Terminator Genisys (2015)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke
The Terminator films have the benefit of a universe already firmly rooted in time travel, a conceit that other franchises such as X-Men and Star Trek strain to incorporate. This allows the series to perform reboots and retcons with relative ease, all stemming from an endless march of naked time travellers meddling with the constantly changing chronology. Terminator: Genisys is the latest iteration to introduce a few more creases to a timeline full of wrinkles and killer robots, with ever more diminished returns. Like most “reboots” today, it offers some clever twists on an old premise, but provides very little that we haven’t seen before.
Emilia Clarke (of Game of Thrones fame) stars as Sarah Connor, whose son John will go on to lead humanity to victory in the coming war against the machines. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is a soldier sent from the future to protect her, only she doesn’t need protecting anymore. By 1984, Sarah’s already a fully capable and battle-hardened badass, having been raised under the care and tutelage of a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who rescued her from an assassination attempt during her childhood. Under the guidance of her new guardian (affectionately referred to as Pops), Sarah has been preparing for the upcoming war with Skynet long before Kyle Reese’s arrival. Together, the three take the fight to 2017, where the new Genisys program is poised to unleash Skynet on the world.
Emilia Clarke is good as the headstrong young Sarah Connor, delivering a performance that balances the burden of responsibility and the apprehension of a known destiny (obvious echoes of her role as the mother of dragons). Unfortunately, however, the chemistry is non-existent between her and Jai Courtney, who spends most of the film trying to wrap his head around every new twist and turn. J.K. Simmons offers some comic relief in a great but all-too-short appearance, but the best part of the film is actually Arnold himself. Terminator: Genisys expands on the idea (first presented in Terminator 2) of the terminators as guardians and, by extension, protective father figures. The role suits Arnold well, now older but not yet obsolete. A surprising amount of humor is wrung out of the aging guardian’s stoicism and deadpan (endearing, in a “dad jokes” sort of way), and there’s even a hint of poignancy in the aging murderbot’s dedication to protecting his charge despite being outmatched by newer, shinier murderbots.
Viewers looking for popcorn fare will be satisfied with plenty of CGI and unstoppable robot mayhem, but the rest of the film contains very little substance. This is the second time that a new Skynet has reared its virtual head after its supposed destruction in Terminator 2. The stakes lose some of their meaning when deployed over and over again, and the series begins to feel more like a game of whack-a-mole across its many timelines–delaying Judgment Day only for Skynet to re-emerge and kick off another nuclear apocalypse. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it will take a lot more than a couple of time travel twists to prevent the franchise’s inevitable destruction at the cold, mechanical hands of its Hollywood overlords.