After snagging the rights to the Terminator Franchise, Paramount poured a sizable amount of money into Terminator Genisys hoping to reignite the series hampered by two disappointing sequels following 1992s landmark first sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day). The plan failed win over American audiences. Those who did give Genisys a chance were split on whether it entertained and gave the series a worthy direction to go.
As an attempted restart for the franchise, it succeeds more than it falters, but it wasn’t enough. A lighter weight entry featuring a more comical Arnold and plenty of expert visual effects. Perhaps most notable of its accomplishments is the recreation of a1984 Arnold from the opening of the original Terminator – a remarkable feat of computer generated imagery (for more on that, check out my interview from 2015 with Sheldon Stopsack, VFX Supervisor on the film).
The Production: 3.5/5
“The worst extinction units posed as humans. We called them terminators. And then one man found me. His name was John Connor, and he changed everything. John showed us how to fight back; how to rise up. He freed prisoners. He taught us how to slash the machines to scrap. People whisper about John and wonder how he can know the things he does. They use words like prophet, but John’s more. We’re here because tonight, he’s going to lead us to crush Skynet for good.”
Mankind’s war against the machine – and its future success – has always rested on the cycle of events through time, where future warrior Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time to 1984 to protect an unwitting Sarah Connor (Emelia Clarke) from a terminator sent to kill her. They would form a bond and their union result in the birth of John Conner – future leader of the resistance and primary cause of the downfall of the machine’s domain over humanity. However, when the machines change the paradigm, the vicious cycle of time, death and defeat is irrevocably changed and the threat from Skynet and the machines more menacing than ever before. The future is never set, but now even the past appears to have changed.
In the Terminator franchise, now five films deep, the story has existed on the basic tenets of ideas explored in James Cameron’s 1984 original, The Terminator – with the attempt of Sarah and John Conner to set in motion the eventual destruction of Skynet, machine architect of mankind’s downfall. Variations on that theme – a machine sent back to upset time – have relied on an evolution of the terminator technology to try and keep the films fresh (from T-800 standard terminator, to the liquid metal T-1000, and the T-X in Rise of the Machines, able to house onboard weaponry). That formula took a backseat in the flawed Terminator: Salvation, set after the fall of civilization where the human resistance is hunted, and where John Connor was still just a rising star.
A return to the ‘variation on the theme’ formula may then seem like a step back, but curiously, the knowing embrace of the original’s roots serves up a fresh expression of ideas. And it solves a few of the challenges, including an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger. It also gave the franchise the opportunity to twist and throw the familiar tenets of the story for a loop. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reprisal of the protective T-800, referred to here as the guardian, is welcome. A role he plays effortlessly, and though the menace of his character is all but gone, he still wears it well. Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is an unusual choice for John Conner but, it turns out a good one. Jai Courtney was a less inspired choice to portray Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn,) though he grows into the character as the film progresses and handles himself nicely during action sequences. As things slow down, he becomes less exciting a choice. Emilia Clarke’s portrayal of Sarah Connor is perhaps the film’s highest hurdle. She does well, but while the Sarah Connor she portrays is tough, prepared and assertive – vastly different than the frightened character we found in Cameron’s ‘84 story – she doesn’t offer the same depth or endear herself as Hamilton did. We can in part blame the script, but the magnitude of the characters she and Jai Courtney inhabit required something more than what we see.
Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, and directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) Terminator Genisys plays best as a direct sequel to T2; certainly the best of the post T2 sequels, but the film’s greatest success is as a fun, exciting action film. If you set aside the weight and expectations of the overall franchise, Genisys is a far better and more competent action spectacle than the critical consensus might have you believe. And while twisting and morphing timelines weave loosely, complaints of confusion seem unfounded. The film works hard to explain how the original timeline was altered through a brief scene where the T-800 was sent to protect Sarah Conner as a child, an event that establishes the guardian relationship with Sarah, and allows the T-800 to lie in wait for the events of the 1984 film to begin. Although familiarity with the earlier films in the franchise is important for the fullest experience, this film can standalone as a time-travel conceit. There are, however, issues.
