First things first, I need to clarify/correct something regarding the nature of the previous film, Terminator Salvation. While Salvation is a sequel to the first three films, it was also intended to serve as the beginning of a secondary trilogy, which of course was never made. This doesn't change all that much, because Salvation doesn't leave us with a massive cliffhanger ending or anything of that sort, but it's something to note. Maybe it's a coincidence that the next and latest film in the series is so similar to Salvation, which is to say that it's the beginning of a failed trilogy with yet another troubled production history. After the franchise rights changed hands several times (I won't bore you with the legal and ownership squabbles), they eventually ended up with Megan Ellison and her brother's company, Skydance Productions. In the director's seat for this new installment, we now have Alan Taylor (best known for directing Thor: The Dark World), and we also see the return of Schwarzenegger in a proper role. I believe I've avoided talking about the movie itself long enough, so let's take a look at Terminator: Genisys - the last installment in the franchise.
We open to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) offering a brief narration about the ongoing war against Skynet and their machines. He explains that as a young boy in the nuclear wasteland, it was John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) that originally saved him from the machines, and that people look up to John as a “prophet”. So right off the bat, the movie hits a stumbling block, because “prophet” is not an accurate word to describe John. No, the word they're really looking for is “savior”, and I get the feeling that the writers eitner didn't know the difference or wanted to avoid making the messianic imagery even more obvious than it already is. Anyway, a final victory is now within mankind's grasp, and John explains to Kyle that there will be two concurrent offensives to defeat Skynet – one in Colorado to destroy Skynet's central core, and one in Los Angeles to destroy their last secret weapon. As Kyle and John lead the charge against the facility in Los Angeles, Skynet activates a Model 101 terminator (the kind seen in the first film). During the battle, the Skynet machines deactivate, indicating that the Colorado Offensive succeeded. Of course, this happens entirely off-screen with unnamed characters within the first 10 – 15 minutes of the film, but who cares about boring stuff like that, right? After breaching the depth of the facility, John finds Skynet's secret weapon, and his fears are confirmed – they successfully sent a terminator back in time.
Back in 1984, we are treated with a near shot-for-shot remake of the original film's opening – Arnold materializes and looks menacing, as you'd expect. In the “meantime”, John and the others discover the date and location to where the machine was sent and quickly deduce that it's going to kill his mother. Kyle volunteers to go back in time and protect her, and just as he is sent through the time machine, he sees John being attacked by someone. Within the time stream, John has “flashbacks” to a normal childhood where he receives Genisys as a birthday gift, which is ostensibly an operating system or some other sort of vague technological wonder. He also witnesses his younger self stating that Genisys is Skynet. He finally materializes in 1984 as Arnold attacks several street punks. This time however, another Arnold intercepts the machine and they fight briefly before the evil Arnold is apparently disabled with a heavy rifle from afar. At the same time, Kyle is pursued by a cop, which is revealed to be none other than the T-1000 (played by Lee Byung-hun). It chases him and Kyle bumps into several other officers, who detain him before the T-1000 turns on them. Before the T-1000 can kill Kyle, a van crashes into the store, with Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) behind the wheel.
"Come with me if you want to live!"
The T-1000 attaches a piece of itself to the van as it flees. Kyle is understandably confused at both the existence of the T-1000 and by Sarah's knowledge and actions, as he assumed she would be helpless and scared. She explains that the 1984 he was expecting is gone, and she also reveals the second, not-evil Arnold terminator in the back of the van, much to his shock. Before he can attack Arnold, he is knocked out cold and experiences another “flashback”, with his younger self telling him to go to San Francisco in 2017. He regains consciousness and demands answers. With another exposition dump, Sarah states that this iteration of Arnold saved her when she was nine years old, and that they don't know who sent him. She is convinced that they can stop Judgment Day, and the T-1000 catches up to them and chases them to a warehouse that Sarah and Arnold have been using. Sarah and Arnold take the other terminator's remains inside, which the T-1000 later revives with his poly alloy metal. They eventually destroy both terminators, using the aforementioned large rifle and a pre-arranged trap of some type of corrosive liquid.
Sarah explains that they've been preparing for this for a while now, and that with the T-101's CPU chip, they can finally activate a “time displacement unit” that they've built, not unlike the kind seen earlier in the film. How the two of them managed to build 97% of a 21st century time machine with early/mid 80's technology in a warehouse isn't really stated, but whatever. Sarah says that they have to go to 1997 to stop Judgment Day, but Kyle wants to follow the advice of his flashback and go to 2017. Sarah rejects this, saying that everything has been changed anyway. Arnold explains that the younger version that Kyle saw of himself existed in an alternate timeline of sorts that split at a “nexus point” of some kind. What's a “nexus point”, you might ask? If you answered “contrived”, you'd be correct. But more specifically, Arnold says that it is “an event in time of such importance that it gives rise to a vastly different future.” (I'll address this more later.) Arnold also states that Kyle probably saw this other timeline because John may have been killed. To prove the validity of his flashback, Kyle repeats something to Sarah that she once told him in a flashback.
