I’ll be the first to admit I never got on-board with Terminator: Genisys. It was a combination of things. The return of Arnold Schwarzenegger just seemed old and tired, quite literally. The marketing campaign was terrible. It seemed designed to turn you off the whole experience. The dodgy spelling of the word genesis, the promotional images of the characters. Even when the trailers came out they did a very good job of persuading you that Emilia Clarke’s acting was terrible which, while you can easily argue it’s not going to win any awards, is remarkable competent and, by and large, very engaging.
All of this meant I had zero interest in seeing the film and I put it into re-make / re-boot purgatory.
This was a mistake, Terminator: Genisys is actually a film that holds your interest. It’s pretty good. It runs equal to Terminator II in terms of quality, far outstripping the rest of the films other than the original. It even has some advantages over the original but since those advantages largely build on the original film or involve the changes in the story due to the passage of time they can’t really be counted.
The short answer here is you should give Terminator: Genisys the benefit of the doubt. It’s well worth watching. The longer story follows.
Important: There are massive spoilers from this point onwards.
When the new Star Trek film was released in 2009 it undoubtedly caused studio executives to rush down corridors and have meetings. It was an amazingly successful resurrection of a franchise. Cleverly, through a time travel plot, holding to the original while spinning off a series of films that in no way had to be beholden to what went on before. What other franchises could be resurrected in this way?
A result of one of those meetings was the realisation that Terminator, which already had time travel embedded in its core, was a perfect candidate to follow the model established by the Star Trek franchise. The film replaces the original cast with new actors, Emilia Clarke as Sarah Conner and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, though obviously Arnie plays a T-800. Check. The film utilises a time travel plot to tie the film to its past and weave a strong story while spinning it in a new direction. Check. It updates itself for modern times. Check.
The re-launch of a franchise through a changed timeline method works really well, setting up a set of events and relationships that are really worth watching. The scenes in the future depicting the victory over Skynet are enthralling as John Conner’s forces work their way to the fateful event, with John Conner knowing he has done everything he can to make his father and protege, Kyle Reese, fall in love with a women he’s never met (and in this film doesn’t exist). The emotional dynamic of the T-800 as an ageing father who is looking out for his daughter and potentially someone else to replace him in her life, bitter-sweet though that is. Sarah Conner who believes she is destined to fall in love with a man who then dies. These are all great dynamics that play out surprisingly well.
The film doesn’t provide all the answers either. The timeline is disrupted by the arrival of a T-800 when Sarah Conner was seven, to protect her from another cyborg assassin. This creates a timeline in which Sarah Conner is ready for the events of 1984, rather than a confused waitress. The events that lead to the T-800 arriving when Sarah Conner is seven aren’t explained or they occur shown, so this seems to be left for future films.
I’ve never really thought of it before, because I’m always capable of watching films in the context of the time and place they are set, but I guess you can argue Terminator is very dated. If you didn’t live through it it’s possibly a barrier to engagement, while I tend to view it as part of the films fabric. The whole set-up is layered with the period: what constitutes high technology, the fact Judgement Day is a nuclear holocaust, which was a significantly stronger bogeyman back in 1984. The original film certainly pre-dated the connectivity of everything that exists today. It even pre-dated personal computers, with the ZX Spectrum et al being the order of the day. We are well into big mainframe, Wargames territory, with smartphones being some off of Star Trek. Why launch a nuclear holocaust in a world of the always on connected networks of today? It’s clever how the film shifts the critical events away from 1984 and 1997 and to more modern times and focused on more modern technology.
Even the Genisys name makes sense in the context of this set-up, switching the very eighties name of Skynet, intrinsically linked with the fear of computers launching nuclear strikes, with a more hip and modern view of how computers relate to the real world and the Internet of things and hyper-connectivity.
The second update to the film is the character of Sarah Conner, in re-booting the franchise essentially from the beginning they’ve taken the opportunity to make her an equal character to Kyle Reese rather than one who needs rescuing. This creates a great dynamic between the two characters as Sarah arrives knowing what should happen and Kyle arrives expecting to find them woman he’d fallen in love with via proxy.
I really like how it plays out.
Terminator: Genisys, on its own merits, is a good film. I don’t know what happened to the marketing, which put legions of people off, as behind it is a film that is probably second only to the original. As for the franchise? I’m half interested in what they do with it down the line, while not exactly in a rush to see another one. I’m not sure what they can do to give it a unique spin, which has always been the trouble with the franchise in general. Can they really summon up another unique Terminator model? While the twist on the Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese relationship was fantastic in this film, is there really another wrinkle they can toss into it? I’m not just not sure where it can go.
Watch Terminator: Genisys though, it’s worth it.