The latest entry in the “Terminator” franchise “Terminator: Genisys” ranks as the best “Terminator” since James Cameron’s “Terminator 2 Judgment Day” (1991). Although Jonathon Mostow’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and McG’s “Terminator Salvation” (2009) each presented serviceable sagas, neither film boasted the impressive scope and spectacle of “Terminator Genisys.” Incidentally, I preferred “Terminator Salvation” over “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.” The fifth “Terminator” installment welcomes back Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as yet another Terminator. No, he is not the same one that he was 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 image from the original “Terminator” makes a cameo appearance 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 pays tribute to the original with a rehash of the Griffith Observatory scene.
Meantime, “Thor: The Dark World” director Alan Taylor with “Shutter Island” scenarist Laeta Kalogridis and “Drive Angry” scribe Patrick Lussier have wrought some widespread changes to the franchise that may either exasperate or gratify hardcore “Terminator” enthusiasts. The fifth “Terminator” movie ignores the events in both “Terminator 3 and “Terminator Salvation.” Nevertheless, “Terminator Genisys” emerges by far as the most audacious and compelling of the last three “Terminator” epics. This spectacular, $155 million dollar, PG-13 rated, science fiction fantasy generates 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 the end credits clip of a sinister Skynet weapon warming up. 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.”
If you’ve never seen a “Terminator” movie, you’ll have to pay attention to the expository laden dialogue because there is a lot to explain in “Terminator: Genisys.” “Terminator” aficionadas, 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 time lines, 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 murder Sarah Connor before she can give birth to her son John Connor. No sooner has this occurred than Connor dispatches 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 LAPD cops arrests Kyle, but the T-1000 attacks all three of them. The frightened patrolman who survives the encounter turns Kyle loose. At that suspenseful juncture, Kyle meets Sarah Connor. She isn’t the same Sarah that he was prepared to protect from the Terminator. Instead, this Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones”) knows how to wield a wide variety of firearms. Naturally, this dire change of events stuns 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. 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 preposterous, larger-than-life, hyperkinetic action sequences. The somersaulting school bus on the Golden Gate Bridge qualifies as a truly spectacular stunt. Director Alan Taylor shifts back and forth between the past and the future with relative ease, and everything is explained so nothing seems convoluted except what will be eventually clarified in future “Terminator” sequels.” Sturdy but polished production values, atmospheric widescreen cinematography, and inspired scriptwriting all highlight director Alan Taylor’s memorable outing.

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