Review – He SAID he’d be back… (“Terminator: Genisys”)

Yeah, I know, that’s a goofy title. My spellcheck went nuts trying to correct it. Anywho, here it is six years later since the last Terminator movie graced the screen and things have gotten weirder by the minute as far as time-paradoxes are concerned. Watching the first 1984 Terminator movie is required here as a primer, so be forewarned.

Forget the events in 2009’s Terminator: Salvation, okay? We got a whole new timeline here. John Conner (Jason Clarke) finds a young Kyle Reese as a boy and raises him to be his surrogate son and lieutenant, which is odd given Kyle is John’s father. In 2029, a grown Kyle (Jai Courtney) volunteers to back to 1984 to protect Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke from HBO’s Game of Thrones) from the killer T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Sounds all familiar, right? But! Just as Kyle gets zapped in SkyNet’s version of Peabody’s Wayback Machine, a T-5000 (Dr. Who’s Matt Smith) infects John with secret nanotechnology. Uh-oh!

Kyle is in for a rude awakening when 1984’s Sarah is already a bad-ass soldier who saves him! It seems that a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) saved Sarah back when she was nine, and now she and “Pops” (that what she calls her T-800 surrogate father) fight off liquid metal T-1000’s and wait for Reese to arrive. How did all this happen? We’re never told. Moving on. . . Needless to say, they have to take down SkyNet AGAIN (this is getting old, isn’t it?), so they time-travel forward to 2017 San Francisco and Cyberdyne Systems, where a computer program app called Genisys will come on-line and eventually kickstart Judgement Day.

But, naturally, they run into all sorts of problems. They get arrested for being naked in public (time-traveling, y’know), but are freed by Detective O’Brien (J.K.Simmons) who remembers the pair from 1984 and realizes their plight. Naturally, Pops shows up to effect a rescue, and so does (WTH?) John Connor? Just when you think this really strange family reunion couldn’t get any stranger, Pops reveals that THIS John Connor has been, shall we say, upgraded? Yes, sent from the future and now changed by nanotech, he’s unstoppable and is behind the nefarious Genisys programming.

From here it’s a race to Cyberdyne to blow that sucker up and stop the Genisys app from going online, but first they’re going to have to get past this walking shape-shifter that can’t be killed. There’s explosions, bullets galore, car crashes, implausible, impossible helicopter chase scenes that defy physics, and mighty leaps of logic with time-travel problems. Oh, there is a very short, but cool scene of the 1984 T-800 battling the newer 2000 T-800. Young Schwarzenegger vs older Schwarzenegger? A CGI dream come true!   

With a meandering screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, director Alan Taylor (Thor: the Dark World) tried to give as much bang for the audiences buck. Aping certain scenes from the 1984 movie was nostalgic, but really unnecessary. The overall story unfortunately, try as it did, wanted to be more than the sum total of it’s parts. It upped the ante by introducing yet another new Terminator, but having the main villain be just another big sentient computer like Viki from I, Robot or Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey was lazy and boring. C’mon, guys, you can do better than that! And do NOT get me started on all the plot holes or we’ll be here all night!

It’s a 2-hour unfocused action mess with unanswered questions that surrounds itself with fights, chases and escapes, and moments of silly humor. On the plus side, to see Ahhnold reprising his iconic role, without making a parody of himself or playing it off as a “paycheck”, was refreshing and nice. Recent Academy Award winner Simmons provides the comedy relief and is excellent. Both Clarke’s were wonderful, but Courtney lacked Michael Biehn’s (1984’s Kyle Reese) Steve McQueen-ish intensity and charm. And there’s supposed to be three more of these Terminator sequels coming? “Hasta la vista, baby!”                     

“I’ll be back”, “Come with me if you want to live”, “Hasta la vista, baby”. Yes, these and many other quotes are part of our vocabulary because of the Terminator franchise. That and saying them with a silly Austrian accent (go on, admit it, you know you do!) So, with the release of another Terminator movie and the franchise rebooted, let’s look fondly back on the history of The Terminator, shall we?

