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Review - "Terminator Genisys"

There's been a boom of nostalgia-driven cashgrabs coming out of the entertainment industry recently. Most of these resurrect old intellectual properties that people grew up with in the 90's, with the sole intention of triggering that elusive feeling of wistful recollection among consumers. Perhaps the biggest one of the summer, thus far, is Jurassic World, which spent so much time cynically pandering to kids who grew up with the original that it forgot to actually be a good movie in its own right.

Terminator Genisys, the fifth entry in the overall series, manages to show moviegoers how a movie built on fond memories of past entries can be done right. Because, first and foremost, it's actually a good movie.

Not a great one, mind you. In its two-hour runtime, the film definitely hits a few snags more than I'd consider acceptable for a "great" film, and certainly more than James Cameron's original duo of flicks ever did. That said, it is a very good one, a movie that both feels substantial in the franchise's canon and stands on its own as an entertaining summer blockbuster.

That last one is perhaps the most important to casual audiences, considering most people aren't as invested in the franchise's lore as I am. For those people, Genisys proves itself to be a non-stop roller coaster when the action kicks into high gear. Helicopters chase each other through crowded cities with reckless abandon, literally everything exploding around them. Schoolbuses flip through the air as cars careen out of control and crash into each other on the ground below. If you're looking for pure cinematic escapism, there is perhaps no better alternative in theaters right now. Well, aside from Magic Mike XXL, that is. But I digress.

But no special effect in the movie is as impressive as The Terminator himself, known here as Guardian. Picking up the mantle once again, Arnold Schwarzenegger finally reenters the mainstream consciousness of Hollywood. The former Governator has been slowly regaining relevance over the past few years, but he hasn't had a true blockbuster to his name yet. That changes with Genisys, and I couldn't be happier. Schwarzenegger is pure dynamite here, balancing "stoic killing machine" and "aging father figure" tropes with the sort of goofy, lovable charm audiences expect from him. One second, we witness him grappling with the sort of solemn introspection that comes with watching your child grow up. The next, we see him jump out of a helicopter to literally headbutt another helicopter. This dichotomy between a gruff, almost human Terminator and a larger-than-life force to be reckoned with works wonders for the entirety of Genisys, and is hands-down the best post-comeback Schwarzenegger performance. A late movie twist ensures that things are only going to get better, too.

Other performances range from "good" to "acceptable." Emilia Clarke does an admirable job of picking up a role that was defined by Linda Hamilton, definitely channeling that performance to the point of it feeling like the exact same character. Jai Courtney is passable as Kyle Reese, if a bit flat and lacking the hammy, overacting charm Michael Biehn did so well in the original. The only true disappointment, for me, is Jason Clarke as John Connor. Not once did I buy that he was a "kicking ass and taking names" type of war hero, which is what Genisys wants us to think of him. Even when a mid-movie shake-up flips the character on its head, Clarke keeps delivering the same bland performance he has the entire time. I miss Christian Bale as Connor, the only good part of 2009's abysmal Salvation.

Speaking of Salvation, the extensive continuity changes detailed in Genisys are both admirable and confusing in equal amounts. Those snags I mentioned all take place during these moments, where the script slows to a screeching halt to talk at the viewer, explaining every miniscule detail about the time travel dynamics. Some of them are legitimately interesting concepts, others are a bit nonsensical, but all of them lack the sort of forceful punch that makes us actually care about them most of the time. What made Terminator 2 work so well, and indeed, what's made any James Cameron movie work so well, was the skillful balance of heady concepts and blistering action. Both were seamlessly woven together, meaning that there was never a truly dull moment.

The same cannot be said for Genisys. While I definitely care about the new stuff at play, and while I think some of the mumbo-jumbo technobabble is genuinely fun (Quantum Fields! Nexus Events!), there's no denying that it could have been implemented better. As it stands, Genisys is a very good time travel film, but it's held down by its insistence on explaining everything in excruciating detail.

Taken as a whole, however, Terminator Genisys is still a very good film, especially considering the caliber of dreck that's been coming out as of late. Unlike Jurassic World, which simply regurgitated elements of a movie from 1993 to appeal to millennials, Genisys plays it smart. Elements from the old films are definitely thrown in, but its never blatant, and never feels like an attempt pull at the ol' nostalgic heart strings. Here, we see what happens when filmmakers genuinely care about the series they're revamping, and the result is a loving, if flawed, entry into one of Hollywood's best science fiction franchises.

The key difference between Jurassic World and this film, then, despite them being cut from the same "appeal to nostalgia" cloth, is that the former barely even tried, and the result was a thundering bore. And while Genisys sometimes becomes a bit of a muddled mess, it's clear that the people behind it are trying something new, even if it doesn't always work out. And, to me, flawed but original innovation wins out over slick but soulless retread any day of the week.

Cribbing a line from Schwarzenegger's Guardian character, Terminator Genisys proves that while the franchise is old, it's far from obsolete.

Grade: B


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