It’s my humble opinion that, if you go in knowing it can never hope to top parts one and two and that part three is slightly out of its range, and are OK with those things, you’ll enjoy “Genisys.” You may even like it better than part four. Luckily, since it’s tracking at about a 26% right now on Rotten Tomatoes with critics, raised expectations are likely not going to be an issue. Also, for what it’s worth, “Genisys” is sitting at about 76% with average viewers, so either the critics have helped to sufficiently lower folks’ expectations – or maybe they’re just being crum bums about it.
“Genisys” opens with Judgment Day, the day the machines start the war on humanity. It establishes the necessary backstory quickly: John Connor (Jason Clarke) is leading the humans to an improbable victory with the help of his righthand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and the machines are pissed. On what looks like the last night of the war, with Connor and Reese closing in, the machines send a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger kinda) back to 1984 to kill John’s mom Sarah (Emilia Clarke). John sends Kyle back and bam! We’re suddenly watching a redone version of 1984’s “The Terminator.”
Instead of following the pattern laid down in the first two sequels – sending a new Terminator after the last one fails – “Genisys” tries something pretty ambitious by sending a Terminator ahead of what happened in the last films, essentially retconning the continuity of the entire series and it’s hard not to appreciate the effort.
This time around a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger for reals) had already been sent back in time to protect Sarah as a young girl, and they’ve been best pals ever since. She calls him Pops, tries to teach him how to smile, it’s all adorable. This has thrown everything off so instead of Young Arnold killing the punks and taking their clothes and going after Sarah like he originally did in part one, Old Arnold (Pops) shows up and together with Sarah they kill Young Arnold. Instead of facing off with an Arnold model, Kyle is confronted in the department store by a T-1000, the liquid metal menace from “Terminator 2.”
Seeing these slightly tweaked and altered scenes makes for a delightful bit of nostalgia. It’s a fun way to pay loving tribute to the earlier films while completely writing them off and starting over – even if the CGI used to create the Young Arnold effect is absolutely awful. It’s the only time the film’s visual effects come up short. Considering the exact same effect also didn’t work in the previous entry in the franchise (2009’s “Terminator: Salvation”), if “Genisys” actually does manage to launch a new trilogy as it clearly intends, maybe let’s skip the Young Arnold stuff.
The journey through the past doesn’t last forever though, which is kind of a shame. Pretty soon we’ve ditched the unpredictability of the new version of 1984 for 2017 and the all-too familiar goal of stopping Judgment Day by blowing up Cyberdyne, Skynet, etc. I don’t want to sound to down on this section, as it does throw a pretty massive twist into the mix, which essentially permanently changes the mythology of future films should they ever come to pass. Everything around that twist – which I won’t spoil even though the trailers sort of did – feels a little “been there, done that,” but in a less fun way then what we got earlier.
The biggest thing working against “Genisys” is its script. Parts of it are problematic. Basically all of the dialogue between Sarah and Kyle, meant to stoke the fires of their inter-timeline love affair, comes off as painfully cheesy. Also, the script doesn’t really pay all that much attention to the Genysis storyline, despite it being important enough to be in the title. It comes up halfway through to give the characters something to do while they dodge the new big bad.
“Genisys” also falls into the same trap that ensnared “Salvation” in that it longs to be the first part of a trilogy. It wants it so badly that it undercuts its own narrative and leaves significant plot points unresolved all in the name of making another movie. There’s a really poignant scene at the end of “Genisys” which is totally undone in order to give a certain character some new stuff to do in the theoretical part two. But as “Salvation” found out, that second movie isn’t always guaranteed.
On the acting front, Arnold is the man. He’ll always be the man and he will forever be the Terminator even when his actual age tops his model number. Emilia Clarke is great on “Game of Thrones” and once I got passed the initial “Why’s Dany a brunette? Where are the dragons?” awkwardness, I thought she was a perfectly admirable Sarah. I can’t decide if they got the ratio of badassness (not enough?) to vulnerability quite right, but I think they were close. The supporting cast is a little shaky (perhaps due to the script), save for a scene-stealing turn from J.K. Simmons as a totally unnecessary, completely unrealistic yet utterly hilarious and awesome cop who’s obsessed with killer robots from the future.
“Genisys” may have its problems and it may not be worth paying to see in IMAX and 3-D, but that doesn’t keep it from being a perfectly enjoyable summer blockbuster. The visual effects are something special, it’s got Arnold in it and it has enough nods to the old films to satisfy the diehards while doing enough new stuff to appeal to folks who just want to sit in the dark, soak up some AC and watch stuff blow up for a few hours.