Despite the fact that it was almost unanimously panned by critics… given my distaste for “Rise of the Machines” as well as the fact that I somewhat like “Salvation”, I expected “Terminator: Genisys” to land somewhere between the two. Well, guess what… the so-called “critics” can suck it. While definitely not a masterpiece like Cameron’s duology, “Terminator: Genisys” nevertheless is an entertaining flick that’s the best non-Cameron sequel of the series so far.
——— HERE WOULD BE A SPOILER WARNING – IF THE TRAILER WOULDN’T HAVE ALREADY TAKEN AWAY ALL THE SURPRISES ANYWAY ———
The movie that it reminded me of the most was actually “Jurassic World”, probably because it was a similar nostalgic affair that harkened back mostly to a beloved classic (in case of “Terminator”, classics), while ignoring the last two entries in the franchise. The only major difference between the two (all IMHO, of course) is that TG has its strongest moments in the beginning, while JW gets better with every passing minute, and saves the best for last. However, that alone doesn’t explain why “Genisys” was critically panned while “World” was mostly celebrated. What am I missing here? Where’s the huge difference? Anyway, enough talk about “Jurassic World” – and the (at least for me) baffling reaction from the critics – let’s focus on “Terminator Genisys” and my take on it. The beginning was incredibly well done and very promising. I love the fact that we finally get to see the final battle against the machines, and how the first T-800 is sent back in time, followed by Kyle Reese. The next bit was by far my favorite part of the movie. Alan Taylor and his team do a great job restaging the beginning of the original (with the occasional image taken directly from the source thrown in for good measure). Having watched the entire “Terminator”-series to prepare myself for “Genisys”, I could really appreciate the hard work and the attention to detail that went into reimagining that sequence. Also, face-replacement via CGI definitely has come a long way since “Tron: Legacy”. The “young” Terminator looks completely flawless, like they actually would have gone back in time to shoot that sequence with a young Schwarzenegger. Anyway, the fight of the two T-800s definitely was one of the standout-moments of the film for me.
The rest of the scenes that are set in the 80s were really great, too. I loved the inclusion of a T-1000 in the shopping mall scene, and how Sarah saves Kyle, thus turning the tables, with the immortal line “Come with me if you want to live.” I also love the following dialogues between Sarah, Kyle and “Pops”. Schwarzenegger get’s some great lines and funny moments here, and I love how totally baffled and out of his element Kyle is. He came back expecting to having to save a young, innocent and helpless Sarah Connor that’s unaware of the danger she’s in. Instead, he meets this woman who, together with her protector, has prepared for this moment all her life. I don’t want to take away all the cool stuff that happens next, since that’s pretty much the only (few) surprises that the marketing campaign has left us with, but lets just say that there were some great scenes that went right back to Cameron and the idea of the unstoppable killing machine. As soon as the danger is over, we get some explanation about what the hell is going on here. To be honest, I understand everyone who found those scenes to be hardly convincing and a little tedious, but I didn’t really have a problem with that. I mean, with every time travel movie, you need a certain suspension of disbelief. And I definitely appreciated it that they at least tried to offer an explanation (contrary to “Rise of the Machines”), even though it might have been a little hokey. That’s still better, though, then just to throw some stuff on the screen and say “Screw it, it’s sci-fi, everything’s possible anyway”. There are also some nice additional moments between Sarah, Kyle and Pops (something that continues after the time jump). Granted, none of them are even remotely as good as the bonding-scenes in T1 or T2, but they’re nevertheless quite nice. Overall, I’d argue that “Genisys” did a better job to make me care for these characters, than either “Rise of the Machines” or “Salvation” did. Ok, granted, those are not really benchmarks, but nevertheless. So overall, I really enjoyed the part in the 80s.
Things get a little bit more problematic after the time jump. For starters, why did they choose this particular moment, instead of getting there a week, a month, or a year earlier? Why put so much pressure on themselves, by giving themselves only about 24 hours to prevent Judgment Day? Plus, the scene in the garage really suffers from the fact that one of the major twists of the movie was already given away in the latest trailer, and also on the fucking movie poster (which is why I deliberately used a different one). It really could have been a great WTF-moment in the tradition of the best similar moments from the first two movies. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be – however, I do strongly believe that this is nothing that can and should be blamed on the movie itself. It’s just a shame, that’s all. Anyway, the following action scenes where a little bit of a mixed bag. I quite liked the bit on the Golden Gate Bridge, even though that particular monument (as much as I love it; San Francisco was the first major U.S.-city that I visited, after all) has been featured in similar blockbusters a little too frequently in recent years. Contrary to many others, I also quite liked the helicopter chase. Yeah, it’s not as gripping and exciting and impressive as a similar scene in T2, but it was well shot and had some nice character beats thrown in for good measure. My major beef with the movie actually lies with the showdown, which I found to be a little disappointing. Action-wise, it just wasn’t as exciting as everything that came before. It was also completely devoid of any tension, despite a countdown that’s visible in almost every scene. One of the problems here might be that after they shortened the countdown, I didn’t “trust” the running clock any more. Mostly, though, I think it’s actually a problem that’s inherent in the (modern blockbuster) system. This feeling that everything is going to turn out all right (and no, I’m not going to tell you if in the case of “Genisys”, this feeling is justified). However, that’s not a specific problem with “Genisys”. The exact same thing can be said about “Jurassic World”, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or most of the other Marvel and/or Superhero stuff. Which is why I’m so baffled why “Terminator Genisys” gets the brunt of this criticism, while the others mostly get a pass.
