‘Terminator Genisys’ movie review: Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in oddball sequel

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the cybernetic T-800 in Terminator Genisys, a film that attempts to appeal to fans by returning the series to its roots by returning the former Governor of California to the role that defined his career.

Why does this version of the inhuman Terminator look so old (Not that Arnold looks bad at 67)?

“Living, aging skin tissue” over a cybernetic skeleton, the film tells us. Oh, and this T-100 travelled back in time to the 70s so he could raise and protect Sarah Conner from childhood, here played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke.

Say what?

The existence of alternate timelines would seem to negate the premise of the entire franchise; why send Terminators back in time to change the future if they cannot change your future? This sequel hinges of the possibility of alternate realities, but doesn’t stop to explore the single reality that the previous four films described.

Most – if not all – time travel movies completely break down when you stop to consider them for more than a few minutes. Time travel itself rarely seems more than a logical fallacy.

That’s as true as ever here: the time travel in Terminator Genisys is both: a) complete and utter nonsense, and b) the reason that this movie is as fun as it is.

I don’t presume to defend the ridiculous storyline in Genisys, credited to screenwriters Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry) and Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island). It’s absurd at every step of the way.

And yet, I was never less than fully engaged for the entire 126-minute running time. The complexity of this time-travel storyline – as nutty as it is – is so thought-provoking that it upstages the wall-to-wall action that dominates the rest of the movie.

As buildings were crumbling and helicopters crashing and Terminators melting down into liquid metal, I was sitting there trying to work out the internal logic of all the time travelling in this film, and the logistics of how these events fit into the continuity of the rest of the franchise.

And that’s a good thing, even if I reached no worthwhile conclusion. Terminator Genisys certainly provokes a lot more thought than the rest of this year’s blockbuster crop.

Genisys begins with the familiar backstory from the original film. In 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) have defeated Skynet and won the war against the machines, but not before a rogue T-800 (played by a computerized, de-aged Arnold) has been sent back to 1984 – to kill Connor’s mother, and ensure he will never be born. Reese jumps in the time machine to prevent him.

Why not just go back five minutes and prevent the Terminator from going back in time? Wouldn’t the Terminator have already affected the future by the time Reese goes back? The questions are endless.

In 1984, we’re treated to an exquisite re-creation of scenes from the first film. It’s almost a scene-for-scene remake as a nude Arnold asks some punks for their clothes and Reese steals the pants off a homeless guy before running from the cops.

But then… it’s completely different. And you know what? This is fun. The return to events from the original film, complete with two different versions of Arnold’s Terminator, is a gleeful mind-binding trip down memory lane that recalls the complexity of some of the events in, say, Back to the Future Part II.

After the 1984 scenes set the plot into motion, Reese and Clarke’s Sarah Connor travel forward in time to stop Skynet just before it is launched. Why not stick around in 1984 and give yourselves years of planning rather than minutes; literally minutes, with a ticking clock counting down on billboards for the launch of Genisys, a new operating system that will initiate the robot apocalypse. In this timeline, Skynet never happened, even though the characters in the film did nothing to stop it.

The absurdly fascinating time travel stuff is interrupted every few minutes for a mildly diverting action sequence. Still, the T-1000 here (played by G.I. Joe’s Byung-Hyun Lee) isn’t as menacing as Robert Patrick’s version from 1991’s T2, and extended CGI-ified school bus and helicopter chase scenes fail to match the spectacular real-life destruction from the truck chase in Terminator 3.

Genisys got a hammering from critics stateside – at 26% on the Tomatometer, it easily rates the lowest of this summer’s blockbusters – and a tepid box office take in its opening week likely precludes the possibility of further installments, set-up in a mid-credits sequence.

But this is the most fun I’ve had at a Terminator flick since James Cameron’s original and T2, movies that this film has a whole lotta fun playing around with. It’s a blissfully entertaining ride that falls apart when you stop to think about it, but that’s also where a lot of the fun lies.

Terminator: Genisys

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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