Inflated and grandiose, TERMINATOR GENISYS rethinks the Terminator mythos by coming up the novel notion that changing the past might have more than the intended repercussions. Hence, when the John Conner (Jason Clarke, near left) in this timeline sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, far left) back to 1984 Los Angeles to save John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), from the original Terminator, Kyle might not find what John expected. And with that inspired bit of thinking, a whole new storyline can be refashioned from the sputtering Terminator franchise, one that pays homage to its roots while crashing, punching, and exploding its way to a whole passel of sequels still featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the robot from the future with an infinitely ductile set of operating instructions.
In a nod to more modern gender dynamics, this Sarah isn’t the college student worrying about rent. No, this Sarah Connor swoops in to save Kyle with the iconic phrase “Come with me if you want to live” before zooming off into the SoCal night, crashing through fences, cars, and anything else that gets in her way. There’s a new storyline for this Valkyrie, one involving Pops (Schwarzenegger), the T-800 model of Terminator who has been protecting her since she was nine. In answer to Kyle’s question, and ours for that matter, about why Pops looks his age, Sarah reminds us that he’s covered in human tissue, which ages. If only all the inconsistencies would have been so forthrightly addressed. Not so much the one about why Sarah wasn’t on the scene when Kyle first arrived instead of waiting until he’d gotten into trouble with a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), but rather how it is that the LA cop involved in that scuffle (the elder of which is played by J.K. Simmons) knows 30 years later that Kyle and Sarah will, first of all pop up 30 years later, and second of all, pop up in San Francisco. That it’s J.K. Simmons, and that he’s the best thing in the film as the guy who knows so much and is paid so little heed, almost makes it worthwhile to give this a pass, but the short shrift both he and the character’s subplot is given is ultimately too irksome.
Kyle’s mission, in addition to saving Sarah, a moot point at best considering her ability to take care of herself, is to destroy Skynet before it can end the world as we know it and send the humans scurrying for cover from their new robotic overlords. (For those not conversant with the Skynet story, there is a brief summary at the start of the film.)Skynet, being technology, can only be located in Silicon Valley. Hence San Francisco, where more things explode, crash, burn, and tumble before doing all those things at once on the Golden Gate Bridge. As special effects go, it’s all done competently, though there’s never any real sense of suspense, even during the helicopter dogfight. The scariest moments come with the relentless nature of the T-1000, the Terminator first played to perfection by Robert Patrick, which is liquid metal (Lee), emotionless and stone-faced in his relentless pursuit, conjures of the best of the earlier incarnations of Terminators that can’t be reasoned with or killed. Malleable limbs turn into swords or grappling hooks as the need arises, and bullets barely slow him down as the damage to his person melts back into its factory-fresh condition. Even after all these years, it’s still cool, still creepy, as is the new effect of having him mimic a mirror and slowly re-shape himself for mayhem.
The humans are less interesting, though Courtney, as Sarah’s putative suitor, and Schwarzenegger turning into her surrogate father, have some interesting interplay. Clarke istough, for all her petite stature. What she lacks on height she makes up for with sheer determination and a no-nonsense attitude. As for Arnold, a robot may have been the role he was born to play, and the script giving his heavy Austrian accent so much technical and scientific jargon may be a wink at the audience and a thumbed-nose at all those critics who for years have complained about the difficulty in understanding him. There may be another wink at the audience, and a metaphor of sorts, in the battle between a young, dishabillé Arnold doing battle with his older, leather-clad self, a situation in keeping with what the film obviously hopes will be the new Terminator catch-phrase “old not obsolete.” They fly at each other with murderous intent, yet for all the gymnastics involved, and shown from several angles, there is never even the merest glimpse of anything resembling Schwarzenegger junior’s family jewels. Perhaps, too, this proves the studio’s thinking about the wisdom of expending the time, money, and creative effort to maintain a PG-13 rating.
TERMINATOR GENISYS is more lazy than thoughtful about the two faces of technology, relying on formulaic plotting and clichéd hot pursuits rather than much in the way of innovation. For a rambunctious romp through the time-space continuum, there’s little sizzle, a lot of quipping, and only the barest attempt to resolve the classic paradoxes inherent in family reunions when going back and forth through time. Worse, there hangs heavy over the proceedings a baleful sense of having been on this ride before, and liking it better the first time.