"You can do this. A straight line. You just go, and you don't look back."
Sarah is stunned that Kyle would know such a phrase and agrees to go to 2017 with him. Arnold states that he can't go with them because some of the flesh on his hand was corroded by the acidic liquid (recall that machines can't pass through a time machine by themselves), but he says that he will wait for them in San Francisco. Sarah and Kyle appear in 2017 and are quickly arrested after disrupting traffic, and Arnold notices their arrival pretty much immediately. That's convenient. While in police custody, a doctor makes an offhand remark about Genisys, and the police explain that while they don't have fingerprints on file for Sarah, they do for Kyle – more specifically, his younger self. An excited detective named O'Brien (played by J.K. Simmons) shows up and explains that he was one of the cops that survived the encounter with the T-1000 in 1984, and that he's been highly interested in robotics ever since. Sarah and Kyle feign a fight and after they are pulled apart, the police leave the room. Using some tools they acquired in the commotion, they prepare to escape their bindings, but John Connor of all people shows up. John stuns two cops and they escape as Arnold tracks them.
As they flee, John casually refers to Kyle as his father, much to his surprise, and he only gives a vague answer about how he ended up here. Suddenly, Arnold arrives and guns down John, horrifying Sarah and Kyle. After a few moments, John's blood turns into nanomachines of some kind and he quickly recovers. John explains that Skynet saw him as they key to victory and that they captured him and turned him into some type of advanced terminator, sending him back in time to protect Skynet. (Don't worry, I'll address this as well.) He offers his parents the chance to join him buy they refuse. John has no qualms with killing his parents now, and Arnold fights him. During the brawl, they are both magnetized to an MRI machine within the medical facility, but Sarah and Kyle manage to escape with Arnold.
Arnold states that Skynet was working on some kind of “machine-phase matter” and that there's no cure for his condition now. It's also revealed that John has been working with Cyberdyne (the company largely responsible for Skynet in Terminator 2) and it's shown that they've been working on a time machine (the same one in the film's opening) in addition to Genisys. Kyle, Sarah, and Arnold return to a bunker of sorts that Arnold has been using for the past few decades, and they begin stocking up on supplies to attack Cyberdyne. Kyle demands to know why Sarah didn't tell him that he was John's father, and she explains that he dies. They squabble some more and wonder if they should even be together if she winds up birthing John. John appears once more and monologues briefly, but the others attack him and flee in a bus. After a long chase scene, the bus falls over the Golden Gate Bridge with John, and the others are arrested by the police. In the facility, O'Brien catches up to them, but John masquerades as a cop and opens fire on the other officers as Kyle, Sarah, and Arnold are being questioned. O'Brien helps them escape, and Sarah bumps into Kyle's younger self, who was brought to the station with his family to identify his older self. She repeats the phrase to him and departs with the others in a helicopter, with John pursuing in another. Arnold dives into John's helicopter and crashes it, allowing the others to escape to Cyberdyne.
Inside the facility, an AI of Genisys speaks to them, and Arnold continues fighting John in the building. Kyle and Sarah head towards the magnetic field generator (the incomplete time machine) and begin setting charges around the facility. The AI continues trying to dissuade them, which has little effect. During the fight, the detonator is destroyed, so Kyle and Sarah begin setting the charges differently. Outclassed, Arnold is losing to John badly, so he decides to sacrifice himself by pulling John into the magnetic field generator. The plan works, and the blast kills John and levels the facility as Sarah and Kyle hide in a safe room. Conveniently, Arnold manages to survive, as part of him was thrown into the same poly alloy used for the T-1000. Now upgraded, Arnold leaves with the two of them, and they meet Kyle's younger self, where he is told to repeat the “Genisys is Skynet” message. The film closes with Kyle, Sarah, and Arnold driving off into the distance.
The entire fanbase upon realizing that this movie won't be getting a sequel.
Arrival in 1984
I'll admit that it's actually kind of cool to see some of these scenes redone, albeit in a largely superficial way. The fight scene between the two instances of Arnold is alright for what it is, and it provides a bit of a twist to the opening of the very first movie. While my thoughts on the first act of the film are more complicated, I will say that this scene on its own is not terrible.
