Terminator Genisys is Actually Quite Good Shock

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Note: There are some general plot spoilers in the following review.

But then the trailers for the movie effectively spoiled the plot by revealing what happens to John Connor….

More on that later.

I had planned to see Terminator Genisys in the cinema this summer but frankly the word of mouth I heard put me off. From what I gathered it seemed to be an unnecessary addition to the series at best, but many opinions were considerably stronger.

So now that it’s out on blu ray I thought I’d give it a go. I was ready for it to be rubbish although I understood that apparently the first 40 minutes set in 1984 were supposed to be decent.

The movie starts with a future war segment where John Connor and Kyle Reese break into the Skynet facility that has the time travel device. We glimpse the first T-800 going through and then Reese volunteers to go back and save Sarah Connor.

So far so good. In fact I seem to recall a scene like this in the original T2 script. So it’s nice to see it actually on screen after thirty years.

Then the movie begins a fairly faithful recreation of early scenes from the 1984 movie involving the arrival of the T-800 and Kyle Reese in Los Angeles. There are some shot-for-shot recreations here.

But things soon take a different path and a second, older, Arnold Terminator arrives and we see the two Arnies fighting each other. The older Terminator we come to discover is “Pops”, a T-800 that was sent back to protect Sarah Connor in 1973. The name Pops is appropriate because this is the machine that had to bring Sarah Connor up after her parents were killed in 1973 by another machine.

Now that’s quite an interesting twist. Remember back in Terminator 2 how annoyed Sarah Connor was that her son John was using the machine as a father figure. Well now in this new timeline Sarah is doing the same thing.

Incidentally it is never revealed who send Pops back. We may find out if they ever make a new movie.

Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones plays Sarah. She looks very young in the part but that’s totally appropriate because I believe the 1984 Sarah was only supposed to be 19 years old or something like that.

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A liquid metal T-1000 is also in 1984 and goes after Kyle and the others. Again, Sarah and the machine have had ten years to prepare for the fight and take care of business.

So keep in mind that I was expecting the movie to be a bit rubbish based on that bad word of mouth. Well, during the 1984 sequences I did find myself having some edge of seat moments. There were some quite tense moments, especially when an endoskeleton was going after Kyle at one point.

After about 40 minutes the action shifts forward 33 years to 2017 when Sarah and Kyle jump forward to try to stop a new iteration of Skynet. Sarah actually wants to jump to 1997 to stop Judgment Day but Kyle has to convince her that the real threat is in 2017 based on something strange he experienced when time traveling. Sure enough when they get there it turns out that the 1997 Judgment Day never happened.

Which means that the events in the new 1984 have been enough to stop Judgment Day. I assume because the original Arnold T-800 was destroyed and Cyberdyne didn’t get its hands on it to use as the basis for Skynet.

I have to admit I’m a bit confused about the timeline. When Kyle and the original T-800 jump back to 1984 they arrive in a slightly different timeline because some other time traveling machines arrived in 1973. The only way I think this can work is if the travellers to 1973 left 2029 after Kyle did.

Later we discover that the altered John Connor went back from 2029 to 2014. So he must have jumped back to the newly established non-Judgement Day timeline later still. But I’m not sure that makes sense. Surely one can only jump back to their own timeline and not an altered one. I’ll need to think on this some more.

Some have criticised the convenient time machine that Sarah and Pops built. But I quite liked that. I was a big fan of the Sarah Connor Chronicals tv show and in the first episode of that Sara and John jumped forward from 1999 to 2007 in a time machine that had been built by time travelers from the future.

By the way when Sarah and Kyle travel forward in this movie they end up naked in the middle of night time freeway traffic. This is what happened to Sara and John in the tv show.

Another thing I liked about this time travel story device is that they use it to explain how Pops is being played by a much older Arnold. He has exposed metal so he can’t time travel with them and has to take the “long way round”, i.e. wait 33 years for them to appear in 2017.

There’s some nice nods to Arnie’s age plus an enjoyable little scene with Kyle and Pops loading ammo into guns that turns into a competition.

Now I’ve already alluded to an altered John Connor. This was the movie’s big plot twist that would have been surprising to say the least. If only the trailers had not revealed that John Connor had been altered into a shape shifting Terminator.

This is a very neat plot twist with Skynet realising that they have never managed to defeat John Connor so who better to carry out their plans. But the trailers revealed all. That’s a great pity.

Many have objected to the use of humour in the movie. There seems to be particular annoyance to the numerous uses of the “Arnie smiling” gag. It’s fair to say that the sight of Arnie grinning in character as a Terminator pushes lots of buttons. But I discovered that I really didn’t mind. James Cameron introduced the gag in his original script for Terminator 2 where John tries to teach the machine to smile in order to fit in. That’s good enough for me.

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So in the end I enjoyed the movie very much it for what it was. It was quite tense in places and effectively done.

Viewers just have to accept that this is a franchise action movie with CGI effects instead of the original’s low budget grittiness. I have to admit that the helicopter stuff towards the end looked very video game-y. But the stuff with the bus on the Golden Gate Bridge was well done and had some tense moments.

So in summary watching this movie was a very pleasant surprise. It’s certainly miles better than T3.