree, the fellow playing Kyle Reese could have been anybody and was far too buff and healthy looking to be believable. Michael Biehn radiated desperateness, urgency and vulnerability. Emilia Clarke did a pretty good job - big shoes to fill. Arnie seemed to be really enjoying this go 'round and I liked his "older" self. The time flipping lost me a couple of times, but overall - I'm glad I watched it. Much better than the last two offerings.

Billie Doux said...

J.D., you said: In short, it was too complicated, and the shadows of the original actors made it hard to connect to the new actors standing in for these iconic roles. Right on the nose, J.D. I kept thinking, what if this had been written and shot just a few years after T2, with Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton in their original roles? What if the story had been just a little bit tighter? This could have been outstanding. Instead, it was just... pretty good.