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Terminator Genisys •••

Terminator_GenisysStarring: Arnold SchwarzeneggerEmilia ClarkeJai Courtney
Director: Alan Taylor
Screenplay: Laeta KalogridisPatrick Lussier
Action/Adventure/SciFi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: July 1, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, he said he’d “be back.” And he was right.

This looks like the Genisys of a new Terminator trilogy. Let’s Recap:

In the year 2029, resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a human invasion force on Skynet’s headquarters. Connor and his friend Kyle (Jai Courtney) discover a time machine that Skynet has used to send a Terminator back to 1984 to kills Connor’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke). Kyle volunteers to go back to 1984 to save Sarah.

But he no sooner arrives in 1984 only to find that things aren’t quite as he expected. Sarah Connor is not the vulnerable young girl he was told she would be. She’s in command as she saves him from an attack by a liquid-metal android called a Terminator. And, she’s aided by an older model Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who looks like he’s about sixty years old. Kyle discovers that he has to stop a new form of Artificial Intelligence called “Genisys” that will take over the world.

Greg, we’ve now seen two movies this summer that are retreads of films that enjoyed wild success decades ago. First it was Jurassic World, a movie that essentially replicates the plot of its 1993 original. And now we have Terminator Genisys, a film that is essentially the same as the 1984 version but with a slightly altered timeline. Neither of these 2015 remakes are bad; in fact, they each have their moments. But neither movie creatively breathes any fresh air into its aging franchise.

Speaking of aging, Terminator Genisys stars Arnold Schwarzenegger who, with the magic of CGI effects, appears as his youthful musclebound self in a few brief scenes where he plays a villainous Terminator. Later, Arnold’s elderly Terminator character assumes the role of Sarah’s protector. Arnold does a commendable job in these roles and even has the opportunity to utter his famous “I’ll be back” catchphrase. But even Arnold at his best can’t overcome an overly convoluted plot that features time travel to 1984, 1997, 2017, and 2029.

It wasn’t all bad. Genisys combined the elements of the first three Terminator films to make an engaging action/thriller. The hardest part of the story for me to follow was Genisys’ time travel rules. They are all over the place. Apparently, you can go back in time, but if someone turns a person in the future into a robot, that creates a rift in time where you have memories of what would have happened if everything had gone well. If you had trouble reading that last sentence, then you might have trouble with time travel in this movie’s universe.

Usually in time travel stories you either have one timeline where altering past events alters future ones. Or, every time you travel back in time you create a new reality that has no effect on the original timeline. Genisys doesn’t even try to reconcile these two concepts. The rules are written and broken in whatever way best serves the story. It’s a maddening mess.

You might even say that it was a maddening mess trying to keep up with who the heroes and villains are. John Connor is first a hero, and then a villain. Arnold’s terminator character is first a villain and then a hero. Kyle is probably the main hero, trying to save Sarah and figure out his place in the past, the present, and the future. Kyle’s transformation resides in his dawning realization that he is (or will be) Sarah’s lover and John’s father. So we have a fairly interesting story of self-discovery here.

The evil Terminator is the villain, of course, and John Connor becomes his henchman. There’s nothing terribly interesting about the evil Terminator — he’s a pure evil villain, a slightly stronger robot than Arnold, who is an outdated Terminator and therefore must use his brains as well as his brawn to defeat his evil counterpart. J.K. Simmons excels in his role as a good-guy cop character who lends a helping hand in defeating the villain. And Emilia Clarke shines as Sarah, a smart, strong woman who does more than hold her own. So overall, the supporting cast is rock solid.

I agree that the hero structure is pretty fractured. I think it was supposed to be an ensemble cast with Arnold, Emilia, and Jai Courtney as equal partners. But it’s hard to tell who we’re following at any point in the story.

The evil Terminator is dispatched in the first 15 minutes of the film so he doesn’t work as a villain. He’s replaced by the evil future John Connor – who has been converted into a superhuman-robot by the future SkyNet (played by Doctor Who alum Matt Smith).

You’ve already mentioned the ever-excellent J.K. Simmons. There aren’t many secondary characters to support this story. Unless you call CGI a character – in which case it was awesome. You’ll believe a bus can fly.

Terminator Genisys is fairly entertaining if you don’t mind watching another similar version of the 1984 Terminator movie. This modern rendition underwhelms us with its unnecessarily convoluted time jumps to multiple temporal destinations. The CGI effects are only slightly better than the Terminator films of the 1990s. But if you’re a fan of Arnold, then I suspect that you’ll enjoy Terminator Genisys. I award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was odd in that characters we think are heroes are villains and vice-versa. The character of Kyle emerges as a hero and does undergo an awakening about his true identity. Kyle isn’t the most charismatic character in the world but he does save the world and get the girl. This is usually all that we ask of our heroes. I’ll be generous and award him 3 Heroes out of 5.

As you mention, Greg, the supporting cast was minimal, but I have to admit to harboring a soft spot in my heart for both J. K. Simmons and Emilia Clarke. For me, both these characters were more memorable than the hero Kyle. I’ll give them a rating of 3 out of 5 as well.

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Terminator Genisys is a last gasp at resurrecting the Terminator franchise before the rights revert to James Cameron. Apparently Cameron sold the rights to the original Terminator script for one dollar and the chance to direct the first film. Those rights revert to him in 2019. So there is a mad rush to put out a new trilogy of Terminator films – we’ll probably see about one new film a year until 2019. Hopefully, James Cameron will do something more meaningful with these characters when his turn “comes back.” I give this incarnation of Terminator just 3 out of 5 Reels.

Scott, you and I disagree on the hero structure. Which is a clear sign that something is not quite right with this film. You need to KNOW who the hero of the story is. To me it looks like a three-way ensemble. But you could make a case for it being a duo with Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in the lead and “Arnold” as the mentor. I give this confusing group  just 2 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters are not much better. We get two villains, one of whom is supposed to be a hero. It wasn’t hard to follow, but it was a weak villain structure. Not that you need a lot of support when you have so many stars in the lead roles, but there weren’t a lot of secondary characters. I give them just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

 Movie: reel-3 Cast: cast-2Hero: h-logo-2

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