Terminator Genisys is not a great movie. But, unlike the rather dire experiment that was 2009's Terminator: Salvation, it does have its moments.
Terminator Genisys opens with a buildup that should be all too familiar with series fans. Through a bunch of voiceover and action scenes, we follow Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) as he befriends John Connor (Jason Clarke) and fights in his army against the machines, in the canon future established in the first film. In fact, the setup is so reliant on the audience's knowledge of the 1984 original film that it almost counts as fan service — the machines sent someone back in time to kill Connor's mother before he was born (young Arnold Schwarzenegger), and now, the humans need to send someone back to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).
But then, something goes wrong in the process, the timeline is fractured, and the film goes on its merry, less-predictable way, with Reese teaming up with Sarah Connor and a less-expected hero.
This twisting of expectations is the film's greatest strength. All of the time travel gobbledygook actually makes for a great excuse to play around with audience expectations, which serves the character of Sarah Connor best. Without spoiling anything, Reese is prepped to go back and protect a "weak" and unsuspecting woman, and with the turn of events, the timeline's Sarah is anything but. In fact, Clarke's much more badass Sarah is a huge highlight of Genisys — she's funny, tough, capable and a fantastic sniper.
Unfortunately, Terminator Genisys is kind of a mess, plot wise. The initial twist is fantastic, and provides plenty of space for the writers to explore the effects of time travel (and meaty cyborgs fighting one another). But instead of following any logical thread, the film introduces even more time travel, a bunch of gibberish about memories and fractured timelines and a truly stupid, unnecessary secret enemy.
As a result, Genisys never completely makes sense. The movie moves at a breakneck pace, from one fight scene to the next explosion, and it certainly stays exciting. There's one extended fight in a hospital that was genuinely thrilling. The first act ends on a multi-part chase with a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) that kept me literally on the edge of my seat. And for once, the effects (including the face-swap tech) actually looks great. But all of that extra plot weight ruins its chances of being a good movie, instead of a merely entertaining one.
In fairness, there was a huge amount of negative hype surrounding Genisys' release, not least of which can be traced to dismal-looking trailers. As a result, I went in with bottomed-out expectations, which may have helped me appreciate the film's stronger suits. The fact that it isn't an utter failure feels like a miracle, after watching some of the marketing.
The fact that Genisys isn't an utter failure feels like a miracle
There's a lot to like in Genisys. Clarke's aforementioned performance as Sarah is excellent — not as iconic as Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, but a worthwhile successor. And Arnold is excellent as the titular Terminator, with a surprising amount of emotion for an "old, not obsolete" model of cyborg. JK Simmons has a very amusing turn as a cop that saw something he shouldn't have and believes 100% in the robot apocalypse, despite drawing laughter from his colleagues. There's a surprising amount of heart to Terminator Genisys.
If only the writers had a little more faith in that heart, instead of relying on shitty plot devices, Genisys could've been the worthy successor to Terminator 2 that fans have been looking for since 1991. Instead, Genisys falls somewhere in the vast expanse of territory between the second and third movie — entertaining, but less intelligent (and less satisfying) than it easily could've been.