He did say he will be back, after all.
Four years removed from being the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been slowly rekindling his storied acting career. Since then, his return as the T-800 in Terminator: Genisys, the newest entry in the long-running franchise, was easily his most anticipated – especially with lauded Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor running the show, in hopes of being the true successor to James Cameron.
One glance at the trailer, though, and Genisys would seem to be plot hole central. If the Terminator is a machine that can keep running for about 150 years, then why is the T-800 visibly aged? And how so, when a younger, baby-faced Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, another Game of Thrones transplant) fights by his side?
The film’s opening clears things up quick. An adult John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a resistance force against Skynet, which proves to be its undoing. But in a last-ditch effort, Skynet sends T-800 into the past: the bodybuilder version of Schwarzenegger, convincingly brought back to life with a body double and sharp visual effects. It seeks to kill Sarah Connor, thus preventing John’s attack on Skynet from ever happening. Knowing this, John sends back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect her.
It's a near carbon copy of the setup to the first Terminator film. But where Genisys diverts from the original is when is Kyle discovers there’s already an older-looking T-800 guarding Sarah – one she affectionately calls “pops," and has been by her side since her youth.
Again, why is this machine visibly aged, then? While the robot frame is not susceptible to wear, the human skin is organic, and it ages as the robot skeleton remains intact. This T-800 that rescued Sarah as a child is therefore old-looking, but has not lost one bit of functionality.
The presence of this new T-800 robot beside Sarah is not only the fundamental different between the first Terminator and Genisys, but a confirmation that Genisys takes place in an entirely new timeline apart from the first film. What clever writing; by throwing this new robot into the mix, Genisys is suddenly a direct sequel and a reboot rolled into one.
Unfortunately, this is as easy as it gets when understanding the plot of Genisys. As we depart from Act I, and we get liberal doses of time-traveling, alternate timelines, and everything in between, the movie confounds and confuses. Trying to juggle four other movies – not to mention the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show – makes incorporating Genisys into the mix an incredibly taxing chore. It’s more helpful to treat Genisys as its own movie, without worrying about all the wrenches the sequels throw in. Here, watching with ignorance is bliss.
For as laborious as it is to piece together this jigsaw puzzle, Genisys can be forgiven for everything else it brings to the table. Schwarzenegger effortlessly slips back into his former role, even though the 67 year-old lacks the same chiseled physique. As John Connor, Jason Clarke provides an impassioned energy to the film, which should have come in handy for a great plot twist, if only the trailer didn't give it away (obvious spoilers).
Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese makes for a good male protagonist, and sparks a fun chemistry between Kyle and Sarah Connor. Speaking of, Emilia Clarke successfully pulls off the female protagonist, taking the reins from fellow Thrones star Lena Headey, who played Sarah in the TV show. This is no regal Mother of Dragons: this is a woman who gets in the thick of the action.
With these good performances for iconic characters, Genisys is steeped firmly within the Terminator universe, but Genisys also makes an especially strong effort to connect with the franchise with multiple callbacks to the earlier films, frequently in the form of quotes - "come with me if you want to live!" shouts Sarah - or even shot-for-shot recreations of scenes from the first two films. More often than not, they inject some humor into this dystopian series. Speaking of humor, Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as O’Brien, a federal agent whose freak-outs and one-liners prove incredibly entertaining.
But Genisys is much more concerned with providing the human-on-robot violence that makes the franchise famous – which it does, and in several generous helpings. Most notably, the fearsome liquid metal T-1000 returns (played by Byung-hun Lee in – you guessed it – a cop uniform), produces one of the movie’s most exciting chase sequences.
Genisys comes off stronger than the two previous Terminator sequels. However, Genisys cannot come close to Terminator 2: Judgment Day – and we wouldn’t expect it to, considering Judgment Day is a masterpiece. But under director Taylor’s leadership, Genisys proves to be Judgment Day’s first worthy successor. With the question of who sent the T-800 back in time to rescue Sarah still unanswered, the franchise is set to continue. Of course, that means more perplexing alternate timelines to navigate. But that’s the story when it comes to Terminator lately; come for the action, but don't mind the rest (unless you really want to).
Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier. Directed by Alan Taylor.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J.K. Simmons.