“Terminator Genisys” marks the second sequel to a seemingly dead franchise this summer. Following the massive success of “Jurassic World” comes the fifth “Terminator” movie to date. The last two sequels were failed reboots, and for good reason, as neither of them had the intensity or awe James Cameron brought to the original films. “Terminator Genisys” doesn’t recapture the series’ former glory, but it is an actual “Terminator” movie, and it’s certainly more ambitious and entertaining than its recent predecessors.
The film begins in 2029, with John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) leading an ambush against Skynet. We see the events that influence Connor’s decision to send Reese back in time to save his mother, making this both a reboot and a surprisingly faithful sequel. Reese expects a helpless Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) back in 1984, but she’s nothing of the sort; she’s a trained, skilled soldier. At her side, once again to Reese’s surprise, is a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who Sarah refers to as “Pops.” For a reason that’s being saved for a potential sequel, someone sent the T-800 back in time to protect Sarah as a child, which answers one of the most of obvious questions in this franchise: Why doesn’t Skynet simply kill Sarah as a kid? Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese and the T-800 have to work together to prevent Skynet’s takeover and, surprisingly, defeat John Connor, who’s working for the bad guys this time around.
Screenwriters Patrick Lussier and Laeata Kalogridis rewrite the past, but they don’t erase it. There is no shortage of time travel talk in the film, and one of the key decisions made is to establish this as an alternate timeline, so the other timelines, meaning the first two films, still exist. Do the time travel rules always make sense? No, but neither does time travel. Sometimes, the less explained, the better – and the first hour struggles with that. There is a cluster of exposition in the setup, often explaining what we’re literally seeing. At first, Jai Courtney’s performance suffers because of how many questions and obvious statements he has to deliver, but once the wheels start moving, “Terminator Genisys” improves as it goes along.