Time travel is a tricky thing, as the variables and consequences of all actions taken are so numerous that getting anything accomplished can be a miracle in and of itself. The same could be said about the tricky Terminator series -- a film franchise that, since 2003, has divided fans with its output and made them wish there was a magical “do over” button to preserve that first film they loved so much. Terminator Genisys is that “do over” button. It changes the course of franchise history, rewrites massive chunks of the timeline, and flips events enough that almost all of the franchise's established events are, well, terminated. Which makes this film a clean slate of impressive 3D and some prime popcorn entertainment.
In Genisys, John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) seize Skynet's top secret time machine and send Reese back to 1984… just like history and Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) have told us plenty of times before. However, there are a couple of hitches this time around, which leads to the familiar Terminator timeline being massively skewed into an alternate chain of events. This chain finds the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) becoming a protector to Sarah dating back to her childhood, thus turning her into a hard-bitten badass a couple of years earlier than anticipated. Of course, Skynet has adapted to this mishap, and created a new ally in the process: John Connor, himself. With the clock ticking on a new and nefarious plot to trigger Judgment Day, the path ahead is new and dark once more, and there's still no fate but what we make for ourselves.
Terminator Genisys had an easy task to accomplish: don't turn out like Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines or Terminator Salvation (sequels that didn’t live up to James Cameron’s first two films). The Alan Taylor-directed film accomplishes both of these feats in spades, as we're treated to events both familiar and completely different to what we've come to learn in the Terminator time line. This is all thanks to some well-thought-out time-travel mechanics that make sense in the big picture of the story. For the first time in the franchise's history, we can still feel the threat of Judgment Day, but the pieces aren't all the same as in the first four outings. Key differences are introduced to allow the story to actually surprise the audience, and they pay off.
There are only a couple of admitted downsides to Terminator Genisys, and while they aren't mood killers, they separate the film from James Cameron's salad days of the franchise. For starters, there are some elements and players in Terminator Genisys that are clearly being developed as sequel bait, seeing as the studio is planning two more films after this. This isn't surprising, but at the very least, the writers could have done so in a manner that pays off their existence in this first film, particularly in the cases of J.K. Simmons' alcoholic cop and Dayo Okeniyi's Danny Dyson. Also, the sequel’s attempt at emotion aren't nearly as strong as either of Cameron's first two installments, especially when dealing with the Sarah Connor / Kyle Reese love story.
Those shortcomings, however, are overshadowed by a massive cast of talented actors and the tweaks to the Terminator mythology that set this film on a path to better days. The core trio of Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, and Arnold Schwarzenegger work pretty damned well together, balancing action and smart-assed humor with ease and timing. On the opposing side, Jason Clarke is clearly having a blast as the baddie of the piece, while at the same time making for the most believable John Connor we've had in quite some time. Come to think of it, this is the most Terminator-esque film we've had since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is cause for celebration in and of itself.
With a successful hard reset on the Skynet / humanity conflict in play, Terminator Genisys reinvigorates the franchise and allows fans to have something they haven't had in a while: hope for an even more kick-assed future. My fingers are crossed that we get to see what happens in the next two films, because for the first time in who knows how long, I’m excited and intrigued by the potential future of a Terminator storyline.