The Terminator (1984)
Saying, “I’ll be back!”, made it a world-wide catch-phrase with this movie as Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his early movie career, made this his forever iconic persona. With a dynamite script by James Cameron (AND his directorial debut!) with co-writer Gale Anne Hurd, this movie spun the time worn “sci-fi/time-travel” plot into a whole new world with an unstoppable killer android, a damsel in distress, and a hero from the future.
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is about to have the worst day of her life. Ever. She’s been targeted for termination by a killer cybernetic organism from the year 2029 called a T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Why? Her future unborn child, John Connor, holds the key to stopping SkyNet, a sentient computer system that took (or WILL take) over the planet and nearly wiped out every human on Earth. But, also sent back to stop the T-800 from his lethal mission is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a tenacious soldier that not only keeps the rampaging robot from fulfilling his mission, but toughens up the naive waitress into a pretty good fighter.
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that he was sent by John Conner in the future because he’s really the father of John Conner! Only thing is, Kyle doesn’t know that little nugget of information. Surprise! Anyway, the chase is on with that nasty T-800 trying to kill Sarah and Kyle trying his best not to let that happen. The ending at a warehouse is the final showdown between Sarah and the exo-skeleton of the T-800, as its fleshy body has been burned away.
Okay, so there are all sorts of time-travel paradoxes and odd plot holes, but you got a helluva story to latch onto and have fun with. Full of action, great direction by newbie Cameron, and a stellar cast that included Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton (both in Cameron’s Aliens), and Earl Boen as Dr. Silberman, who’ll show up again in Terminator’s 2 and 3.
And let’s not forget the whiz-bang SPFX by Stan Winston who made the practical T-800 robot puppets, full-scale metal skeletons, plus other effects. Damn impressive for 1984 when there was no CGI like today. And, of course, there was Ahhhnold, to gave the movie it’s overall “look” and increased viewership with his big, bad, leather-jacketed, sunglasses-at-night-wearing, and mono-syllable line readings. It made bank at the box office and practically screamed a sequel and, what do you know, Cameron already had one lined up!
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
In a rare exception where the sequel actually bested the original, T2:JD was outrageously cool and full of shocking surprises. Again written (and directed) by James Cameron and co-written by William Wisher, this gonzo SPFX heavy film blazed new technology in the CGI field and gave us a new villain: the sinister liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick). The budget was higher, the stunts were crazier, the script was laden with new characters and time-travel revelations, and it sported TWO endings!
John Connor (Edward Furlong) is alive and well, but a juvenile delinquent at 13. His mom, Sarah Conner (Hamilton again), is in a looney asylum because she tried to blow-up a computer factory that is (or will be) affiliated with the evil SkyNet. But the bad guys from the future ain’t restin’ on their metal laurels as they send an unstoppable T-1000 liquid android (Patrick) to go after John. But, John (in the future) sends a re-programmed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to protect his younger self and the fun really begins! Both battle ‘bots going at each other in full attack mode, while a confused John tries to sort things out.

Later, John and the T-800 save Sarah from her captivity and get future SkyNet computer wiz Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) to destroy all the intel on the past T-800 they have. But all those shenanigans come at a price, as Miles is killed and the T-1000 zeroes in on John and Sarah in a fast-paced finale of destruction, explosions, and melting robots that bring about the conclusion of this saga. Kinda. . .depends on which ending you watch.

Edward Furlong, found playing video games in a Northridge arcade, was cast to be the young punk John Conner and plays off Schwarzenegger perfectly. His swagger and believability is just right for this first-time actor and Cameron really puts him through his paces. Hamilton’s performance is ruthless and raw, Schwarzenegger proves he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and Patrick is just plain sinister.

