Terminator Genisys didn't seem to have much going for it. There's that title for starters. A horrible mess that seems like nothing more than an attempt to blend in with the cool kids. And it was coming along after Terminator Salvation. I like Terminator Salvation. I am, however, aware that my positive view of the film (and my equal enjoyment of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines) puts me firmly in a minority. And then we had that spoiler-filled trailer, which actually puts it on a par with Terminator 2: Judgment Day in the "potentially great twists ruined by the need to market to a wider audience" stakes.
Despite the fact that you may have already had plenty spoiled for you, I'll try to surmise the plot without giving anything major away. Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese this time, and he's sent back (as we all know) in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke). But instead of finding a frightened and vulnerable Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) he finds a woman all-too-prepared for the battle that will affect the future of the planet. This is mainly due to the fact that she's had her own terminator (Schwarzenegger) serving as a protector for many years. She even calls him Pops. With everything so different, our leads hope to prove that the future is not set in stone, and that judgment day can be averted.
Let's cut to the chase here. Nostalgia. That's what proves to be the best thing about this movie, and also proves to be the worst. This is a film, arguably more than any other franchise instalment I can think of in recent years, that is reliant on the nostalgia of fans to carry viewers through a number of weak scenes. Newcomers are brought up to speed quickly enough, and will enjoy seeing everything unfold, but it is the older fans who will get the most from this. Scenes are either replicated from the first two movies or they are inverted in ways that writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier clearly think are clever. They're not. Every Terminator movie has had paradox problems (indeed, it's almost that way with every time travel movie, period), but this would seem to be the first movie in the series to take the paradox and just heap more and more complications on top of everything until viewers realise that this is one knot destined to never be undone. There's no satisfying explanation for that first major plot twist, which would surely already be known to everyone if the script wasn't cheating, and then we have Kyle Reese and his "impossible memories", people careening into the lives of others without any more notable ripples of cause and effect, and also a surprising lack of any sense of real threat while everyone moves from set-piece to set-piece.
Arnie makes it all worthwhile. Some will view him as Conan, some will always think of him fighting against the Predator, but he's always BE The Terminator to me. Showing him as an older model here is the best idea that the film has (and the explanation doesn't entirely suck). Occasionally pitting him against the younger version of himself provides the best moments in the film, simply because the CGI doesn't feel overused or overly familiar in those moments. Jason Clarke is a decent John Connor, but that is the best I can say about the leads. Emilia Clarke isn't necessarily bad, she's just not believable as a tough woman who has been primed for her role as warrior and potential saviour of the planet. And how the hell Jai Courtney keeps getting work is a mystery that even Scooby Doo and co. couldn't get to the bottom of. I charitably mentioned to others that he wasn't as bad as usual here, but then I remembered that he was supposed to be portraying Kyle Reese. No. No, no, no, no. He doesn't work, which is pretty much how you could sum up his performance in every movie he's starred in. J. K. Simmons does well with a character who doesn't need to be in the film at all, and Byung-Hun Lee deserves more than the small amount of screentime that he's given.
Director Alan Taylor feels as if he's playing things very safe, allowing himself to be led by the script, and the movies that have come along beforehand, instead of putting any kind of personal stamp on the material. It's a savvy move, I guess. This instalment will inevitably make money so why take risks? Yet it's hard to stop thinking about just how much better things could have been if everyone involved had attempted to move slightly off the beaten path. How much more enjoyable could the action scenes have been if they didn't feel so familiar to scenes from the first two films, especially when they suffer in comparison? The FX work here varies in quality, and nothing delivers that impact that most of us felt when we first saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day (which was almost twenty five years ago now - a quarter of a century). And don't even get me started on just how lame the entire finale is. The writer in me wanted to think of a better word than "lame", the realist in me knew that it was the most appropriate adjective.
Although I've already seen a wide range of opinions on this movie already, from the outright hating of it to the pleasantly surprised, I have to say that I think most people will at least enjoy parts of it. Despite the many complaints I have about different aspects of the movie, I was entertained for most of the runtime, and a few of the action beats were very enjoyable. It's just a shame that this is the blandest and safest Terminator movie yet. AND it has Jai Courtney in it.