If you’re going to see this film, and you probably should if you loved the series, you need to rewatch the first two before tucking in for this latest twist in this most recent installment of the tangled time-travel plot to hit the screen. Why? Because the first 30-45 minutes of the film are references to the first and second in the series. Some are shot-for-shot recreations, some with and some without changes.
Let’s be honest, the original Terminator, though revered as a classic, is really a pretty silly B-grade flick full of big hair, car chases, and one or two catch-phrases. I’d even bet, most folks can’t recall when and where those phrases are used (as they are each only used once as throw-aways) despite the fact that they entered the zeitgeist. But it is entertaining and full of surprising talent early (for most) in their careers.
Outside of the Terminator lore, Genisys really doesn’t stand on its own. If you haven’t seen the original films recently, you probably will have a tickle in your mind about a lot of the goings on, but the fun of the effort (and they went to a lot of effort) will be lost. If you need a gauge, this is better than T3 and T4 by a nice margin on both, but not as good as T2. Comparing it to the original just isn’t fair, so I won’t do that.
There are other reasons to see the film. Certainly the f/x are great. The action continues to try and top the previous films (even when referencing them). And Simmons (Whiplash) is a riot all by himself. Even Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) each deliver in reinventing and reprising their roles. Heck, there is even amusement in the fact that Clarke is now taking over a role that was recently played by Headey (300, Game of Thrones). And the addition of Smith (Lost River) is meta on so many levels it hurts, which isn’t to say he doesn’t do a good job, he does.
The real problem with this film is Courtney (I, Frankenstein). He can’t sell a single emotion other than whining. It is unfortunate as the role is full of potential complexity and fun. He tries, but honestly can’t deliver on almost any level. You never understand why Sarah might fall in love with him, let alone trust him with her life and the lives of all humanity. A better actor may have helped this film stand on its own and gain a larger audience.
In the meantime, it isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve probably assumed or heard. But don’t go without rewatching the originals. It will add an entire level of appreciation for director Taylor’s (Thor: The Dark World) control and vision as well the writers (Kalogridis and Lussier). They came at this with love for the series and, probably, were a bit too close to it to see that it wasn’t standing entirely on its own. But if you join in the fun (did I mention: rewatch the first two before getting in the car?), you’ll be well entertained.