“The Terminator” was a hell of a ride and a great science fiction/action adventure movie that had b-movie written all over it — from Hollywood’s point of view, that is. However, James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd’s screenplay was inventive, tight, and filled with a good mix of action and science fiction themes like time travel, the singularity (i.e., when computers become self-aware), and nuclear war, that it defied industry expectations. If it wasn’t for the brilliant casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator (who wanted to play Kyle Reese) the film might not have worked as well. But the stars aligned, the film was well made, and it connected with audiences in a huge way.
Alas, the film franchise started down the road of many sequels have traveled: the follow-up was good (but not great), the third film was mediocre, and by the time we get to “Terminator Salvation,” it was beyond hope of any kind of return to greatness. The compelling “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” went in some fascinating directions, but the audience wasn’t there and it went off the air after one season.
One would think that with that track record, the money wouldn’t be there for a reboot of the franchise. However, I think when Schwarzenegger signed on for “Terminator Genisys,” investors flocked. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that David Ellison (son of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison) is the Executive Producer of the film.
Okay, the money and the Big Star are locked in. What about the story? Well, grabbing a page from the reboot of the “Star Trek” films, “Terminator Genisys” uses an alternate timeline for the events that take place both in the future (2029), the past (1984) and the not so distant future (2017) to craft a narrative that changes the four main characters in the Terminator universe. First off, Kyle Reese is not the forlorn solider whose love of Sarah is the reason he comes back in time to save her, and Sarah is not the waitress who quickly learns how to survive being hunted by the Terminator. John Connor is not entirely the savior of the humans who teaches them how to fight back against Skynet and its metal machines, and the T-800 Terminator that hunted Sarah in the first film is now known as “Pops”– and is a guardian to Sarah. To say that the roles have changed isn’t a spoiler because the film’s trailer thrusts the alternate reality premise in the faces of viewers.
So…is the film any good? Surprisingly yes! Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussiering’s screenplay breathes new life into the story by mixing up the black hats and white hats, changing Skynet’s birth (if you recall from “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Skynet tried to infiltrate the computer network that controlled traffic signals),and revisiting the original movie’s set up. Many of the scenes bring viewers back to familiar territory, but it isn’t presented in a stale way. Rather, we get a better sense of John Connor as an adult, a mystery about who sent “Pops” to protect Sarah as a child, and what the goal of Skynet is (there’s a twisted kind of family values things going on).
James Cameron has given this film a public blessing saying, in effect, that “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” wasn’t a worthy sequel to his two movies. Is “Terminator Genisys?” In terms of continuity, it certainly is. The action sequences go overboard at times, but the acting, the script and the eventual pay off in the end is mostly satisfying. In other words, you probably won’t be disappointed with “Terminator Genisys” since it’s been carefully engineered to please fans and casual fans alike.