The Terminator series is up there with Star Wars, as one of those film series in which the second film is pretty much the pinnacle of the series (Which, actually, applies to the original Star Wars trilogy and the prequel trilogy both, if only because The Phantom Menace remains one of the most awful pieces of cinema ever put on film -Ed).
With the perplexingly named Terminator Genisys being the fifth of the time travelling murder robot films, I don’t see a great deal of danger that the crown of Terminator 2: Judgement Day will be under significant threat.
That said, it does leave a rather wide scale on which Genisys could still fall. The Terminator was good, but not as good as Judgement Day. Rise of the Machines was off the chart awful, whilst Terminator Salvation was not as bad, or okay, depending on whether you mentally sub the ending for what it was originally going to be before US test audiences got a hold of it.
As John Connor leads humanity to the final victory over Skynet, the machines send a Terminator back in time to kill his mother Sarah. In pursuit, John sends one of his soldiers, Kyle Reese, back in time to protect her. Except when he gets there, the timeline has already changed drastically, and SkyNet is on the verge of total victory.
I wasn’t sure about all this, I have to admit. From the bizarre spelling choices of the title, to the resetting the timeline, to bringing back Arnie into the classic role when he’s pushing 70. Resetting timelines seems to be the done thing now, what since Star Trek XI, when you want to reinvigorate a stalled franchise, after all. Here it… I don’t know, it sort of works.
Really, the timeline throughout the Terminator franchise has been extremely fluid, with Terminator 2: Judgement Day altering it drastically. But actually, the idea that SkyNet would send a terminator back to Sarah Connor’s childhood, and try and eradicate her there, makes perfect sense. And the now familiar role of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 as protector fits within the overall story brilliantly.
The other interesting facet of Genisys is the extent to which it turns things on its head. Kyle Reese is a central character, with a Sarah Connor more in line with Linda Hamilton’s performance in Judgement Day. In fact, I felt Emilia Clarke did a great job in the role, blending the toughness with vulnerability, and a weariness at the weight of fate.
Where things start to get weird, though, is continued and confusing evolution of SkyNet, now at the point of nanite-style ensembles created out of humans. In this case, John Connor, who is now no longer the last hope of humanity, but of SkyNet. Which is a neat twist. Time travel feels, for once, a weapon rather than just a premise. Both sides use it to try and gain an advantage, in a way which feels organic and like a real war.
There is, of course, a lot of just blowing things up and quipping one liners. This is still a Terminator film. But unlike The Rise of the Machines or Salvation, it feels like there’s actually fertile territory for the inevitable sequels to explore, rather than simply wringing more money out of the franchise. And everything feels shiny, fresh and new.
Which isn’t a bad start, when you’re revisiting a franchise from the 80s and 90s, eh?
And actually, one of the best parts, was the application of our modern day concerns about technology to the format. The “Facebook-on-steroids” which has become the new origin of SkyNet is very relevant, and one thing that the Terminator franchise at its best has always managed to do is adapt itself to changing times.
At its worse, this would be a greatest hits tour. Terminator Genisys surpasses that. I enjoyed it, and am open to the sequel. It falls short of The Terminator and Judgement Day, but is a long, long way better than the more recent two films.