Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emelia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Alan Taylor
“Gotta go back in time…”
Having spent years growing up watching science fiction TV shows and movies I know most of the tropes and sub-genres: time-travel, aliens, special “powers,” body swapping, shrinking/supersizing people/animals, and the Fear of the Computer Overlords (among others). Time-travel and fear of technology have been the cornerstone of the “Terminator” franchise since the release of the first film in 1985. Everyone in my generation knows the story by heart: a restaurant waitress is unmercifully tracked down in (then) modern-day Los Angeles by a cyborg sent from the future to kill her, thus ceasing the human resistance. Her savior is a soldier by the name Kyle Reese sent from the future to protect and save her from the killing machine so she can give birth to the leader of the Resistance, one John Connor.
Before I go into detail about how this movie leaves the original two without a kiss, “thank you,” or Vaseline, let’s talk about time-travel. It’s difficult to get it right, even in the movies. The best example anyone can give would be the foreshadowed, “Back to the Future.” What if you went back in time, met your parents, and bungled them getting together? Also, how does one return to their present time in a DeLorean? “BTTF” looked at time as a singular string that you could remove yourself from and return to. “Back to the Future II” expanded on time-travel but changed aspects of time-travel to include alternate timelines (which is a subject for another day). Essentially, most movies of this type or trope bank on time itself being a single ribbon that only gets changed, not sprouting multiple other ribbons. Peppered down through the list are such films as “Millennium,” “TimeCop,” “Time Lapse,” “The Time Machine,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Predestination,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Time After Time…” I literally could go on about them. In each case there is at least one question that, if asked, would unravel the logic of the movie in one fell swoop. For instance: in “Back to the Future” Marty’s parents abstaining from being together nearly wipes out him, his brother and sister. However in “Back to the Future II” Biff steals the DeLorean and goes back to 1955 to give his younger self Gray’s Sports Almanac, which leads to 1985 being ruled by Biff, but the 2015 Biff left from does not change around Marty, Jennifer, or Doc. Heavy. “Terminator: Genisys” is no exception.
Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Okay, I’ve only watched the movie once so if it sounds confusing to you it’s even moreso when you watch the film. It’s the future and Resistance is fighting back against the SkyNet computer-controlled landscape. Humans are kept in pens like animals as the machines rule. Upon finding out plans for a new threat the Resistance is able to send back one soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to protect Sarah Connor from being terminated.
Got it? This is where the stories diverge.
After SkyNet sends back a T-100 resistance soldier Kyle Reese (Jason Clarke) jumps in to follow it back to 1984. Before leaving John Connor is compromised by a new type of Terminator. Upon arriving in 1984 Reese finds that his mission has now been changed: SkyNet sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah (Emelia Clarke) when she was 9 years old in 1973 and was saved by a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger, reprising his role). Note: no mention of this occurs elsewhere in the movie. It’s now been 11 years since that has happened and she knows of the storyline and is waiting for Reese to show, which he does. Unbeknownst to them ANOTHER Terminator, a T-1000, was sent to kill Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and any other person or thing that would help the original storyline come true. Meanwhile, the T-100 Ah-nuld is walking around the Griffith Observatory naked and is confronted by T-800 Ah-nuld. A fight ensues and the T-100 is killed. One down…
Reese is saved by Sarah and the T-800. She quickly relays to him that the timeline has now been changed. She’s closer to the “T2” Linda Hamilton Sarah Connor than original waitress-turned- commando Hamilton. I guess training from the age of 9-forward to be a Resistance fighter IS a certain kind of Boot Camp… Sarah doesn’t want to tell Kyle they have to “get it on” in order for John Connor to be the leader of the Resistance and holds out most of the movie from letting him know. But that’s not important right now – they have to get to 2017. Reese has been having dreams that run on an alternate timeline and he’s being sent a message: destroy Genisys. Realizing it was a giant, time-sucking, all-encompassing software package across multiple platforms and used by desktops, tablets, and smartphones that would become sentient (sound familiar to anything?) they must know follow Reese’s pieces of dreams and be sent to 2017 San Francisco.
Arriving naked on a highway overpass in the middle of the night they are taken to the hospital and into custody where Detective O’Brien (Simmons) regales about meeting them in 1984. The T-800 is hunting them down only to be preceded by John Connor who went back to 2014. Why? Right as Reese was leaving a “new” Terminator grabbed Connor before wiping out the rest of the Resistance. The Machines were able to change John on a molecular level making him as much human as machine, but to do their bidding and what better way to do this than sending him back in time to a point where the technology was developing enough to create new Machines, etc. Now T-800 (“Pops”), Sarah, and Reese must not only save 2017, but the rest of the world.
Make sense? Maybe on paper but not really. “Genisys” is 1/3 nostalgia and 2/3 confusion. This “re-purposing” of the “Terminator” franchise is an exercise in futility. My “Bullshit!” meter went off so constantly that I just gave up trying to enjoy the film and waited for the ending to be played out. And what did we (as an audience) learn? Yes, you can save the day and tomorrow may be brighter but eventually the machines will kill us all. Hasn’t that been the moral of every one of the films?
Praise for Emilia Clarke in wanting to channel her inner “T2” Hamilton. She had a tough job to “reconstruct” and the only other person I see who could’ve came close would be an actress like Michelle Rodriguez. Jason Clarke as Kyle Reese is less intense and more stupefied and has little chemistry with Emilia. Jai Courtney is great as a more fully-realized John Connor and is the fifth actor to portray him. And Ah-nuld is… Arnold. He was having fun and cashing a check.
If you were reading into what I said above then here’s that point where “Terminator: Genisys” can be unraveled: if the machines had just sent the T-100 back for the first time, which was then followed by Kyle Reese being sent back (both to 1984), AND the new Terminator just took control of John Connor as Reese was out the door… when was the T-1000 sent to 1984? Or the Terminator sent to kill Sarah Connor in 1973? Or when did the Resistance get a T-800 reprogrammed to kill the T-100 sent back to 1973? Or when did… I’ll stop. You get the point.
My grade: a head-scratching WTF. Or, D. Recommendation: not really but if you want, Redbox/Netflix/cable watch it.