Film Review: 'Terminator Genisys' (2015)
A Bit of Background
I really enjoyed Terminator Salvation, the previous entry in the series. It was originally planned to be the start of a second Terminator trilogy, and so I was disappointed when those plans got axed and it was announced that they were starting over with a different, stand-alone trilogy, beginning with Terminator Genisys. Up until that point, the first four Terminator films had all been part of an ongoing storyline, and I was unhappy with the idea that they were going to scrap that story arc and start anew.
In general, I'm not the biggest fan of reboots. That's not to say I don't think they can be done well. They certainly can, and the reasons for doing them are at times entirely justified.
My issue with reboots isn't so much whether or not they're good, however. It's more that I hate the practice of leaving story arcs unresolved. If the storyline from past installments is already wrapped up (or was truly that much of a mess that it couldn't be salvaged at all), then I don't mind hitting the reset button. Otherwise, if you're going to make another entry in the same series, why not just make it a sequel and focus on moving the story forward? To quote online user 'Idle Primate', "Either make fully stand alone films or commit to nurturing your brand."
Genisys tries to do both. It acts as a sequel and a reboot at the same time. Although it starts over with a new timeline, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen the first two films, as Genisys is still quite heavily based around those.
Regardless, in the months leading up to Genisys, I started to get more excited for it, as I was curious to see how the new direction would turn out. And hey, if nothing else, it was a chance to see another new Terminator film in theatres.
When I did see it, I wasn't too impressed. It's something of an action/comedy in a series known for being grim and violent. While Genisys did have some interesting ideas in it, the light-hearted tone threw me off, and I just found it too silly and cheesy to enjoy. I left the theatre disappointed.
But, sometimes, opinions change. Fast forward to 2017, and I decided to give the film another shot. I rented it from my local library and watched it again at home. And, you know, it’s actually better than I remembered.
Let's Talk Actors
Arnold Schwarzenegger was easily the best performance in the movie. Still as great in his iconic role as ever. J.K. Simmons as the quirky police detective, O'Brien, was a lot of fun too. Even if he didn't have a huge role, he was still enjoyable whenever he showed up.
I feel like Matt Smith had a lot of potential, but we see even less of him than we do of J.K. Simmons. I understand that Matt Smith probably would've had more to do in the now-aborted sequels to Genisys, but unfortunately, it didn't leave him with much to do in this film. His character is definitely something I would've liked to know more about.
The other actors are alright. They do a fine job; none of them were terrible or anything. My issue is more that they don't really feel like the same characters from the first two films. Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke give much different portrayals than Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton do. Likewise, Jason Clarke's take on John Connor is quite different than any of the previous actors who played John.
Outside of Arnold, the franchise hasn't had a lot of consistency with recurring actors. While it's true that every new actor brings something different to the role, I can't help but think of Lena Headey from the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Even if Lena's portrayal was different from Linda Hamilton's, it still felt like a natural evolution of the character of Sarah Connor.
Unfortunately, it didn't feel that way to me with the actors in Genisys. If the film was a full-on reboot, then I'd be okay with different interpretations of the characters. Because it's still a part-sequel to the first two films, then I feel like the characters should more closely resemble their original selves, and they really don't.
I saw Jason Clarke in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and he was great in that movie, so he's clearly a capable actor. I'm just not sure if his portrayal of John Connor really worked.
It's interesting how Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines has a similar plot to the first two films. And how Terminator Salvation, by contrast, feels so different (as it's the only film to forego the time-travelling urban chase vibe in favour of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic war story). Genisys is weird. It feels both very similar and very different at the same time.
Ultimately, however, it does fall more in line with the spirit of the first three films than it does with Salvation. As far as tone goes, Genisys actually has more in common with Terminator 3 than anything. Ironic considering how Genisys otherwise ignores T3's events. There's a lot of humour throughout Genisys. It grew on me from my first watching. A few of the jokes are kinda corny, but that's okay. I've always had a fondness for corny humour. I especially got a kick out of the "Bad Boys" scene.
A lot of people have complained about the convoluted plot, and I don't blame them. Personally, I enjoyed the twistier and less predictable elements. Especially the recreated scenes and revisited events from the original Terminator. That was really cool. Probably my favourite part of the whole film.
In fact, I kind of wish they'd gone further with it. When Sarah, Kyle, and Pops time jump forward to 2017, they could've gone to 1995 instead to revisit some of the events from the second movie. Maybe that would've been overkill, but I was actually kind of digging the 'greatest hits' vibe of the first half of the film. Once they go to 2017, the rest of it wasn't nearly as interesting. It was still fun and exciting. I just think the first half was the stronger of the two.
Even though I think Salvation is the best sequel (after Terminator 2, of course), Genisys is still a good movie. While I may have some nitpicks with it, it's also the most fun entry in the series. Everything after T2 tends to be contentious, but I still recommend Genisys to fans of the series all the same. Maybe you'll enjoy it, or maybe you won't, but I think it's worth seeing at least once.
So What Comes Next?
Much like Terminator Salvation before it, the planned trilogy to Genisys did not work out. Again, I was disappointed. Even despite my more lukewarm reaction to Genisys the first time around, I still wanted to know where the story would've gone. (You can check out this article here on DenOfGeek.com if you're curious to know more.)
I'm okay with it now, though, as it turns out we're still getting a new Terminator film after all. And it turns out Linda Hamilton is coming back. That alone was enough to get me pumped. If nothing else, it'd be worth it just to see her as Sarah Connor one more time.
It's been announced that the yet-to-be-titled sixth film will ignore the previous few entries and will be the start of a new trilogy. Sound familiar?
I just hope they're able to follow through with their plans this time. Otherwise we'll have a trilogy of failed trilogy-starters! Although I'm casually optimistic. With James Cameron on board, here's hoping it gives them the juice they need to keep going.
© 2017 Ian Rideout