The latest entry in the “Terminator” franchise “Terminator: Genisys” (**** OUT OF ****) ranks as the best “Terminator” since director James Cameron’s awesome “Terminator 2 Judgment Day” (1991). Although director Jonathon Mostow’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and director McG’s “Terminator Salvation” (2009) each presented serviceable sagas, neither film assimilated the comparable scope and spectacle of director Alan Taylor’s “Terminator Genisys.” For the record, I preferred the post-apocalyptic “Terminator Salvation” to the pre- apocalyptic “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Anyway, fans of James Cameron’s first two “Terminator” thrillers will be delighted to know that Cameron has endorsed “Terminator: Genisys” as “the official third film in the franchise.” This fifth “Terminator” installment welcomes back Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as yet another Terminator. No, he doesn’t reprise the roles that he had in either “The Terminator” (1984) or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” This time Arnold appears as a Guardian Terminator that our pugnacious heroine affectionately refers to as “Pops.” Arnold’s CGI enhanced image from the original “Terminator” makes a cameo appearance with an identical body double early in “Terminator: Genisys.” Interestingly, these two titans—the young Schwarzenegger and the elder– tangle at one point. Of course, you should take it for granted who emerges triumphant. The fifth “Terminator” movie also pays tribute to the original with a rehash of the Griffith Observatory scene where the Terminator acquired his clothing from the smart aleck punks. Unfortunately, neither Bill Paxton nor Brian Thompson was available to play the punks that challenged him. Clearly, too, Paxton and Thompson would have been far too old to reprise their bit parts.
Meantime, “Thor: The Dark World” director Alan Taylor with “Shutter Island” scenarist Laeta Kalogridis and “Drive Angry” scribe Patrick Lussier have wrought some pretty widespread changes to the franchise that may either exasperate or gratify hardcore “Terminator” enthusiasts. Mind you, I’ve seen them all, and this “Star Trek” like inspired reboot of the series posed no problems for me. Basically, the fifth “Terminator” movie ignores the events that transpired in both “Terminator 3” and “Terminator Salvation.” Comparatively, “Terminator Genisys” emerges by far as the most audacious and compelling of the last three “Terminator” epics. This sensational, $155 million dollar, PG-13 rated, science fiction fantasy conjures up considerable momentum while it delivers surprises galore that should keep most spectators guessing about the characters and the outcome. Mind you, Taylor and company don’t resolve all issues, particularly Matt Smith’s role as the wicked Skynet as well as the end credits clip of a sinister Skynet weapon warming up for action. If you prefer happy endings, “Terminator: Genisys” won’t disappoint you with its feel-good finale. “Lawless” actor Jason Clarke has appropriated the adult John Connor role that actors Nick Stahl and Christian Bale incarnated previously in “Terminator 3” and “Terminator Salvation.” Aussie actor Jai Courtney has taken over the Kyle Reese role originated by Michael Biehn in “The Terminator” and later reinterpreted by Anton Yelchin in “Terminator Salvation.” Out of all the robust performances here, Jason Clarke takes top honors as John Connor. Although he lacks the pretty boy looks of the typical Hollywood leading man, Clarke compensates with thespian qualifies that enable him to tower above his co-stars. He is one of a few gifted actors who can make you believe in whatever he is doing no matter how out of place he seems. He was unforgettable in “Lawless,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” wouldn’t have been half as good without his sterling presence. Meantime, Emilia Clarke holds her own as Sarah Connor. Of course, who can imagine any “Terminator” movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic presence and rigid diction? He is to the “Terminator” franchise what Sean Connery is to the James Bond movies.
