Take 2: Terminator Genisys

I love going to the movies. The big screen, dark room, popcorn, and now the reclining chairs that I scoffed at when my theater was all “LOOK WHAT WE’RE GETTING!!” but are really just as great as they said. The movie theater is just one of my favorite places to be.

Of course, that theater high usually has me leaving with the impression that almost everything I see in there is great.  Then I watch it again at home and no, no it’s really not. So I was a little bit worried when I pulled up Terminator Genisys for a second look last night (it’s free on Amazon Prime right now, fyi). I wrote a pretty glowing review of it last year, but I know a lot of people were really harsh on it, bashing the science and the acting and the trailer that gave away the plot twist, so I wondered if I would now see it through the lens of that negativity.

Turns out I still loved it.

I could rehash all the things I still thought worked really well (Emilia Clarke, despite the flak she caught from fans was still great, I thought), but it’s just as easy to direct you to the link above. Instead, I want to talk about the things I did see a little bit differently or didn’t mention from that first viewing.


Jai Courtney and Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese

So…Jai Courtney really isn’t much like Michael Biehn’s Kyle. Initially, I wrote the differences off as Kyle having the opportunity to exist in a different capacity than he did in The Terminator: He doesn’t have to focus on protecting a helpless Sarah in this one. They’re equals, and there’s more room for personality, I said. But on rewatch I realize that Courtney’s Kyle was just different. Kind of quippy. Kind of brash. Much less broken. To say nothing of the physicality Courtney embodies. The only real similarity was his desire to protect Sarah and his hatred of Skynet and all it created. And, I mean, I LIKE the Kyle that Genisys gave us, but I think if you wanted to do a T1-T2-Genisys marathon (which really is the only way to do it), the difference would be starkly noticeable.



Genisys really rides the line between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in look and feel. On a literal, very basic level, the recreation of scenes from The Terminator were just about as near to perfection as you could ask for, but the new parts — both in 1984 and 2017 had a slickness more in line with T2. I’d have to watch T2 and Genisys back-to-back to be sure, but I want to say that Genisys, bizarrely, isn’t quite as flashy in most regards, but it’s still good. Maybe that disconnect is the difference between one movie pressing the boundaries of its time and the other not really straying from what we’ve been watching big-budget sci-fi do for 20+ years.

But it’s not just the effects that ride that line. If you break The Terminator down, it was a fairly simple action movie that got dressed up with futuristic aspects. It’s two people running for their lives and taking a handful of quiet moments for a little personal growth.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but man, did T2 spoil us. Because while it also had the “Run for your life, fight the machine!!!” skeleton, its characters were proactive, not just fighting to stay alive in the present, but fighting back for the future as well. And its character beats were far more prominent as Sarah (Linda Hamilton) rediscovers her humanity and John (Edward Furlong) grows and accepts the world she’d always fed him.

And Genisys tries really hard to be similar, but its characters don’t have the room or really the need to grow as much as T2’s did. So, while it might be a little more involved than T1, it doesn’t hold a candle to T2 in that regard. And that’s OK.  “Simple action movie” is a genre that’s worked for decades, after all, and giving Kyle the opening monologue and closing statements was a reversal that at least made it feel a little different. If The Terminator was largely Sarah’s movie, Genisys was Kyle’s.


Jason Clarke as John Connor in Terminator Genisys.

So…there is one thing about Genisys that was kind of disappointing on rewatch. It’s spoilerific, so if for some reason you’re reading my second post on this movie and still haven’t seen it, maybe stop what you’re doing and go watch it.

There’s a scene when John’s talking to Kyle in the future just before the battle that destroys Skynet.

“So many of us have died to get here,” he says. “I want you to know, Kyle, if there was another way, I would have taken it.” I rewatched that scene so I could get the quote right, and on that third viewing, I read much more into it than I did  the second time around (I think I might have missed it the first time…). On view No. 3, it became painfully obvious — in a very good way – that John knew he was having his last private moment with Kyle, who had just finished telling him how he planned to use his post-Skynet future, before sending him back in time to die.

With that in mind, it was a great moment. Not disappointing at all, and certainly one of those few character beats that are equal to or outshine the original movie. But, when you take the rest of the film into account, there’s the potential for so much more from that conversation that ultimately ends up squandered.

The twist to Genisys is that as Kyle is leaving, Skynet attacks John, and — mumble mumble sci-fi — turns him into its most advanced Terminator yet. Sort of a human/machine hybrid that Skynet sends back in time to shepherd it into creation.

And here’s where things get disappointing.

The movie teed itself up wonderfully for a story that really could have rivaled T2 if the attack on John had been less a forced conversion and more of a willful choice. All it would have taken was the offer from Skynet to not destroy the world if John helped it be born to give this movie some awesome depth with a good man irreversibly corrupted by his attempt to save mankind.

But nope. Genisys takes no risks with its hero and instead gives us someone who has John’s face and memories and can turn on some charm, but ultimately is just a machine.

I don’t hate Genisys for that, but I am a little mad at it. In fact, I’d still say that if T2 is the best Terminator movie, then T1 and Genisys will spend eternity jockeying for second place, a moving title determined solely by the mood of whoever’s watching. And it didn’t have to be that way.

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