Time travel is the sequel secret sauce. It even helps to explain why Arnold Schwarzenegger can play an “old” terminator in “Terminator Genisys.” He may be old on the outside, but he’s still all new-fangled robot on the inside.
“Terminator Genisys” is the latest attempt to cash in on the Terminator franchise, which, let’s face it, hasn’t delivered since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” back in 1991. And that was when James Cameron was running things, having scored with the original in 1984, but who proved himself with “Aliens” two years later. With “T2,” Cameron and co-writer William Wisher Jr. took the ideas and concepts they introduced in “The Terminator” and thrilled millions with a memorable, dare I say, classic, science fiction action epic. And like “Aliens,” the gauntlet had been thrown down – a sequel could creatively extend and even improve upon the one that started it all.
But alas, the Terminator “franchise” stalled. More than a decade passed and finally a weaker third film, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” was added to the canon with Jonathan Mostow (who has done little since) at the helm. Contemporaneous to a short-run television series, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” there was a fourth effort, 2009’s post-apocalyptic “Terminator Salvation,” which was even less effective, despite the solid casting of Christian Bale in the key role of John Connor. Luckily, most of us have erased numbers three and four from our collective memories, and “Terminator Genisys” producers are hoping that audiences are ready for another run at taking down Skynet.
And so it goes, “Terminator Genisys” is more of the same, which isn’t such a bad thing. In this new timeline, John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) once again sends Kyle Reese (“Divergent’s” Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (here played by Emilia Clarke, sans her dyed golden locks from “Game of Thrones”). But in a new twist, it is Sarah who protects Kyle – she’s even been waiting on him to get there, and she has her very own terminator, whom she calls “Pops,” as her muscle. Yes, her personal terminator is none other than the familiar Arnold-looking version, who definitely has some miles on him. It is explained that the organic tissue that surrounds his robotic inner frame actually ages, which in one line of quick exposition explains why you have an old terminator. And some of the film’s most entertaining dialogue concerns Arnold’s age and perseverance – it is like a metaphor for Schwarzenegger’s career.
Let me get this out of the way: Arnold is a joy to watch in this film. He’s still physically impressive, knows how to move like a terminator, and has some nice comic moments. And while the chemistry between Courtney as Reese and Emilia Clarke as Sarah is lacking, the chemistry between Sarah and her Pops is really solid. The film is not without problems, but the only reason I wanted to see “Terminator Genisys” is to catch Arnold in a familiar role where he is able to look like he does now. I bought the strained and often head-spinning explanation hook, line and sinker.
But the undeniable problem with “Terminator Genisys” is that ultimately the story is a retread of the second film with Connor and this time Reese attempting to destroy the company responsible for unleashing the evil Skynet on the world. And even though a new wrapper is placed on the old idea, it doesn’t seem fresh or original enough to support another theatrical outing. The frustrating thing about time travel is that what happens can always unhappen. Therefore, as a viewer, you can’t trust anything in this unreliable narrative. And because so much time tripping is required to reboot the franchise, which also involves another round of re-castings, it is hard to get comfortable with any of the characters. If it wasn’t for the cold, aging, largely emotionless terminator, there’d be little in this latest installable to care about. And despite the well-paced and created action sequences, “Terminator Genisys” didn’t make me worry about our world being taken over by machines. Skynet’s takeover is inevitable, so, why bother?