The franchise has had several iconic chase scenes, and this is obviously intended to rival them. Terminator 2 had the famous motorcycle chase, and Rise of the Machines has the crane truck chase. While this chase scene doesn't rise to the same level, it's still pretty ambitious and has a modicum of creativity. Even if it's in service of a weak plot, it's still a decently handled action sequence that deserves a better movie. Oddly, there don't appear to many complete clips on YouTube of this particular scene, though I assume that has something to do with how recently the film was released.
I used scare quotes to describe the classic scenes of this movie because, frankly, most of the big scenes just weren't that special. This one isn't really that remarkable either, but I suppose that it provides a decent setpiece to a movie that otherwise lacks an lot of memorable ones. The ending isn't nearly as strong as that of the first two or three films, but its decent, I suppose. Much like the bus chase, its actually an okay scene, but the plot surrounding it does it no favors. If this were in a better movie, I'd probably like it a lot more.
Sarah and Kyle:
Recall that Sarah Connor probably had the most complex and well-developed character of anyone in the entire franchise, rivaled only by Arnold. She started off as a largely helpless nobody who couldn't hope to handle the terminator on her own. As the first movie went on, she became more independent and brave, eventually defeating the robot that had been terrorizing her. This is taken further in Judgment Day, where her character undergoes a major change. On the surface, she's become a tough, no-nonsense fighter in the vein of Kyle Reese. However, deep down, she's a cold and broken individual who's just barely holding it together. She is easily one of the more interesting individuals in the series.
That's why it's such a shame that this iteration of Sarah is so... hollow. She starts off as a tough fighter, and that's how she stays. Her character is static and undergoes almost no change whatsoever, and the same can be said for Kyle. In the first film, he was a battle-hardened warrior who clearly suffered on the inside, and the most troubled aspects of his character are mirrored in Sarah as she develops. In Genisys, there is really nothing to suggest that either of these two characters have been scarred by conflict. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because some people are more capable of coping with things like war and death than others. The problem is that the characters aren't given much depth at all, save for a few remarks from Sarah that indicate that she's annoyed with the whole “fate” thing. That would be a decent character point to build on, in theory, but it doesn't really go anywhere, and it does little to define her.
The only measurable change to really speak of is the romantic “development” between the two characters, which is largely why I'm speaking about them together. Initially, they are cold and bitter with each other, and they squabble over and over, with Sarah at one point pulling a gun on him. Eventually they warm up to each other, and they are supposedly in love by the end of the film. The problem is that their relationship doesn't feel very believable, at least not in my view. There are brief moments of emotion between the two of them, but the romance is just not convincing over the course of the story. Neither of them are particularly engaging as characters, and I'm not desperate to see this instance of Sarah and Kyle return to the big screen anytime soon.
Each instance of Arnold is technically a different machine, but they ought to be compared to one another for obvious reasons. Terminator 2 gave us what is probably Schwarzenegger's greatest performance, for his remarkable development from a cold machine into a believable quasi father figure for John Connor. In Rise of the Machines, he underwent no major development, but the comic relief factor of his character was cranked up. In Genisys, Arnold is brought back once more where he provides even more comic relief, mostly be doing or saying things in an awkward way or at an awkward time. I suppose the effectiveness of this humor is mostly subjective, so I won't harp on that too much, other than to say that it does nothing to enhance his character or make him appear more threatening.
This time around, Sarah refers to him as “Pops” which is probably a not-so-subtle reference to his role as a father figure in Judgment Day. Whereas that was extremely well handled and believable, this time it feels rather shallow. He serves as both a combat guardian and as an adoptive father for Sarah following the death of her actual father. There's no subtlety here, and it's difficult to form any sort of connection with him, largely because most of the bonding that supposedly happens between him and Sarah (and by extension, the audience) is done off-screen years before the events of the movie. If there had to be a trilogy made out of this whole thing, Sarah's younger years with Arnold could have been elaborated upon in the first installment, and her character could have been given some proper development. That, and the movie probably wouldn't be nearly so convoluted.
I really cannot think of a way in which he develops over the course of the film, and that really is a shame, because there was a lot of room to do so. Having Arnold return as a guardian for Sarah could have worked, at least on paper. It could have served as an extension of the Terminator 2 relationship between John and Arnold – a sort of “what if” scenario, where Arnold doesn't have to die but instead remains with John to protect him. That was arguably the emotional height of the series, so a spiritual successor to that plot element could have worked really well. Unfortunately, we don't get that. Rather, we get awkward bits with Arnold bluntly asking if Sarah has mated with Kyle yet. Overall, Arnold's presence gives us a few interesting action moments, but his character is pretty stagnant.
