Terminator Genisys is a decent enough reboot of the James Cameron originated franchise. It riffs on Cameron’s movies and brings enough intriguing ideas to make it worth your time but Hollywood’s mantra of bigger, louder, better means that this lacks the heart of the first two films.
Alan Taylor’s fifth franchise entry has a glossy sheen and a lot of digital effects – but the biggest special effect on hand here is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian Oak carries the film on his broad shoulders, injecting humour and old school star charisma into the film which often struggles under many of its own concepts. Genisys is a myriad of ideas with its tangled plot twisting and weaving into many knots, however when you unravel it all, it’s effectively a retread of Cameron’s films, minus the originality and ingenuity.
In 2029, Kyle Reese (Jai Ciurtney) is sent back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from The Terminator (Schwarzenegger). However, when the future resistance fighter arrives, he finds that Sarah isn’t the damsel in distress he’s expecting. Instead she’s a battle-hardened badass; one mean mother of John Connor (Jason Clarke), who has befriended a Terminator (who she affectionately calls ‘Pops’). The pair skip forward to 2017 and prepare to hit Skynet where it hurts – right in the Genisys. However, the future is not set and they soon discover that the future isn’t what they expected and there are some surprises in store as they try to stop the clock ticking down to Judgement Day.
James Cameron’s The Terminator was a tight and lean sc-fi/thriller – a film that played much like a horror. Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable robotic force was a terrifying villain that couldn’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear – and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you’re dead. The sequel played on it’s star’s heroic persona, positioning him as the protector who faces-off against Robert Patrick’s liquid metal T1000. Patrick was another casting masterstroke, his small frame a wonderful counterpoint to Schwarzenegger’s’ bulk. The film introduced audiences to CGI-fused action sequences but there was plenty of humanity amongst the battling machines. It was also a different type of film, a sprawling action epic with many intricate plot points that built on the Terminator mythos. Jonathan Mostow’s 2003 Rise Of The Machine’s couldn’t match Cameron’s flare for building on what had come before it. The introduction of a female Terminator was a novel idea but it didn’t pay-off in its execution. McG’s future-set Terminator Salvation attempted a new take on Judgement Day but it lacked Schwarzenegger’s presence and felt like a generic post-apocalyptic science fiction actioner.
Genisys attempts to reboot the series, using Cameron’s template to launch a new trilogy. It’s successful in doing that, however, where Cameron’s two films were groundbreaking movies which truly moved cinema forward, this feels like just another summer spectacle. Nobody will walk out of this with the same sense of marvel that audiences did when Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released back in 1991.
Jai Courtney is definitely no Michael Biehn but he gives all as Kyle Reese, the proxy for the audience who gets a lot of convoluted plot points explained to him. Emilia Clarke makes for a fine Sarah Connor but her small frame can’t quite sell the heroism in the way that Linda Hamilton did. Schwarzenegger continues to evolve as an actor and he gives his T800 interesting character traits. His age is referenced in a time-travel plot that spans 40 years, and as he explains – he’s ‘old but not obsolete’.
The best moments in Terminator Genisys come from the mind of James Cameron. The script by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier makes a valiant attempt to tie all the new moments into the past but they haven’t got the driven sincerity of Cameron’s dialogue. This feels like blockbuster scriptwriting 101, ticking the box for the odd character moment until the next set piece. This may have seemed so much better if they weren’t tying themselves so closely to two genre classics.
Terminator Genisys is better than it had any right being but not as good as it could have been. Arnold Schwarzenegger sells it, keeping the film moving along with his dedication to the role. The Terminator franchise is now over 30 years old and it looks like it might finally be obsolete.