Sunday, July 12, 2015

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Spoiler note: If you're like me and prefer to go into a movie without knowing too much about what to expect, in the hopes of being surprised, you might want to skip this review until after you've seen it. Otherwise, read on.

If there's one thing that disappointed me about Terminator Salvation, it's that it ended too early - it didn't go far enough to show John Connor sending Kyle Reese back in time to initiate the events of the original Terminator movie - which would have been an effective ending to the series. Of course, that left some room for yet another sequel, which is precisely where Terminator Genisys picks up. Jason Clarke is a scar-faced John Connor, leading the final battle against Skynet, which culminates in a hijacking of the time displacement device, which Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent through, back to 1984, to stop the Terminator that was just sent through to kill John's mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before he was born.

But just as Kyle is about to hop the timeline, something goes wrong. If the first act of Terminator Genisys looks like it's shaping up to be a badass remake of The Terminator, and a reboot of the franchise, the second act plays out like a greatest hits of the first two Terminator movies (complete with state-of-the-art special effects), and finally addresses a long-standing plothole in the series - if the T-800 couldn't do the trick, why not send the T-1000 against a young Sarah Connor, instead of waiting until John is born? And this movie does it one better - the T-1000 is sent to take out Sarah while she is just a child! But it still doesn't succeed, and, contrary to expectations, what Kyle encounters in 1984 is a very different Sarah Connor than the one we saw in the first movie.

We still get Arnold Schwarzenegger as a sympathetic, reprogrammed Terminator - with a satisfying explanation as to its aged appearance, that becomes even more poignant when our leads, minus their cybernetic bodyguard (who is forced to take the long way), hop time to face the final confrontation in 2017 against a delayed Judgment Day (borrowing a thread from Terminator 3), by putting the kibosh on Cyberdyne Systems on the eve of the unveiling of Genisys - Skynet's newest alias, and the ultimate killer app to which the human population is all too eager to hand over control of their digital devices. And, of course, they'll have an all-new state-of-the-art Terminator to deal with - the newest upgrade, with similar capabilities to the T-1000, but unprecedented integration with its human tissue (and therefore greater intelligence and infiltration capabilities) via an army of nanomachines.

If the first half of this movie builds up to something of a time crisis of conflicting timelines, the second half unfortunately falls back into formula, treading ground that we've seen before at least twice already. But it's still more thrilling than any of the previous sequels it imitates. And while those other movies took the consistent time travel logic of the first movie and mucked it up, this movie does a very respectable job of repairing the timeline, even finally hinting at the genesis of the liquid metal technology, and the creation of an alternate time machine from which all these extra time-hopping Terminators originated from. The only remaining mystery is exactly who reprogrammed that sympathetic model 101, and why. But while the ending appears to be as conclusive as that of Terminator 2 (and we all know how that worked out), the movie closes with a piece of obvious sequel bait.

I would have been satisfied to see this movie finally close the series on a high note, but of course capitalism doesn't work that way. I don't hold much hope that yet another Terminator movie can improve on what this one accomplished, but it might be possible if they're willing to take some risks, like Terminator Salvation did, and not simply follow formula. I would kill to see another Terminator like the first one, but I fear that's impossible, now that the franchise has grown beyond the first movie's relatively small scope. But if anything, it's promising that this movie got so many things right, and nixed the tendency to push too far over into self-parody, and maintain a serious - if still sometimes respectably funny - tone (primarily with the characterization of the good Terminator). This is, in my opinion, the best Terminator sequel out there. It doesn't usurp the position of the original Terminator, which is still my favorite, but I thought it was even better than Terminator 2, for what that's worth.

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