Anyway, it’s definitely true that because of this, the showdown in “Genisys” is far less gripping than in the first two “Terminator”-movies, and even T3 (hell, potentially even TS). Furthermore, there was one scene in particular that was supposed to be emotionally touching that missed its mark completely, at least with me. Both of which are my biggest problems with the movie. Apart from that, though, I mostly liked it, and felt quite entertained. There’s some nice humor here, but it’s not quite as persistent as in “Terminator 3”, where they were that close to turning the Terminator into a clown. Nevertheless, there are definitely a lot of funny scenes and lines here, that also mostly hit home with me (which is another major point where “Genisys” deviates from “Rise of the Machines”, where much of the humor fell flat for me). It was also really great to see Arnold in his most iconic role again. I know that none of his movies after his comeback managed to set the box office on fire, and I think that’s a damn shame. I’m a huge Schwarzenegger-fan, and while I was quite cricital of most of his output in the late 90s and early 00s, I think that most of what he did after his comeback was really great. He seems to have found that fire again, which seemed to be missing in his last appearances before he went to become the Governator. And while I enjoyed all his post-comeback-performances (and still have to see “Maggie”, thanks to the fact that it didn’t get a cinematical release over here), I think that he’s especially great in this one. There’s something about him playing a robot that tries to imitate human behavior that seems to suit him, acting-wise (I just noted that this comes off as rather snarky comment; please be assured that it isn’t meant that way). The rest of the cast is quite good too. Now, granted, I’m a devoted follower of Khaleesi, so I’m definitely not objective when it comes to Emilia Clarke. I just adore her. Nevertheless, I felt that she was really good here (even though Linda Hamilton definitely was more convincing as badass-chick in “T2”). I wasn’t quite as taken with Jai Courtney. He’s not bad, but rather bland, and his scenes with Emilia Clarke lack any chemistry. After this and “A Good Day to Die Hard” (seriously, dear critics, when you wanna see what a really disappointing and crappy sequel looks like, look no further than that), I really think that he’s one of those actors who are better suited for supporting, instead of leading, roles. Jason Clarke, on the other hand, is quiet good, even though there’s little that’s memorable about his performance. And Matt Smith is totally wasted. Actually, apart from Schwarzenegger, the biggest standout is probably J.K. Simmons, who also gets some really funny scenes, and – as usual – left an impression with me.
The special effects are flawless, Alan Taylors direction is solid (even though it misses the personal touch of McG and the style and flourishes of James Cameron), the whole movie looks incredibly well (especially the final battle of the Future War), and the 3D was mostly unnecessary. As for the soundtrack, I was rather sceptical when I learned that they hired Lorne Balfe, who – even though composing scores for video games, TV, documenary, and movies for a couple of years now – didn’t really ring a bell. And I already heard a couple of comments that his score sounds more like something coming straight out of a “Transformers”-movie. Now, I don’t know/recall those films (or their music) well enough to comment on that, and it’s definitely true that his work for “Genisys” sounds a little generic. It’s your typical bombastic blockbuster-score, and seems to be very much in the tradition and typical style of Hans Zimmer (who worked as music supervisor on this). And overall, I guess I would have preferred a score that – just like the film itself – would have gone back to the work of Brad Fiedel for the first two: More metallic and more synthesizer, rather than orchestral. It definitely sounds more like a generic modern blockbuster than a “Terminator”-movie. Nevertheless, from the post-Fiedel-soundtracks, his is by far the best. Emotional where it’s supposed to be, and not shying away from using Fiedel’s iconic work wherever it’s appropriate. It’s definitely not even remotely as good as Michael Giacchino’s work for “Jurassic World” (who faced a similar challenge), mostly because Lorne Balfe’s new themes didn’t really register with me. But at least it achieves what a movie score is supposed to do: Support and enhance what’s on screen. Finally, I was incredibly happy to see that – compared to “Rise of the Machines”, where they waved the “Fate”-card – the good old motto of the franchise, “No fate but what we make”, is very much back in business.
So, overall, I really liked “Terminator: Genisys”. It was highly entertaining and offered some decent action, many really funny scenes and lines, an Arnold Schwarzenegger who was as good as he has ever been, characters that I actually cared about, a good performances by Emilia Clarke, a serviceable story, a decent score, great special effects, and – in the first half – some nice nostalgic moments as well as a couple of great twists of scenes that we know and love from the first two “Terminator”-films. Sorry, critics, but I’m afraid that in this case, I’m in agreement with James Cameron – and thus in the best of company.
7/10 (which I might raise to 8/10 after I’ve seen it again)