With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons. Written Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier. Directed by Alan Taylor. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. 125 minutes.
It’s hard to believe that it’s more than thirty years since the original “Terminator” film. TERMINATOR: GENISYS is the fourth sequel (plus the TV series “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), so it’s a complex universe, made more complicated because time travel and attempts to alter the past and the future are part of it.
After the first two entries, which were directed by James Cameron, it’s been hit-or-miss, but fans should embrace this one as a worthy entry. For those coming in late, the simple story line is this: at some point a computer system called “Skynet” takes over the world and begins eradicating humans. John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a successful revolt. A terminator robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original) is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before John is born. A human, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to make sure she lives. In the second film, Schwarzenegger’s cyborg becomes a good guy fighting off a different and more advanced assassin.
This installment follows that outline, but there are new complications, as the timeline has changed. When Kyle shows up, he’s met by an advanced killer (Byung-hun Lee) and rescued by Sarah, who has been raised by Schwarzenegger’s time-wizened cyborg. And Skynet isn’t going to take over the world in 1997 (as in the earlier films) but 2017, so Sarah and Kyle have to go into the future to stop it. There’s more, including an old cop (J. K. Simmons) who seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on.
Unlike the more recent sequels, the filmmakers have made a real effort to make this fit into the world created in the first two movies. There are elements that deliberately echo or play off of moments in them, and there’s some fun with the time travel stuff that shouldn’t leave you scratching your head. Schwarzenegger looks like he’s having fun in one of his signature roles in a way we haven’t seen on screen in a long time. For one thing he gets to acknowledge being old (he turns 68 on July 30) while pointedly noting that that doesn’t mean he’s obsolete.
Jason Clarke continues to impress in what turns into quite a twisted role, while Jai Courtney plays Kyle as a young hero who find himself buffeted by forces beyond his control. Most interesting is Emilia Clarke, who has to follow in the footsteps of Linda Hamilton and Lena Headey in the role of Sarah Connor. Clarke, who plays the very blonde Daenerys on “Game of Thrones,” is tough but more vulnerable, perhaps because this Sarah seems somewhat younger than what we’re used to.
If the special effects aren’t as novel as they were in “Terminator 2,” there’s still some very impressive work here providing both action and imagination. The material is better balanced this time around so we actually get some character moments with Kyle and Sarah instead of just unrelenting battles with cyborgs. “Terminator Genisys” may be yet another summer movie sequel, but this one turns out to have been worth the effort.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.