‘Terminator Genisys’: Yes – he’s back!

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For Digital First Media

When Arnold Schwarzenegger uttered his classic line, “I’ll be back,” he wasn’t kidding.

After starring as the titular cyborg in 1984’s “The Terminator,” Schwarzenegger went from being derided as a joke to becoming an international superstar. For 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” he was transmogrified from villainous assassin to a sympathetic character.

Schwarzenegger became distracted with a little side project, governing the state of California. So, he was reduced to a virtual cameo in the fourth installment in the franchise, 2009’s “Terminator Salvation.” For some, having a “Terminator” film without Schwarzenegger in a substantive role was heresy. According to them, you could have a 007 flick without Sean Connery, but a Terminator film without Arnold—no way!

Here we are for round five, “Terminator Genisys.” On the cusp of turning 68, Schwarzenegger is back as a T-800 cyborg.

He returns to a franchise, which has been not merely rejiggered, but fundamentally changed. The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander,” “Shutter Island”) and Patrick Lussier (“Dracula 2000” and “Drive Angry”) is repudiative of many pivotal aspects of the precursor films.  “Terminator Genisys,” apparently starts a new stand alone trilogy with sequels projected for 2018 and 2019.

Early on in the film, with strains of the original theme from, “The Terminator” in the background, we learn the reformulated history of the human race. In this revised version, Judgment Day has been postponed from 1997 until 2017. There are plenty of other changes that some viewers will find disconcerting.

Humans are eagerly awaiting the advent of Genisys, a global computer operating system, which is due to come online. It promises to enable people to seamlessly integrate all of the machines they have into one handy dandy, coordinated entity.

However, Genisys is actually a giant Trojan horse, designed to subjugate the human race to the machines that they have created. On Judgment Day, Skynet, a confederation of machines, materializes. A giant conflagration results in the death of over three billion people.

John Connor (Jason Clarke, adorned with a roadmap of facial scars) becomes the leader of the human resistance. He learns that Skynet will be attacking on two fronts, the past and the future. John organizes one unit to attack Skynet’s main defense grid. Meanwhile, he and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) will try to ferret out Skynet’s time machine.

Kyle will be dispatched in time to the year 1984. He is tasked with protecting Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), John’s mother. Skynet is planning to assassinate her before she can give birth to John. The film postulates that unless John is born, there will be no one to lead the human resistance movement.

This time around, Schwarzenegger is still a cyborg. His back story is that he has served as a guardian to Sarah Connor ever since she was a young orphan. He is committed to protecting her at all costs. She affectionately refers to him as, “Pops.

“Terminator Genisys” postulates the existence of multiple simultaneous timeline alternatives. You just have to accept some of whacky aspects of the film’s notion of the mutability of the central timeline. At one juncture, John Connors hurtles through time to be with his parents, Sarah Connors and Kyle Reese. However, John Connors is older than both of them.

Is Schwarzenegger still credible in the role as an action adventure figure? The Guardian describes himself as, “Old, not obsolete.” There are Schwarzenegger detractors, who would contend otherwise. His three most recent vehicles, “The Last Stand,”  “Escape Plan,” and “Sabotage” were all savaged by critics and became box office disasters.

So, how does Schwarzenegger acquit himself here? I’m here to tell you that he still kicks ass with considerable brio to spare. Indeed, he may be the best thing about the film. Early in the film, he confronts a T-800 doppelganger. It’s a pumped up facsimile of the 37-year old Schwarzenegger, who starred in James Cameron’s original film in the series. Who do you think wins that slugfest?

Courtesy of the welcome return of Schwarzenegger and the capable direction of Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Thor: The Dark World”), “Terminator Genisys” overcomes some of the conceptual flaws inherent in its screenplay.

*** PG -13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language) 126 minutes. Paramount Pictures

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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