I don't even know what I should say about John this time around, because his character is incredibly dull and undeveloped. There is pretty much no character change to speak of, yet again, and the only thing to really speak of is the absolutely bizarre decision to make him a terminator. Setting aside the absurdity of the concept for a moment, let's take a brief look at several villains from past installments and see how they compare to John. The original Arnold was, as I mentioned before, a sort of horror movie monster. He was menacing, inhumanly tough, completely heartless, and basically unstoppable. The effectiveness of his character is largely what makes the first film work so well – he gives it that extra element of dread that turns an above average action movie into a fantastic horror/action hybrid.
The T-1000 was arguably even better than his predecessor, embodying all of the most terrifying aspects of Arnold (other than his large physical presence), and subsequently building upon them. He was still heartless, but he could emulate human emotion and blend in a lot more convincingly. Just like Arnold, he was able to shrug off attacks, except that he could regenerate from his wounds and showed pretty much no signs of damage until the end. That's pretty demoralizing, and it further helps bring an element of horror into the film. As for the T-X in Rise of the Machines, she doesn't bring much that's new to the table, but I wouldn't necessarily call her a “step backwards” or anything. She had big shoes to fill, and she simply didn't reach the bar. John Connor doesn't work as a cyborg villain at all. He comes across as far too human-like because of his regular monologues and general demeanor. He does nothing to create a sense of dread within the film, partially because the individuals he's chasing are all proven to be capable of dealing with terminators. The horror atmosphere set by the first two (arguably three) films is completely absent, and every time he appears, I'm not terrified – I'm just baffled that they went with such a dopey idea.
“John is a terminator” really does sound like a fan fiction plot. Namely, a really bad fan fiction plot with blatant author stand-ins, overwrought prose, and clumsy dialogue. I suspect that this idea was implemented because of the fact that several past films have had something that subverts audience expectations or changes things up a bit. While they aren't all necessarily “plot twists”, they each offer something that sound like they would work well, at least in theory. In the first movie, we don't know who John's dad is for the majority of the film, until it's revealed to be Kyle, and it works. Arnold returning as a good robot in Judgment Day also worked very well on multiple levels. It gave the movie a lot more depth in terms of character development, it raised the action scenes to the next level, and it was just a smart move in terms of bringing in audiences. The reveal that John has/will have a wife in Rise of the Machines is a minor surprise, but was probably not intended to be earth-shattering anyway. Marcus being revealed a cyborg in Salvation was a pretty interesting idea, even if the execution was imperfect. If you were to put Marcus in the hands of better writers and provide the characters with a better overarching story, the movie could have been a lot better. But as for John being a terminator in Genisys, the idea is pretty much dead on arrival. It strikes me as a plot twist that was thrown in simply because they could. In all likelihood, it was included merely to give audiences something to remember about the film. “Oh yeah, I saw Genisys. That's the one where John became a robot.” Of course, you'll probably forget why he became a robot 15 minutes after the movie is over.
As I write this, my DVD copy of the movie is sitting in its case in front of me, and there are several things about it that baffle me. Chief among them is “why did I spend money to see this again?” But I'll figure that out some other day, perhaps after some deep introspection. Beyond that, I'd like to address some of the blurbs on it, as I believe they are worth addressing. On the cover, a gentleman by the name of Mark Hughes (of Forbes) is quoted, saying that it's “The best Terminator since T2: Judgment Day”. While Mr. Hughes is certainly entitled to his opinion, I respectfully disagree, as I believe that both Rise of the Machines and Salvation are superior movies. This is a pretty obvious case of “damned by faint praise”, as neither film was particularly awesome in the first place. For Rise of the Machines, its greatest flaw was merely how average it was, and as far as Salvation goes, it was a forgettable movie with a few decent elements. On the other hand, the few things that make Genisys noteworthy are negative. Another blurb quotes James Cameron, who states that “You are going to love this movie”. With all due respect to Mr. Cameron, I disagree with this as well. Mind you, he has basically stated that the third and fourth movies are not canonical, and that Genisys is the true third movie. I'll respect that sentiment, even if I find his opinion on Genisys to be bizarre. What I won't respect however, is the decision to spoil the twist by putting John as a cyborg front and center on the DVD cover. That's... stupid.
