Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Jai Courtney (Divergent), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Director: Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World)
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) & Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry)
Runtime: 2 hours 6 minutes
Release Date: 1 July (US), 2 July (UK)
Remember when Terminator meant nothing but excellence? Well, maybe I don’t because I wasn’t alive when either of the first two films came out, but at one point Terminator meant something more. The Terminator was a groundbreaking film in 1984, launching the career of James Cameron and solidifying Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as a cinema icon forever, whilst Terminator 2: Judgement Day upped the ante spectacularly to create one of the best sequels ever made and one of the few that arguably surpass the original. But then Cameron left the franchise having said everything he needed to say and it all went downhill. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a serviceable action film but was essentially a less inventive remake of the second film, and Terminator Salvation was an admirable attempt at shaking up the formula that ultimately fell apart due to sloppy execution. Now the franchise is once again trying to resurrect itself with the unfortunately titled Terminator Genisys (becoz pour leeteraci iz kewl) and they’re pulling a JJ Abrams’ Star Trek-style reboot to do it. Should we be glad that the T-800’s promise to be back has been fulfilled, or should this franchise have said “hasta la vista, baby” a long time ago?
Though positioning itself as a soft reboot, Genisys relies too heavily on franchise lore to be immediately accessible to complete novices, so either do your homework or prepare to be lost. But for fans of the franchise, the first act of the film is an entertaining trip down memory lane as the story begins by showing events only mentioned in the first film before proceeding to accurately recreate moments from the first film shot-for-shot, making that moment when it segues into new territory that much more impactful. However, as promising as those first 45 minutes or so are, Genisys quickly buckles under its own ambitions. The plot begins to take some less interesting turns, playing with the mythology in less interesting ways, and tangles around with the timeline so much that you swear that massive holes of logic are starting to be created; it doesn’t necessarily break the rules of the franchise, but it does bend them to the point of instability. The film becomes less focused on narrative and more about jumping from one ridiculous action piece to the next, and in doing so becomes so overblown that it loses a lot of the Terminator essence it was so accurately tapping into beforehand. It becomes far too sleek and bombastic, forgetting about the simplicity and grit of the original Cameron movies in favour of giant explosions and visual effects; even the effects-heavy T2 kept itself far more grounded. This complete loss of the point of the franchise is confirmed in the film’s final moments, which eschews the series’ usually bittersweet endings in favour of a bright and happy conclusion devoid of foreboding or tension. Yes, Terminator has always had an optimistic message about overcoming what seems inevitable, but it never forgot that danger is always on the horizon. Genisys, meanwhile, ends in a way so rosy that it’s even harder to imagine how they plan to continue (which they already are apparently) than any of the previous films’ straw-grasping attempts. It’s so disheartening to see a film that has so much potential and briefly fulfils it before chucking it all away in favour of mindless action.
Through both the good and bad moments of Terminator Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger remains a bright spot of joy throughout. His portrayal of this film’s T-800 is familiar but unique, retaining the previous versions’ key characteristics but with new quirks added from this character’s age and experience. There is a genuine paternal connection between him and Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, and his deadpan delivery of comic relief is constantly priceless. Clarke’s Sarah is also well done, emulating Linda Hamilton’s performance but making it her own; she’s not exactly the same but, considering her radically different back-story and upbringing, she doesn’t have to be. Jason Clarke (no relation to Emilia) does the best job he can as this film’s John Connor, but he’s given very little to work with and his character arc feels abrupt and ill-explained. J.K. Simmons is as great as always, but he feels spectacularly underutilised in a subplot that ends up going absolutely nowhere. Similar sentiments can be made about Dayo Okeniyi’s Danny Dyson, who’s set up and then almost immediately forgotten about despite his key role in the creation of the film’s villain/MacGuffin, and Matt Smith in a key but thankless role that in no way demands an actor of his stature. But the real downside on the acting front is Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese. Not only is Courtney as bland as ever, he utterly fails to capture even an ounce of the character so memorably played by Micheal Biehn that he ultimately feels like a totally different person. His chemistry with Emilia Clarke is completely non-existent, so much so that I was convinced they were going to take a left-turn and not have them become a couple. His lacklustre performance ultimately sinks the film a great deal, as he is the main driving force behind the plot and the source of the film’s attempts at sentimentality.
As mentioned before, the film does a fantastic job of recreating scenes from the first Terminator by accurately mimicking the cinematography and editing of that film. Even the new scenes in the first act keep this general aesthetic, giving the film that authentic Terminator feel. But, again as mentioned before, the film then completely drops it and goes full modern blockbuster: quick cuts, fast and fancy cinematography, a shiny colour palette, and an overreliance on VFX over practical stunts. It goes from having a borrowed but nicely retro style to looking like every other action film on the market, and something as iconic as Terminator shouldn’t look like anything other than itself. The effects themselves aren’t even that impressive, looking barely improved from T2’s decades-old technology, whilst Lorne Balfe’s score does a decent job updating Brad Fiedel’s classic themes but the original compositions are ultimately forgettable.
Terminator Genisys starts off strong but then completely shoots itself in the foot by the halfway point by forgetting about what it’s meant to be. The film’s first act remains a nostalgic treat for long-time fans of the franchise and Schwarzenegger is as great as ever, but the convoluted narrative and focus on explosive action over clever storytelling ruins what had the potential to be a return to form for the long-suffering franchise. There is clearly love for the material present in Genisys, but it never fully grasps what makes the franchise tick. As much as we think of Terminator for its action, quotes and overall pop culture impact, there is far much more to it than that. Terminator is more than just disposable popcorn entertainment. Like how a T-800 is a complex machine disguised as a human, The Terminator and T2 are smart observations on humanity’s self-destructive nature that sends a hopeful but pragmatic message about the future disguised as mindless popcorn entertainment. Terminator Genisys, however, is the same on the inside as it is on the outside, and that’s a damn shame.
FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10