Who would have guessed back in 1984 that a line as simple as “I’ll be back” would turn out to be so prophetic? Three decades later and we find Arnold returning once again to repeat those famous words on our movie screens.
So it was with a high level of excitement, and an even higher level of expectation, that I sat down to watch the fifth installment of The Terminator franchise.
Since the trailers already revealed most of the surprises, I’m not sure what would be considered a remaining spoiler at this point. So I’m just going to give a general spoiler alert warning for the remainder of this review.
Story (2/5) –The first Terminator movie was a frightening tale that warned us of the dangers of letting technology take over our lives. It was also an amazing romance that made people like me believe that fated love still existed in our world.
Over a decade later, we were treated with the first sequel to The Terminator, called Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The cautionary tale now becomes one of hope—that even a machine could become human and learn the value of human life. At the same time, we see that fated love has been replaced with unconditional love. The love that Sarah still felt of Kyle. The love she felt for her son John. And the love which developed between John and The Terminator throughout that movie.
In the next sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, we are again warned about technology running wild. We also see fated love return in the form of Katherine and John’s romance. This sequel also introduces us to the concept of an ever evolving Skynet (one born not of hardware, but on software networks around the world). Unfortunately, it also negated one of the biggest lessons of the first two movies when it forced John into an inescapable fate.
In Terminator Salvation, we deviate even further. There is no real romance or any unconditional love. And fate and hope are now replaced by salvation, which supposedly comes from the merging of man and machine. This deviation from the core of the story really made Terminator Salvation seem out of place. Heck, none of the Connors or the Reeses were main heroes in that film.
This brings us to our current sequel, Terminator Genisys. For the first part of the movie, audiences essentially relive key moments of the beginning of the first film with occasional references to later parts of the franchise. There are even subtle nods to the Sarah Connor Chronicles for those really devoted Terminator fans.
The warning regarding technology has returned once again. We also see another evolved version of Skynet, similar to the one introduced in the third movie. But instead of being distributed solely via the interconnected desktops of the Internet, we find Skynet having a hardware core again and being on the verge of spreading via software across our many social networks, apps, and portable devices. This concept of an evolving Skynet is further emphasized by showing Skynet maturing from a boy avatar to that of Alex (Matt Smith).
Sadly the filmmakers decided to play around with the relationships a lot more than I would have liked. I realized that they’ll probably “fix” all this in the upcoming films, but the result right now was something that lacked real positive emotional punch. And they didn’t just play around with one relationship. They toyed with Sarah and Kyle’s fated love. They also played with the unconditional love between his parents and John. And because of the time paradox, they technically removed John’s relationship with The Terminator altogether and gave it to Sarah instead.
The story stills deliver quite a bit of humor, suspense, and action. But overall, it felt fractured. You had one movie being the retelling of the first film, but then you had another movie that was the result of the altered timeline. The retelling of the first film was nice in that they took time to fill in many of the gaps that I hoped Terminator Salvation would have done. You truly see how wonderful the overall story is when you finally see the larger picture. Now I wouldn’t have minded if they just continued the rest of the story that way—basically telling the exact same story of the first film with the gaps filled in or maybe having us see events through different character’s eyes from time to time.
But ultimately, we did need to travel down the deviated timeline’s path. The new story does have wonderful elements, like Kyle dealing with his feelings toward Guardian (a Terminator), the father/daughter relationship between Sarah and Guardian, and having Sarah become a bigger participant in the relationship between her and Kyle. But like a dog able to sense a Terminator, you find yourself having an odd feeling whenever they take the story and characters that you love and send them down unexpected paths.
Characters (3/5) – The three main characters are Sarah, Kyle and John. Of these three, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) is the one we probably know most about (or so we might think). We have already seen her character evolve throughout the first two movies. We hear mention of her in the third. And then there was that television show about her. But because of the timeline deviation, her character is radically different than the one we expect to find.
Though she was trained to be strong and to fight a war, she doesn’t have the benefit of someone that can teach her how to deal with emotions. As such, we have someone with the skills and mindset of the Sarah from Terminator 2 Judgement Day, but with the emotional immaturity of the one from the beginning of the first film. In the current timeline, things are developing emotionally for her in the wrong order. This time around, she starts out as a fighter, but lacks the emotional strength to be a lover and a strong mother. In the original film, her develops the emotional strength first and later becomes the fighter she needs to be.
Kyle (Jai Courtney) is basically the person that gives her this strength. We know he had fallen in love with Sarah long before he had ever met her. He even says that he would give his life for her. And this is honestly the Kyle that we get in this movie. Of the three main characters, Kyle is the least altered and the one that really anchors us to the original characters. His reactions to the alternate timeline seems absolutely what you would expect the original Kyle to do in his situation. This is probably why the film made such an effort to keep everything the same up until after the reintroduction of the T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee).
