Terminator Genisys: A Love Letter from My Apocalyptic Cyborg Baby
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Alan Taylor (director), Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor), Jason Clarke (actor), Emilia Clarke (actor), Jai Courtney (actor)
Sky Dance Productions | Paramount Pictures
If you’re not as much of a fan of the Terminator saga as I am (read: I’m a lil bit obsessed), then this movie is not going to tell you much more than the trailers already have. Time has been altered, Kyle no longer returns to save a helpless Sarah as he believes, and John Connor has had a significant upgrade to his mechanics. The plot goes pretty much exactly where you ought to expect it to go from there, with maybe a few less explosions and a few less challenges in the way of the whole stopping Judgment Day thing (NOTE: Judgment Day is now set for October 2017. Please update your calendars.)
I can suggest you wait for this movie to hit a television near you, because, if I’m honest with myself, it’s not the greatest. But for me, the revelations in the trailers were like a love letter that went something like this:
My Darling Wendy:
I know you have been waiting a long time for this. Ever since you read that scene in the Terminator 2: Judgment Day novelization and managed to work all of your grade ten English class projects and essays around the Terminator saga. I know you have been dreaming of the momentous moment when John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to the past. To his death. I hope you don’t mind that I upped the emotional impact a bit by making John and Kyle BFFs.
Oh Terminator Genisys. You had me at “The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” I can certainly forgive you for adding more feels. I maybe even have shed a tear as I watched the scene I’ve been waiting half my life for play out before my eyes in all its 3D glory. I was so pleased to spend this little bit of time with the great John Connor, enigmatic leader of the resistance, as he leads the last of humanity in a hail Mary attack on Skynet’s main base. This John Connor, played by Jason Clarke, knows things. It’s almost like he can see into the future, suggests Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), unlike Christian Bale’s Connor, who seemed to have forgotten what Terminators are, much less what they looked like in Terminator Salvation, and didn’t think it was important to find and rescue his dad until somewhere near the end of the film.
You know what? Forget it. Before I get too bitter about the hot mess Bale turned Salvation into, let me just pretend like it never happened, the way some people like to erase Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines from their minds. I’m in the minority — that is, I don’t necessarily like Rise of the Machines, but I do like some of the ideas it presented. It dug a little bit deeper into the alteration of timelines and the inevitability of Judgment Day. It adapted to our current technology and gave us a new way for Skynet to perpetrate its apocalypse, beginning life as a virus that infiltrates computers world-wide. This time, Skynet is “Genisys,” an application created by Cyberdyne Systems* that will connect everything — much like Apple or Google do now. (If I have to choose between future overlords, I’ll go with Google.)
*Side note: Often, PoCs don’t seem to survive apocalypses. I would just like to point out that, while PoCs do not have prominent roles in this film, we have in the overall series and some of us not only survive the apocalypse, we’re actually the ones responsible for it! Yay! Go us!
Ahem. Right then.
Time and fate remain the most important elements of this franchise, both of which can be dangerous plot devices in the wrong hands. Good thing we’ve got a Time Lord on hand, though Doctor Who fans might be disappointed in Matt Smith’s limited screen time. Rebooting a beloved franchise is also a tricky activity, as is remaking a movie, especially when using time travel to do so, but where the new Star Trek wanders into the paths of the illogical, Terminator has long since established its place in time and uses it well in this film. There are many scenes in the first little bit that pay homage to the first film, and Byung-Hun Lee does a great impression of Robert Patrick’s straight-faced T-1000 from the second film. Even John Connor’s scars more closely match those of actor Michael Edwards who portrayed the resistance leader in Terminator 2. The only thing missing is Bill Paxton.
But of course there has to be a twist to make sure this movie stands on its own — and we already know that, thanks to the trailers. Kyle Reese returns to a 1984 where Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) knows her fate and is busy gearing up for Kyle’s arrival with the help of another T-800 sent back by John to protect her when she was nine years old. Interestingly, Sarah’s non-damsel status angered MRAs, who apparently included Terminator Genisys in their summer blockbuster boycott plans. Apparently, they missed these memos:
Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor is indeed not the damsel in distress Linda Hamilton’s mousy waitress initially was. In Terminator Genisys, she’s just had to grow up a lot sooner in order to survive. Clarke plays her with just the right mix of adult maturity and young adult petulance. There is an interesting dynamic created in terms of the impending romance since Sarah knows that she’s supposed to make a John-baby with Kyle, and realizes that John has been manipulating Kyle into falling in love with her. An interesting dynamic, I say, but not one that is given much more than a cursory review, and I had hoped for an ending other than the obvious.
…I know you still have strong feelings for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and are still heart broken over its cancellation after only two seasons, I think you will like some of the ideas that I took from this amazing series to create something new, just for you…
Okay, TSCC is never directly referenced like the first two James Cameron films are, and I might be reading too much into this movie, but I’m not sorry! TSCC not only delved deeper into John and Sarah Connor’s lives and the lives of those involved with them, it also reminded us that time has always been the driving force in this series and showed us what happens when you poke at it. Skynet and John Connor, like fate, will always find a way to mess up each other’s plans. When others get involved, alternate timelines and quantum [SCIENCE SCIENCE SCIENCE] can really get crazy. TSCC explored stories where other characters beyond John and Sarah tried not simply to destroy John and Skynet, but to fundamentally alter them. Terminator Genisys runs with this by giving us a John Connor that has been corrupted by the machines — something that was alluded to in TSCC. He is no longer the saviour of mankind. He’s Skynet’s baby, and Kyle and Sarah have to come to terms with this.
Fortunately for them, they get over this pretty quickly. In fact, all of the characters move through their minor developments fairly quickly. Some characters, such as Danny Dyson, the brains behind Genisys, and O’Brien, the sympathetic cop, initially look like they will play much larger roles similar to Danny’s father Miles in Terminator 2 and James Ellison in TSCC. But alas, they are just throw away characters with unmemorable moments. Even Skynet deserved more airtime. (Side note: Gensisys and John’s new look reminded me a bit too much of the controversial final scenes of the game Mass Effect 3 — I see you there Starchild.)
Thank goodness for Arnold. He brings some much needed cheesy humour and robotic heart to the film. (I did not get teary eyed when he called her “my Sarah.” Shut up.) Sometimes it’s important that a serious action film — especially one that deals with the end of the world as we know it — not take itself too seriously. This is one of the biggest flaws of Terminator Salvation, aside from Christian Bale deciding he wanted to play John Connor.
So there. I am not so biased by my obsession that I can’t recognize the shortcomings of Terminator Genisys, but I can appreciate all the ways it tries to give the franchise something fresh and thought-provoking for the series and its future (hint: stay for the credits). I have a vivid imagination; I can fill in the necessary blanks. If you’ll excuse me, I have some fanfiction to write.