Terminator Genisys’ deepest flaw is the failure of the story or direction to create an emotional foreboding or a resonating moment of introspection that the weight of the bleak future demands. 1984’s The Terminator gave us such a moment in the tunnel between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese; Terminator 2: Judgement Day was expert in creating that sense of impending danger through Linda Hamilton’s somber voice-over narration. Here, the brisk pace of the film makes for an exciting experience but one that moves a too fast through quieter moments; moments that should have helped build deeper emotional connections with the characters and their predicaments. The pacing also pushes the story through key plot evolutions, brushing past pivotal moments (the introduction of the Genisys system, for example) in a rush to take advantage of that just-introduced point. There are holes in the plot as presented in these two hours, one sizeable, though it’s large enough that one must assume it was intended to be resolved (answered) in any planned sequels.
Director Alan Taylor handles the scale of the production well and facilitates the multiple action sequences capably. Hard as it is to be measured against the particular skill and influence of director James Cameron in staging and pacing spectacular, meaningful action sequences, Taylor shows the keenest instincts of the franchise since T2. But again, crafting the sense of an ominous tomorrow, or the gravity that future demands (the kind Cameron created for the first two entries) is amiss under Taylor’s helming.
3D Rating: NA
The previous Blu-ray release offered a terrific video presentation with exceptional clarity, exceptional vivacity of color, and exceptional black levels and depth. This new UHD release takes it all up a notch for something quite terrific. Blacks are pure and inky, and the additional detail offered can be impressive. Look at the smoke that hangs around the lights after our heroes have taken down Skynet and are preparing to send Reese back to 1984. In the UHD compared to the Blu-ray, the smoke is finely detailed – it stood out immediately. The stylized colors of the machine-ruled world, steely blues, the piercing red container beams, the glowing purple of pulse fire coming from attacking machines, are precise, no bleed at all, and absolutely pop.
The disc is graded for both Dolby Vision and HDR 10 high dynamic range, and I viewed with the Dolby Vision metadata. Contrast is improved modestly over the already excellent image but the color is where the difference is most notable. While excellent on the blu-ray, they are again a notch up on the UHD.
If you have the Blu-ray and love the film, the upgrade will be worth it. However, if you merely like the film and were already impressed with the Blu, you are probably okay sticking with that.
The audio provided on the UHD is the same from the previous Blu-ray edition. Here are my comments from the Blu-ray review:
Paramount provides Terminator Genisys on Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos audio option. Though I am (not yet) equipped for Dolby Atmos, the compatible Dolby TrueHD 7.1 offers a fantastic audio experience. Deep, bellowing bass, precision sound effects and exceptional clarity. Films such as Terminator Genisys, with major action set pieces, have many opportunities to feel out every inch of the home theater, and Genisys takes up that opportunity and excels. The school bus sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge is one example of full throttle sound design alive in the 7.1, and it joyfully throws down.
Dialogue is issue free and leveled well in the center channel and directional effects brings you into the action.
Special Features: 3.5/5
While the UHD does not come with special features, the first Blu-ray contains the same disappointing collection of special features from the previous release. These special features cover key portions of the production – location shooting, visual effects work, and a look at the cast. In a nice surprise, a second Blu-ray with two featurettes have been added to this release (the first in-depth and lengthy) and they feature rather good looks at various elements of the production. The second featurette is a nice breakdown of the bridge sequence.
Family Dynamics – Casting Terminator Genisys and how the actors filled some of the most iconic roles in cinematic history
Infiltration and Termination – Go behind-the-scenes to San Francisco and New Orleans in a first-hand look at filming locations
Upgrades: VFX of Terminator Genisys – Delve into the revolutionary visual effects behind the movie’s incredible action sequences
New Special Features to this Release (Blu-ray)
Reset the Future: Constructing Terminator Genisys
- Paradigm Shift
- Family Dynamics
- Old. Not Obsolete.
- Tactical Apparel
- A Once and Future War
- Infiltration and Termination
- Manipulating Matter
- Exiles in Time
Battle on the Bridge: Multi-Angle Scene Breakdown
- Angle 1: Previsualization
- Angle 2: On the Set
- Angle 3: Previsualization/Final Film Composite
Terminator Genisys does not capture the ingenuity of 1984’s The Terminator or the scale and action accomplishment of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It also has its share of flaws and weaknesses that deservedly opened it up for criticism piled. Issues and shortcomings of comparison aside, Genisys can be exciting, engaging and most importantly, entertaining. Its domestic box office failings killed off the chances of continuing with what it tried, and that is probably for the best. What is planned now is a sequel that would ignore everything after T2 and will bring back Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner (as well as Arnold again).
Watching the film again after a couple of years on UHD, I found it just as entertaining and just as flawed. A solid and effective action film that pales in comparison to the vastly superior first two films in the series.