I love this movie! Ahhhnold vs Patrick, Hamilton as a lean, mean, fighting machine, Furlong teaching the T-800 to be more human with more catch-phases to enter our lexicon, (does “Hasta la vista, baby!”sound familiar?), the CGI effects that still hold up today, and some clever humor peppered throughout. It worked to the point of being THE biggest grossing of 1991. It also won five Academy Awards, plus a huge bushel basket of others from all over the world. With awards and box office receipts like that, the studios wanted another movie.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

So it happened like this: Cameron wanted to do T3 and even had an outline for a script, but the studio (Carolco Pictures) went bankrupt. So, he shelved it, and concentrated on a movie about a big sinking ship and iceberg lettuce, or something like that. Meanwhile, Carolco reformed, bought the Terminator rights, and a script from Ted Sarafian that featured a 20-something John Conner working at a computer company with a deadly futuristic female Terminator that could turn invisible! But director Jonathan Mostow nixed that idea and had his college buddies, John Brancato and Michael Ferris, come in and “fix” the script.
John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living off the grid in L.A. ever since his mom died. But, them pesky Terminator’s just don’t give up! This time SkyNet sends a female T-X Terminator (or is it Terminatrix?) played by Kristanna Loken after John while, you guessed it, John from the future once again sends an upgraded model, a T-850 (Schwarzenegger), to be John’s protector. In a bizarre coincidence (or is it?) John meets his future wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) at her veterinary office.
In a carbon-copy of the last two movies, the three (John, Kate, and the T-850) go on a cross-county trip/chase to escape the wildly crazed attempts of the T-X to kill John. In another coincidence (or is it?), it seems that Kate’s dad, Lt. General Robert Brewster (David Andrews), is head of the USAF and is about to launch (gulp!) SkyNet’s programming into their military computer system! Uh-oh!
So now it’s a race to stop daddy from implementing the computer virus, but you can already guess that doesn’t happen. All hell breaks loose as SkyNet goes online, becomes self-aware, and decides to eradicate all humans. The T-X and T-850 duke it out as John and Kate head for safety from Judgement Day, which comes anyway. Ah, nuts!
Hailed as “loud, dumb, and obvious” by the public (and the NY Times as well), it was essentially a chase film with big stunts, bad acting, and ridiculously laughable plot holes and wild coincidences. Even Ahhnold wasn’t really on board for this as his California governorship had just started and his respect and loyalty for Cameron put a damper on his performance. Look for Earl Boen in a funny cameo as he reprises his role as Dr. Silberman.

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

Forever known as the Terminator movie where Christian Bale went ballistic (and YouTube viral), as he venomously went off on the director of photography for walking around during his scene with Bryce Dallas Howard. Talk about your tempers!

Anyway, we leap forward 14 years into the future from Judgement Day and the war with the robots is still going on. Leader John Conner (Bale), working on intel, has a radio signal that can shut down SkyNet’s deadly machines. Using this, his military plan is to launch an offensive against a SkyNet base in San Francisco in four days; a response to an intercepted “kill list” created by SkyNet. Looks like they finally figured out the whole “Kyle Reese created John Conner” thing from the first movie, and want him dead.
Naturally, John and his wife, Kate (Howard) need to find Kyle first, even though the Resistance leaders are unaware of Kyle’s importance. Meanwhile, former convict Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), an experiment of half-human/half cyborg by Cyberdyne Systems, is saved in war-ravaged L.A. by a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). After Kyle tells Marcus about the war, leader John Conner, and SkyNet, the three take off in search of Conner and the Resistance. They survive an attack at a gas station; but Kyle and several other people are taken prisoner by SkyNet robots.

Marcus is saved by John, but is revealed to be a cyborg, but is Marcus an enemy and spy or does he really want to help overthrow SkyNet? The climatic showdown at SkyNet HQ is a dizzying action-fest of explosions, fights, and Ahhnold showing up for a brief cameo (all with CGI mapping–he was never really there) as a newly minted T-800. In case you were wondering, John Conner successfully destroys SkyNet, but “the war is far from over”. <sigh>

Directed by action guru McG, the script, written again by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, was tweaked several times (even on the set) by many others as well as McG. You can sense that by the massive plot holes and indiscriminate attempts to make the time paradoxes work out. They don’t. Apparently, the super-smart and calculating SkyNet computer still has trouble figuring out how to off John Connor or Kyle Reese when they have every opportunity to do so. Geez, even my Windows 7 is smarter than that!
Initially well received, the film never reached the boffo box office bonanza of T2, and the next scheduled sequel for 2011 was shelved. Bale and Worthington are sufficiently bad-ass and full of fire and machismo, burning up the screen with their intensity, but sadly, it wasn’t enough to drive the people to this big and loud SPFX heavy noise maker.