Before we discuss the T-1000 though, we should discuss the last main character John (Jason Clarke). John of course is the most changed from his original self (at least through most of the movie). Instead of the being a hero and mankind’s last hope, he is merged with the machine (maybe as a nod to Terminator Salvation) and is used by Skynet to bring about its own existence in the altered timeline. It’s actually painful to watch John be the bad guy though, because I keep thinking of the one from the second movie. It just didn’t sit well with me, I guess. I really hope the filmmakers fix the alternate timeline somehow (via a Back to the Future plot device maybe).
Now on to the other Terminators. I must say that I was very impressed by Lee’s performance as the T-1000. Though the original T-1000 (Robert Patrick) turned down the offer to return, Lee captured many of the mannerisms that made Patrick’s performance so good in Terminator 2 Judgement Day. From the movement of his eyes to the turning of his head, I was convince that this was the same Terminator. He even had the walking and running convincingly the same. I was absolutely amazed by his performance and would have liked to see more of him. Oh, and did you happen to catch that cameo of Robert Patrick in the film?
That brings us to Guardian. I had expected him to have a much larger role. Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed more like a supporting character than a lead in this film. This time around, he plays a Terminator sent back by some yet-to-be-revealed person to protect Sarah as a child. Like the Terminator in the second film, Guardian becomes Sarah’s surrogate father and her full-time protector. As she grows up, it is presumed that he prepares her for the upcoming Judgement Day much earlier than originally done. As such, he acts as the Sarah character from the second film, leaving the Sarah of this film to be like the John Connor of the second film.
Guardian is certainly different from the previous Terminators we’ve seen so far. For one thing, enough time has progressed in the film to show aging. Throughout the story, the writers use this aging to explore the themes of getting old and about maintaining relevancy. He is old after all, but not obsolete. And in an homage to Back to the Future, we get to see Arnold go through various states of Doc Brown style transformations throughout the film.
Direction (3/5) – This film is directed by Alan Taylor, who previously directed Thor: The Dark World. Prior to that, much of his directorial career seemed focused on television shows. This influence seems reflected in the movie’s pacing and its character development. It’s probably a good thing they got a director with his background, because he was able to handle a story that is meant to develop more completely in the later films. Taylor’s biggest achievement though has to be how he managed to mirror the look and feel of original film so well during the retell portion of the movie.
Execution (3/5) – The movie was visually stunning. The effects were great and the stunts looked solid.
You can definitely tell that great care was made to keep the feel of the original films’ intact. They even stop Nike’s shoe production for a while to remake Kyle’s actual shoes from the first film. I loved that sound effects were kept pretty much the same. And there were no radical changes to the time displacement sphere or to the look of the Terminators themselves. And with the facial replacement, we were able to see the original 1984 Terminator again. The fight between the two Arnolds was amazing, and you really get to see the power behind the cyborgs.
The music score was decent, though nothing spectacular. But let’s face it, most audiences are probably hoping to just hear the main part of the iconic Terminator theme again anyways.
Entertainment (2/5) – The original Terminator movie will always hold a special significance for me. It will remind me of a day (back in my childhood) when my dad took me to see where he worked. Back then, he was an air traffic controller at private tower in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Although I saw him doing the same thing years before, when he was in the Air Force, I wasn’t old enough to understand what he was really doing.
On this trip, I was old enough to appreciate what his work was about. That day, I spent part of my visit in the tower watching my dad direct planes on and off runways. I was able to see a lot of instruments for the first time and learn what they are used for. When it got dark, I was allowed to go to the pilots’ lounge downstairs. The tower staff ordered me a hamburger and fries, while my dad finished up his shift. That was when I was directed toward the lounge’s VHS collection and told that I could watch any movie there.
Honestly, the movie I thought I picked out was the PG-rated Eliminators. What I actually watched was the R-rated The Terminator for the first time. This was the crowning first in a day of firsts and a reminder of the wonderful day I spent with my dad. As you might suspect, it’s therefore nearly impossible for any other Terminator film to exceed that original’s level of entertainment and meaning for me.
That said, Terminator Genisys was enjoyable and riveting. My only regret was the lack of any major surprises.
Overall – I give this film 2.6 bow ties out of 5. It’s definitely worth watching and I may give the 3-D version a try later this week. It’s a solid showing regardless, though it does lack James Cameron’s touch.
The remaining films will probably fill in some of the missing segments of this one, like who sent Guardian back. I really want them to show me that the relationships between my favorite characters will only become stronger from all these changes. Let’s see what they do with it though. It’s a fate that they will need to make for themselves, I suppose.
Anyways, I look forward to the next film in the series. When it comes to Terminator films, I’ll be always be back for more.