If you’ve never seen a “Terminator” movie, you’ll have to pay attention to the expository laden dialogue because there is a lot of information to explain in “Terminator: Genisys.” “Terminator” aficionados, however, may suffer more than newbies because Taylor and his writers have changed up virtually everything. Moviegoers often complain that sequels retread the same old stuff one sequel after another. “Terminator: Genisys” doesn’t depart drastically from anything else that Cameron and other directors have delivered in the past. Of course, it is still incredibly difficult to terminate a terminator, but Taylor and company have come up with a clever way to execute this practically impossible task. Nevertheless, at the same time, to refresh the franchise, they have altered the timelines, so traditional “Terminator” fans may find themselves struggling to assimilate these radical changes. For example, “Terminator: Genisys” opens with scar-faced John Connor (Jason Clarke) and his right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of “Spartacus: War of the Damned”) defeating Skynet until they discover the time-travel machine that Skynet has kept in reserve should things go awry. Although they have defeated the Machines, our heroes learn that the Machines have sent a lone Terminator (Schwarzenegger lookalike body-builder Brett Azar) back to 1984 to eliminate Sarah Connor before she can give birth to her son John Connor. No sooner has this occurred than Connor dispatches eager volunteer Kyle Reese after the Terminator. Anybody who climbs into a “Terminator” time travel machine must be completely naked. Otherwise, as one technician explains, it would be like sticking tin-foil into a micro-wave and watching everything burst into flames. Kyle shows up in 1984 in newly lensed footage that replicates similar footage filmed by Cameron for the original. Predictably, Kyle scrambles to gather apparel, including those nifty Nikes, when he runs afoul of a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun of “Red 2”) that wants to carve him into deli slices with his sword-shaped limbs. Seasoned “Terminator” aficionados will recall Robert Patrick performed similar feats in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Two hapless LAPD cops stumble on to Kyle quite by accident and put him in handcuffs. The tenacious T-1000 attacks all three of them. The frightened patrolman who survives the encounter turns Kyle loose as the T-1000 threatens them. At that suspenseful juncture, an armored car smashes into the department store where this fracas has unfolded and careens to a halt. Kyle catches his first glimpse of Sarah Connor as she shrieks with passionate authority, “Come with me if you want to live! NOW, SOLDIER!”
Indeed, this is not the same Sarah that Kyle was told he had to protect from the Terminator. Instead, this Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones”) knows how to wield a wide variety of firearms. A Desert Eagle MK VII automatic pistol, a Heckler & Koch MP5K machine gun, a Remington 870 Folding Stock Police Combat shotgun, a special application Barrett M82A1 sniper rifle, and an M4A1 Carbine are just some of the weapons she handles with competence. Naturally, this dire change of events stuns poor Kyle. Worse, he isn’t prepared to see Sarah working in tandem with another Terminator who has raised her since her mother and father were murdered. Later, Kyle surprises Sarah in turn when he convinces her that Judgment Day will not take place in 1997, but twenty years later in 2017. It seems that during his time travel, Kyle acquired information that he doesn’t understand, but that plays an essential part in the greater scheme of things. Hopefully, this constitutes more of that mysterious material that the projected sequels will clear up. Nevertheless, Kyle experiences paranoia at the sight of the Guardian Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has been safeguarding Sarah since age nine. Our hero and heroine climb into a time displacement device that Sarah and her Guardian have rigged up and land on a crowded freeway in 2017. Predictably, the LAPD arrest them, but our heroes receive the shock of their lives when salvation comes not from the Guardian Terminator, but from another unexpected source.
Clocking in at almost two hours, “Terminator: Genisys” bristles with outlandish, larger-than-life, hyperkinetic, action sequences. The somersaulting school bus on the Golden Gate Bridge qualifies as a truly spectacular stunt. The slugfest fight scene in a hospital where two Terminators find themselves trapped by a powerful MRI machine is simply riveting. Watching one of the Terminators struggle to march away from the MRI as the magnetic field harvests nano particles from its physique is exciting. Director Alan Taylor shifts back and forth between the past and the future with nimble dexterity, and everything is explained so nothing seems convoluted except what will be eventually clarified in future “Terminator” sequels.” Arnold has some interesting dialogue excerpts where he explains the intricacies of time travel. Again, you will leave the theater cudgeling your brains about Matt Smith’s enigmatic character. Sturdy but polished production values, atmospheric widescreen cinematography, and inspired scriptwriting all highlight director Alan Taylor’s memorable outing. If you’re a die-hard “Terminator” fanatic, you must see this extraordinary suspense-thriller. The optional 3-D version surpasses the flat 2-D presentation. Naturally, I could rhapsodize on ad nauseam with more paragraphs containing eloquent descriptions and praiseworthy analysis of this high-octane actioneer, but I’d spoil your fun.