Terminator Genisys plays with time

It’s not my beat to write movie reviews, and I’m not even sure this constitutes one, but as a fan of the Terminator franchise, I figure it’s best to get my thoughts written down. After watching Terminator Genisys on its first day in theatres, I’m still gathering my perspective on what I’ve just seen.

By now, reviews of the film have already flooded the web and YouTube, and having read and watched several in the days leading up to its first day in theatres, I was left with the impression that this could be a disappointing way to spend money and a lovely evening.

I’m not looking to throw in spoilers here, so will be careful not to reveal too much.

From the start, it’s clear Genisys completely ignores the events of the last two films (Rise of the Machines and Salvation), pointing instead to a direct connection with James Cameron’s two masterpieces. Judgment Day, the moment Skynet became self-aware and decreed all humans a threat to its existence, is noted in Genisys as being August 29, 1997. This was the date first noted in Terminator 2, and then delayed in Rise of the Machines to 2003, with the action in Salvation set 15 years later in 2018. The date changes again in Genisys, albeit with a twist that made me chuckle because of the mobile device tie-in.

The opening sequence in Genisys — at least for me — was too short. The action was great to watch, as the future war scenes were always too limited in scope to appreciate fully in the previous films. But it lacked context insofar as how the humans managed to achieve ultimate victory over the machines. Genisys glosses over that in the expository scenes that explain what Terminator fans already know is supposed to happen.

The familiar scene of the original T-800 landing in 1984 in front of a garbage truck was well done, though I’m a stickler for details. The hairstyles and dialogue (tonality and inflections) of the punks he encounters simply aren’t accurate. I may be griping a bit, but staying true to the original should reflect even the most minute details.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

And with that one line, a full retcon goes into effect, altering the timeline we always knew, and throwing a new twist into the storyline that jumps over 30 years in time (not to mention saving many of those killed in the first film). An aged Arnold (the Guardian) gets into a fracas with the younger Arnold we were all terrified of, leading to a series of events that changes everything. For me, it was one of the best scenes of the film. What I’m not clear on is how the Guardian and Sarah knew where he landed in all of Los Angeles. My guess is that the Guardian, being from the future, had records of news reports of the punks being mutilated in the original timeline, but who knows.

Meanwhile, how Kyle Reese (played by Jai Courtney) manages to survive close encounters with the T-1000 (played by Lee Byung-hun) is where the movie teeters a bit early on. How did the T-1000 know where Kyle would be anyway? Again, it’s not clear, but could be a similar reason as I noted above.

My theory on the T-1000’s fate proved to be way off, but I thought it clever how he was dealt with later on. I should also give a thumbs up to Byung-hun for doing the role justice. Stoic, menacing and unrelenting, his body language was superb. I imagine Robert Patrick (who makes a brief cameo) probably gave him a pat on the back at some point.

What was always so interesting about the paradoxical nature of the first film, in particular, was that both John Conner and Skynet were borne out of time displacement. If not for Kyle Reese going back through time to plant his seed in Sarah Conner, John could never be. Equally, the severed arm and CPU of the first Arnold T-800 was the catalyst to developing Skynet.

Events in Genisys keep the former possible, but eliminate the latter, at least in the original timeline. Trailers did spoil John Connor’s unique form in Genisys, but not how he became that way. I’ll leave that, and what he actually is, to you to see for yourself.

Suffice it to say, the second hour of Genisys is one long chase of skirmishes to change the fate of the world in 2017. Personally, I enjoyed the first hour more than the second, perhaps out of nostalgia, but also because it seemed more plausible.  

Despite all this, I was left asking some questions. What about the T-1000 and second Arnold T-800 sent back to 1995 in Terminator 2? Did Skynet not get a chance to do that? Did the events in Genisys make that irrelevant?

And why would producers make the movie PG-13 when it should’ve been R-rated from the start?

As for casting choices, Emilia Clarke does an admirable job of channeling some of Linda Hamilton, but Jai Courtney disappointed me as Reese. Michael Biehn brought passion and fire to that role in the original, and here, I felt like I was looking at a bulkier, yet stiffer and less convincing rendition of the character. Arnold doesn’t carry this film like he did with the previous ones, and save for some silly attempts at humour, I thought his presence was crucial to the movie’s pacing. That said, it was weird to hear him referred to as “Pops” by Sarah throughout.

Ultimately, Terminator Genisys is for fans of the franchise more than an action thriller that could draw interest like the first two films did. Taken from that standpoint, I enjoyed it for what it was, and felt it a much better attempt than the two that preceded it. Probably also a good thing that the T-X is a figment of one’s imagination now, since Genisys pays better homage to where all these characters came from.