“Terminator: Genisys” is a satisfying reboot for hardcore fans
In 2000, after releasing Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC's Angus Young famously stated, “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”
Young never had any illusions about the band. He wanted to make simple music that appealed to everyone. It’s an attitude that is above critique. Certain filmmakers have the same approach; Michael Bay and Uwe Boll know exactly who their films appeal to and are largely uninterested in expanding beyond that core audience.
Therein lays the difficulty of criticism. There is a strong argument that films should be judged on their own terms, against their own goals, and critics should not question the existence or necessity of the art. It’s a hard rule to follow, however, especially when every other movie at the box office is a sequel or reboot. Judging a film on its own merits when it is contained in a greater universe as a continuation of a larger story expands the focus to some degree, but it is still unfair to judge a film against type.
“Terminator: Genisys” likely can’t be judged without comparing it to the previous installments. Its quality is wholly contingent on how it fits into the mythology established in 1984. There have been five “Terminator” films so far (not counting the majestic, copyright-infringing Indonesian film “Lady Terminator” shown at this year at the CFF), and in comparison to the others, “Terminator: Genisys” is the best sequel since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which itself is on the list of best sequels of all time. “Terminator: Genisys” is exactly what it hopes to be. It is a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger about time-traveling robots. It sounds the same as the others, and its strength lies in the familiar, three-chord constructions.
Time travel films have a wonderful advantage in their storytelling. Rewriting history is not only acceptable, but expected. Nothing within the “Terminator” universe is impossible so long as the screenwriter takes appropriate steps to obfuscate the rules.
“Terminator: Genisys” is a reboot and retelling of the original film, with Kyle Reese being sent back to save Sarah Connor, only to find she has already been saved. Another Terminator, with the same mission, was sent back to 1973 to save Sarah from a T1000 sent to kill her as a child. Sarah has now been raised by “Pops,” her own personal robot bodyguard, who outwardly ages at the same rate as human. The tables have turned and Kyle is now the one scrambling for answers.
Much like its predecessors, “Terminator: Genisys” is mostly over-the-top action sequences and one-liners. Much like Angus Young, the film doesn’t have any qualms being exactly what it is. A large part of its success is the reintroduction of the key element missing from the previous two films: Sarah Connor.
She was, and always will be, the heart of the franchise. Emilia Clarke takes the reins from Linda Hamilton and is as effective as she can be without her accompaniment of dragons, although she lacks the stone-carved resolve of the character from T2.
But the importance of a strong, resilient female character is necessary in a film that is so testosterone-driven. Characters drive a story like this one—too many hardened Marines can suck the life out of any action film.
That said, the film is not all it might have been. Both “Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” had singular focus on the unrelenting nature of the antagonist. There was a manic pacing and powerful sense of danger as the action raced towards the conclusion. “Terminator: Genisys” feels far too safe.
But then, Michael Myers isn’t as scary in “Halloween: H20” as he was in “Halloween.” As with all franchises, the trend is to move towards parody in order to stay fresh. The in-jokes and tongue-in-cheek dialogue appeals to fans of the series, but does a disservice to original conceit.
Ultimately, “Terminator: Genisys” is an effective reboot of the franchise. The fight for the future will continue in at least two more movies, depending on how well it is received at the box office. At the very least this film is one of the more enjoyable experiences at theaters this summer.