Speaking of stupid, it's time to address the time travel element of this movie. Time travel, by its very nature, can be tricky to write about, as the plot points can be easily mishandled and result in gaping plot holes. Strictly speaking, just about any work of fiction involving time travel can result in plot holes, but the critical factor is whether or not these problems can be overlooked. The first three films avoided the problem with plot holes well enough, and Salvation didn't bother much with time travel in the first place, other than keeping Marcus unconsciousness or otherwise unaware for several years. While I hope that the plot summary I provided was clear enough, I won't blame you one bit if you still have questions. The idea of an alternate timeline is nothing new, but it's not handled well in this movie. While it's not quite as confusing after an additional viewing, it's still not explained very well.
"I asked him to find some evidence of cyborgs. Next day he comes into my office with - you'll never believe this - pictures of some guy in spandex on a wall."
The concept of a “nexus point” is probably the most obvious problem. As a reminder, they occur because of “an event in time of such importance that it gives rise to a vastly different future.” What constitutes “importance” is never really stated, so there very well could be quintillions of alternate timelines that exist because England won the Battle of Agincourt or because Sarah made her toast with jam one morning. This means that even though the movie's primary timeline was saved by Kyle and Sarah's actions, there are likely still countless doomed timelines, many of which were created and doomed anyway because they saved the day. (Never mind the fact that these alternate timelines could likely create nexus points of their own.) The whole idea of a nexus point just strikes me as a convenient way for the writers to give Kyle information that would otherwise be unknown to him. If he can't see into the secondary timeline, he won't know to go to San Francisco in 2017, and he won't know that Genisys is Skynet until it's too late.
Let's take a look at some media that handle time travel well. The Back to the Future trilogy has it as the core of its plot, and while it does deal with alternate timelines and whatnot, they never dive into confusing territory. In the first film, Marty McFly has to go back in time to ensure that his parents meet and that they fall in love so that he is subsequently born. A few curveballs are thrown along the way, but for the most part, the plot isn't hard to grasp, and the characters are fun and memorable. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time incorporated time travel as well, and most of you probably know the plot by now: Link is destined to fight Ganondorf, and in order to do that, he is frozen in time until he is old enough to do so. As the game continues, he travels between the past and future to accomplish his goals. The story doesn't really concern itself with the details of time travel, and going back and forth in time doesn't create many serious complications within the game itself. The moral of the story is: if you're going to make time travel a key component of your story, keep it straightforward. That's not to say that every time travel story should be barebones - stories with more complicated time travel elements can and do work. However, when it comes to action films that are primarily made for more general audiences, the average moviegoer shouldn't leave the theater with more questions than answers. Doc Brown would undoubtedly be horrified at the idea of two Kyles existing in the same place at the same time.
"Plot holes? Where we're going we don't need plot holes."
Allow me to briefly address the nature of this movie as a reboot. (I won't even bother to remark about the glut of reboots in entertainment today, because I'm sure you're all well aware of that problem.) Simply put, this movie is not a good example of a reboot. The first act was crammed with imagery and sequences harkening back to the first two films, but it makes that segment of the film feel like a “Greatest Hits” compilation album more than anything. While they're entertaining on a superficial level, they mostly feel like they were included to excite fans, and not to enrich the plot. If you want to see a proper reboot, I'd recommend watching Casino Royale. It takes the core elements of the 007 franchise (suave British secret agent) and twists things up enough to where it feels distinct and able to stand on its own too feet. A particularly good instance of this is a scene in which a bartender asks Daniel Craig if he wants his drink shaken or stirred. Irritated at the moment, he replies “Do I look like a give a damn?” It's a small example but it works well, because it takes a longstanding, iconic part of the Bond universe and subverts the audience's expectations in a good way. It fits with Craig's less-friendly and no-nonsense demeanor, and it provides for a funny line. It works a lot better than simply copying and pasting iconic scenes. Casino Royale has its own unique identity, Genisys... not so much.
For reasons that are probably very clear by now, it is impossible for me to recommend this movie on any level. To be clear, there are few movies that I've seen that I outright hate, and this isn't one of them. Genisys is bad, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't anger me or anything like that. Still, the plot is a mess, the characters are hollow, and the halfway decent action and effects aren't enough to make up for the film's shortcomings. There are a smattering of things to like about this film, namely that J.K. Simmons' character is enjoyable, Arnold is okay (not great, but okay), and the shot-for-shot remakes of certain scenes are superficially cool. Beyond that, I don't have much to say in this film's favor, and I think that the franchise should just be left alone. If you want my recommendation, go watch the first two Terminator movies instead, or go watch the Back to the Future trilogy. Or go play Ocarina of Time. Find something that handles time travel well and appreciate it.
Now that that's all said and done, I should note that this will be my final article as part of the Writing Staff. I may or may not submit freelance stuff in the future, depending on whether or not I have anything that I have a serious interest in talking about. In any case, thank you all for taking the time to read and comment on my stuff.