The spirit of Hollywood finally giving audiences the sequel we have pined for endlessly for so many years that we almost gave up any hopes in attaining, which was awarded to us earlier this month with the spectacular Jurassic World and in mid- May with Mad Max: Fury Road, has been recaptured once again for the Summer blockbuster crowd with Terminator: Genesys. The massively entertaining and rollercoaster ride re-defining exhibition of non-stop action, fascinating plays on new outcomes brought forth from toying with past and future scenarios through time travel (which is given a wonderful example in the opening moments of this fifth addition to the series, which started with 1984’s The Terminator, being replicated in eye-catching 3D as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 character reinstates the first film’s commencement with a welcome twist that can be perceived as both a sly wink to long-time fans and a smart way to re-introduce this semi-reboot to new audiences) and jaw-dropping liquid metal effects (which are nowhere near as groundbreaking as when Stan Winston helmed them in 1991’s stroke of genius: Terminator 2: Judgment Day) that made writer-director of the first two films, James Cameron ‘s (1997’s Titanic and 2009’s criminally overrated Avatar) early pictures so timeless and often duplicated. The tone Cameron so masterfully conveys (this time brought to the screen with similar directorial style and ingenuity by Thor: the Dark World’s Alan Taylor) in his films in the series was something that was sorely missing from 2003’s disappointing Terminator 3 and the satisfactory but too sanitized Terminator: Salvation from 2009. Terminator: Genesys bypasses the last two entries in this series by having such a swift foot to accelerator that by the time we get a history lesson John Connor (this time played with far more depth and conviction by than Christian Bale, who played this role in Terminator: Salvation, could even dream of mustering), his role in the resistance, Judgment Day and the machines rising up and we are already thrust deep into the first of its many incredibly choreographed and staged, intense, white knuckle action scenes well before the ten minute mark.
Terminator: Genesys wisely fits the pegs of the mythos and chronology of events of the prior movies into place with precision and finesse. The movie again revisits the story of the villainous T-1000 coming back to kill Sarah Connor so that she will not have John Connor who will lead the resistance against the machines when they rise up and try to take over the world. In many ways it restates the original story, none of the general outline of the storyline is new, but it also gives a few twists (one came in a bit of dialogue in the last half hour which made me gasp) in a way that isn’t so played up as to be an obvious turn in the narrative for newcomers as too many films have the desire to do to make sure we understand the importance of the event. We learn that a program called ‘Genesys’, hence the sub-title, will be launched in 2017 which will hook up to social media outlooks and other electronic devices and help the machines rise and change the tides of time so that the robots will triumph over John Connor. We can be certain we know the outcome of the events but it Terminator: Genesys remains consistently surprising despite these inevitable conclusions.
Most of the first hour of its one hundred and twenty five minute runtime moves with just enough dialogue and exposition for us to be reminded of who is who and what is going on before it straps our eyes to the screen with one remarkable sequence of excitement after another. The well-honed screenplay by Laeta Kalegrodi and Patrick Lussier wisely recycles the catchphrases which helped make the The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day so legendary. This is best exemplified in the movie’s trailer where Sarah Connor swings he door of the vehicle she’s driving open in time to save Kyle Reese, aptly played by Jai Courntney , with the line Ms. Connor received when she ran into Schwarzenegger’s title character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day: “Come with me if you want to live! This, in itself, exhibits how cleverly the film reintroduces old ideas without feeling the slightest bit obvious or recycled. What the writing team does the best here is hit these notes long enough for the audience to take a breath and give a nostalgic laugh before the T-1000, played this time by Byung-Hung Lee with such who does such an impeccable job of conveying the unstoppable force this villain had when Robert Patrick (who has a brief background cameo in the feature which is another subtly witty bit for the audience to look out for) played this nefarious entity so fantastically in Terminator 2: Judgment Day that it is easy to forget that these are two different actors playing him, begins to come after our leads once more.
The problem with having such a technically extraordinary and expertly paced starting sixty minutes is that, although entertaining throughout, the second half seems comparatively sluggish. In this duration, the feature stops winking at the audience and gets down to hitting the key elements of its plot and relies more on drama for intensity than spectacular scenes of explosions and gunfire. Even the otherwise astonishing, especially in 3D, action bits (such as when, as is another part in the trailer, where the leads are piloting a bus that is threatening to fall off the Los Angeles Bridge and the somewhat rehashed from Terminator 2: Judgment Day finale) seem lacking to the flawlessly executed delights which we saw in the first half. This is most evident when the interest and on-screen thrill succumbs to the necessary plot point of the increasingly intimate relationship between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in the last ten minutes. Here, the film appears to be stalling and becoming idle as it takes a decidedly dramatic turn for its conclusion. The ending successfully connects the narrative elements in a proper way and is somewhat of a welcome release from the endless destruction we witness throughout the feature. Still, it’s hard not to ignore the nagging sense that the movie runs out of steam before it’s officially over.
Luckily, these are the harshest complaints I can strike against the film. The cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau, captures the appropriately sleek and grim look Adam Greenberg gave life to in the first two features with a perfect, masterful eye. This, and the rugged film editing by Roger Barton, only heightens the aforementioned sentiments that we are finally getting the follow-up to James Cameron’s entries in this cinematic canon we had been hoping for nearly twenty five years. Brad Fiedel’s adrenaline pumping theme from the original is used here far more than in the past two installments (so much so that if there was any other music used in this film it didn’t even register in comparison), it has commentary on our technological obsession which was only hinted at in earlier films in this series and most importantly: the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the role which helped launch him into superstardom Schwarzenegger plows into the role of T-800 with so much gusto, charm and command that it makes his absence in Terminator: Salvation all the more woeful. It also reminds of why he was such a box office draw in the 80’s and 90’s.
Schwarzenegger is one of many reasons Terminator: Genesys is more like a natural extension of what James Cameron was going for in the first two films in the series. It touches on the state of humanity, and how it could be easily manipulated, with Cameron’s deft level of entertainment and without impressing upon a sense of being overly preachy. Terminator: Genesys may not live up to its staggering first half but it is consistently engaging, finds fresh ways to introduce ideas already addressed in previous films for new audiences without appearing too obvious in its mechanisms for those new to this big budget franchise and displays phenomenal effects and dazzling set pieces are dazzling. It also feels far more cerebral than it may actually be because it plays with The Butterfly Effect in time travel so brilliantly. Terminator: Genesys, which gets away with so much for a PG-13 rated feature that is doesn’t seem as if it is holding too much back in relation to the hard R-rating of Cameron’s entries in the series, also abandons the cold, mean-spiritedness that comes to the surface in too many self-referential blockbusters nowadays and illuminates by caring a bit more than the average action extravaganza than most films of its type. This makes Terminator: Genesys far superior to Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation and a worthy, but minor in comparison, follow-up to Cameron’s successes from 1984 and 1991. Here is to hoping that Schwarzenegger comes back and lives up to the promise he made in Cameron’s original, as has become one of the trademark catchphrases of these films, for more.