Come with me if you want to see a better movie than Terminators 3 and 4!
Before I tell you exactly what I think of Terminator: Genisys, here’s my nutshell review of each movie in the series so far, so you know where I’m coming from:
An excellent sci-fi action movie teasing just on the edge of horror, and a true sci-fi classic. My favorite of the series.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
An even wilder action ride, with a little more emotional depth, and ground-breaking F/X, though as time passes, I find I prefer the artistry of the first movie just a little bit more. (It’s a shame the trailer spoiled the biggest twist for most people.) Also the first R-rated movie I saw without permission. Sorry, Mom & Dad.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Not without its charm, and I did like the twist at the end, but ultimately forgettable.
A disappointing, pandering waste of a film that I saw once and can no longer even really remember beyond the fact that, no sir, I did not like it.
So, essentially, I’d rank them for quality in the exact same order they were released, though 1 & 2 are constantly neck and neck, jostling for position in my mind. Terminator: Genisys, I’m pleased to say, is easily ahead of 3 & 4. But is it worth seeing? Does it hold up as being worthy of the franchise’s origins in the mind and work of James Cameron? You know what? I’m gonna say yes. Yes, it does.
It’s not perfect. I’d still rank it third in the franchise, but it’s much closer to 1 & 2 in my mind than it is to 3& 4. It’s ambitious as hell, gives me a glimpse at the climax of the war and the time machine in a way that (mostly) satisfied the hunger I’ve had for that since T-2, and does so with a story that, while not without its bumps, more or less holds together.
Also, the action just plain works. The scenes in the future are some of my favorite. Sure, we’ve always gotten little glimpses of those in other movies, but here we finally get to see the assault on Skynet’s time machine. The hunter-killers, unskinned terminator chassis, and phased-plasma rifles (in the 4o-watt range, surely) everywhere made for an exciting opening and really made me feel like I was watching a Terminator film. It’s not just referencing the first two movies for the heck of it, it’s establishing some continuity to re-connect us with the franchise.
And it’s establishing that continuity, acknowledging and respecting what’s come before, that allows the film to take the ambitious leap that it does later on without losing us. Or without losing me, anyway. But it’s easier to assume you’ll all agree with me, because no one disagrees on the Internet, right? Okay, sure, it did bug me that Reese still had Sarah’s picture rather than having lost it in an attack like the first movie showed, but I’m willing to let that go.
What the movie does, and where it goes after Reese gets back to 1984 and finds things to be not what he was expecting, I won’t reveal here. But like I said, the movie is ambitious, and isn’t content to just throw good terminator against bad terminator in a bid to protect the Conner family. Oh, and if you have been spoiled by the most recent trailer, that doesn’t give away the whole movie, either. There’s still plenty to enjoy.
The movie does pretty well on the character front, too. Emilia Clarke plays a Sarah Connor who’s something different than we’ve seen before: a Sarah forced to harden at a much younger age. She never had the more carefree life that gave us the untested waitress from the original movie, yet nor has she spent years as a mother focused on protecting and preparing John. She’s tough, but with–ironically–a little more freedom and joy because life hasn’t worn her down just yet.
Of course Arnold has years of practice in this role, so it’s hard to criticize there. I still prefer Michael Biehn’s Reese, but Jai Courtney does a serviceable job. My only complaint on the character/actor side of things is that Jason Clarke, who plays John Connor, kept reminding me of Colm Meaney, who played Miles O’Brien on Star Trek. But speaking of O’Brien, there’s a character by that name in Terminator: Genisys as well, who may in fact be my favorite character in the entire movie. The fact that he’s played by J.K. Simmons probably doesn’t hurt, of course. I love that guy.
The movie isn’t perfect. The actual “Genisys” thing felt a little forced. The time travel gets a little murky, but the writers did seem to at least respect the power of the time travel concept to completely blast a story into a pile of incoherent, half-assed hand-waving, and for the most part, the movie stays out of that particular morass. The memory thing wasn’t really working for me until, well, the end of the movie, when I mostly got what they were aiming for. They did their best to cross their time-travel Ts, so to speak, and I appreciated that.
So is it the best in the franchise? I wouldn’t say so. But it’s definitely worth seeing, a fun ride, an engaging story, and filled with some interesting moments. (I liked the bit with the detonator.) So hey, go see it.
Also, Matt Smith has a small but, ah, pivotal role in it, too. And he ain’t wearin’ a bow tie.