Movie review: ‘Terminator’ is back from the future
* * * (B)
• Directed By Alan Taylor
• Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Byung-hun Lee, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Smith
• Rated PG-13, Sci-Fi, Action, 125 minutes
On July 4, 1991, I saw “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” at the drive-in. Despite a not entirely darkened screen, James Cameron’s cutting-edge special effects and poignant story line showed as splendidly as a fireworks finale.
Afterward I considered myself a “Terminator” super fan — until I saw “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” The miscasting of Nick Stahl (as a confused John Connor) and Claire Danes, as his future love interest, concerned me but weren’t complete deal breakers due to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s no-holds-barred performance, along with that of Kristanna Loken’s pitiless terminator.
The fourth film, “Terminator Salvation,” chose to focus on the man-versus-computer war unfolding in a bleak, apocalyptic future. This miscalculated tactic, and the absence of Arnie (then serving as California’s Governator), seemed to have little to do with Cameron’s beloved franchise.
Therefore, learning that Arnie, now 67, would once again fulfill his “I’ll be back” promise for this fifth installment emboldened this fan’s hope. Extra points go to scriptwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier for inserting Arnie at different ages, spanning four decades, using spot-on makeup effects and computer-generated conjurings.
Chapter five prompted a deluge of critics to declare the franchise past its expiration date. However, viewers, including me, disagree. While critics’ approval ratings stand at around 30 percent, viewers weighed in at a whopping 65 percent approval.
“Terminator: Genisys” wisely ignores the third and fourth chapters, weaving in story threads from “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2.” The plot centers around Sarah Connor, excellently realized by Emilia Clarke (the dragon queen in “Game of Thrones”).
She’s protected by the less technologically advanced, but highly motivated, T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Kyle Reese (pretty boy Jai Courtney) is sent back to 1984 to save Sarah from Skynet’s latest assassination attempt.
Then Sarah and Reese time travel forward to 2009, 2017 and, finally, 2029 attempting to undo changes Skynet has made to the future.
Comically, Arnie’s T-800 appears at ages 25, 45 and 65. Referring to this outer degeneration, the T-800 echoes many an AARP member, stating, “I’m old. I’m not obsolete.”
Any doubt is dispelled by his fighting prowess, particularly the T-800’s ability to endure poundings from more advanced terminators, especially a remorseless T-1000 embodied by Byung-hun Lee.
Since this chapter is Sarah Connor’s tale, there’s little time to be irritated by Jai Courtney’s vanilla Kyle Reese. More disappointing is Jason Clarke’s John Connor, a pivotal role given John’s transformation. Clarke’s huge forehead, jutting jaw line and, most importantly, his abrasive personality foreshadow what’s to come, draining the story of what ought to be its shock and awe.
While there are few new special effects to impress, the cleverly constructed plot, along with Sarah as the film’s heart and Arnie’s return as its soul, are enough to make the endeavor feel right. For now at least, it’s good to say: “Terminator” is back.