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Terminator: Genisys (3D Blu-ray Review)

6 Nov, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 11/10/15
Box Office $89.76 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $52.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language.
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J. K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt.

Trying to sort out how all the “Terminator” movies fit together brings to mind Sarah Connor’s musing on time travel from the first film: “A person could go crazy thinking about this.”

The “no fate but what we make” mantra established in that film was somewhat belied by the closed causality loop of a story in which the machines that control the future could only come to be by attempted to alter the past. This was altered slightly in the second film, which ended on a hopeful yet still ambiguous note.

The premise has probably been played out since the third movie, which, without James Cameron at the helm, trampled over the established canon to suggest that “fate” was going to happen regardless of attempts to stop it, even if the details were changed, and from then all bets were off. At least the fourth film, as poorly received as it was, broke from the usual formula by being set entirely within the post-apocalyptic future foretold by the other films.

For the fifth film, the writers essentially ignored the latter two, and take us back to the beginning (or the end, time travel being what it is) with a “Star Trek”-style reboot that uses time travel to twist the audience’s familiarity with the core story.

So, in 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads his resistance to victory against the machines of Skynet, which sends a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 to kill his mother, Sarah, before he’s born. To protect her, John sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), who ends up fathering John while he’s back there, thus completing the loop. Only, as Reese is being zapped back, he sees John being attacked by another Terminator (Matt Smith of “Doctor Who” fame in a bit of stunt casting). This causes Reese to experience memories of an alternate timeline, and the 1984 he arrives at starts to diverge from the one we know from the original film.

Cleverly, the filmmakers start to establish their 1984 by re-creating what James Cameron did in the original film (which, we learn in the hour of bonus featurettes, was an intentional ploy to play off audience expectations). The Arnie Terminator arrives at Griffith Park, and just as he’s about to gut three punks to steal their clothes, an older-looking Arnie Terminator shows up and blasts him. Then Reese, in the midst of stealing a homeless guy’s pants, gets attacked by a T-1000 (the shapeshifter type from T2) and rescued by Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who knows all about the future plan to kill her.

So now, she, Reese and the older Terminator must decipher the changes to the timeline in a new attempt to wipe out Skynet before it goes online. Meanwhile, Skynet is apparently aware of all its failures in alternate timelines and is now able to cross between them in order to create itself. Or something.

The latest danger involves a new Internet-based operating system in 2017 called Genisys, which is essentially a hyperactive version of Apple iCloud.

The film offers a few nuggets of some interesting ideas, such as the kernel of a commentary about the distractions caused by the ubiquity of smartphones.

And J.K. Simmons has an interesting role as a cop trying to keep track of all the time travelers, which nets him what may be the funniest line in the entire franchise.

However, the big-budget visual effects and action sequences are trying to elevate a story that in many ways feels very similar to the premise of the 2008-09 “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV show that depicted yet another alternate timeline.

Clarke, in fact, is the third actress to portray Sarah Connor, and the second from “Game of Thrones” (following Lena Headey, who played the character in “Chronicles”).

Interestingly, Clarke and Linda Hamilton, the original Sarah, were both 28 when their respective films came out. While Hamilton looks her age, Clarke looks like she could be around 18, the age the character is supposed to be in whatever version of 1984 you pick.

The attempts at diverging from the original film fall a bit flat, however, because the proceedings can’t escape the shadow of what came before, especially the first two films. And the 3D in inconsistent at best, adding little to the visual experience while amplifying the hokiness of some of the film’s less-convincing special effects.

Still, Genisys tries its best to breathe life into the franchise’s treadworn premise, and at least has the stamp of approval from James Cameron himself, who even pops up in one of the featurettes to discuss some of the new concepts introduced here.

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