Terminator Genisys (***)
Running Time: 126 min
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons and Matt Smith
(Movie House Cinemas, Dublin Road, midnight screening, 02/07/2015)
ARNIE might be back, but everything else about the Terminator franchise has completely changed; in fact it’s all went a bit bat-shit crazy within Terminator Genisys as the film’s writers and producers attempt to reignite the series after two poorly received instalments in Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation. Clearly inspired by J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot and a hint of Back to the Future Part II thrown in for good measure, they’ve used time travel to rewrite the past and create a clean slate for the series to exist in going forward.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest draws with this instalment is the return of the franchise’s leading man Arnold Schwarzenegger, who returns for the first-time since 2003’s underwhelming Rise of the Machines and after his tenure as the ‘Govenator’ of California was over. He’s joined onscreen by an impressive ensemble cast that includes Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons and Matt Smith. Alan Taylor who directed Thor: The Dark World is helming this project which is clearly aiming to kick-start a new series of movies within the Terminator franchise.
Just like in the original Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time by John Connor to protect his mother from a genocidal T-800, but this time round he finds himself in an alternative time-line where Sarah (Emilia Clarke) has been orphaned as a child and raised by another older T-800 (Schwarzenegger), who she refers to as ‘pops’. Programmed to protect her, this ageing Terminator must help Reece and Sarah attempt to reset the future and once again stop judgement day from happening.
Genisys’ complicated ‘timey wimey’ storyline plays out across various timelines; firstly in 2029 with Jason Clarke’s John Connor leading an assault against Skynet, secondly in 1984 during the events of the Cameron’s first film and finally a finale that plays out in San Francisco during 2017. Each of these individual storylines could have easily played out as an entire film, but instead it’s all crammed together and plays out a frantic pace. If you actually stop for a second and think about the multiple paradoxes and plot-holes this time-bending plot gives way to, your head would probably explode; so my best advice is to sit back and try your best to just go with it.
It’s the decision to revisit the events of the first movie that has attracted the most attention and controversy amongst many Terminator fans; the writers have essentially rewritten the series’ entire mythology and in doing so seemingly erased the events of Terminator 2 from history. It’s a bold move considering how highly regarded Cameron’s 1992 sequel is held by both critics and viewers alike, but it’s probably the best thing the writers could’ve done. Judgement Day wrapped everything up so nicely that it was almost too perfect; great for fans, but terrible for Hollywood producers keen to make further instalments within the series.
Yet for all it’s hype this aspect of the film only plays a very minor role within proceedings. No sooner have we revisited the events of the first movie and watched an older Arnie face off against his younger self, before we’re whizzed off into a San Francisco set future where we find Skynet silently masquerading itself as an operating system awaiting to go live.
So the big question then, does Genisys hold a candle to Cameron’s first two films? NO, not at all; but it’s still undoubtedly a big improvement upon the last two dreary instalments, but it’s still a film with a multitude of problems. There’s some particularly ropey CGI on display and the action is severely shackled by the dreaded 12A viewing certificate. Worse still there’s also some terribly cringe worthy attempts at humour by Schwarzenegger’s ‘old but not obsolete’ T-800 that just fell flat.
But the biggest problem for this film has been an overly revealing promo campaign that spoils one of it’s major plot twists for viewers, before they’ve even bought their cinema ticket. It suggests producers have had so little confidence within the franchise that they’ve really tried the hard sell to generate some buzz online, even if it’s largely negative. Even the film’s director has admitted his frustration at just how much the trailers have given away about the movie’s plot.
Since the producers haven’t treated this plot element as a twist I won’t shy away from talking about it here, after all I’ve always considered anything revealed within a film’s trailer as fair game for discussion in reviews. So this film’s big twist this time round is that John Connor, the saviour of mankind, is now a Terminator! Switching his character from Mankind’s last hope to Skynet’s is a nice twist, but sadly the joy of this surprise was robbed from me before I’d even sat down in my cinema seat.
Admittedly there are a few other twists and turns throughout the film that I won’t divulge, but John’s switch to the ‘dark side’ works quite well. By moving away his character away from mankind’s saviour the weight of expectation falls upon his mother’s weary shoulders, but Emilia Clarke’s version of the character is very different from the timid waitress we first saw in the original movie.
Her character might be more aggressive and more like Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of the character in Terminator 2, but she’s still very much a reluctant heroine. Raised as a child by Arnie’s older Terminator, she’s been repeatedly told of her importance in the future; but in a similar manner to Edward Furlong’s John Connor in Judgement Day, she wants to free herself from the shackles of this seemingly predetermined destiny, after all if her past can be rewritten, then why not her future.
Clarke does the best she can within the role, the actress who plays the mother of dragons in Game of Thrones feels like a perfect fit for the role of Sarah Connor, but sadly there’s just no chemistry between her character and Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reece. Considering the importance of their relationship within the series’ mythology it’s a shame there’s nothing here that replicates the magic of the Hamilton/Biehn relationship from the original.
Courtney’s Kyle Reece is probably the weakest of the film’s protagonists, he plays the character as a self-assured, war-hardened mercenary and it’s just nowhere near as effective as Michael Biehn’s more fragile portrayal of the character as a love-struck time-traveller who ‘came across time’ for Sarah.
But I did like what they’ve done with Arnie’s older T-800, admittedly it’s a narrative devise that only exists to allow Schwarzenegger to reprise his iconic role once again, but it actually works quite well. Despite some cringe worthy attempts at humour and some terrible dialogue his performance evokes memories of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa; physically ageing and slowly breaking down he goes toe to toe with Jason Clarke’s Terminator/human hybrid like an over-the-hill boxer looking for one last bout before retirement.
Like it or not, the Terminator franchise is back and the result is a film that’s nowhere near as terrible as it could’ve been. Yes there are problems aplenty and questions left unanswered, some purposely and others plot holes left by the film’s needlessly complex screenplay; but in my opinion there’s something there within all it’s muddled, problematic nonsense that just about justifies the price of admission; although I just can’t put my finger on what it is.
The writers have tangled themselves up into knots to resolve the issue the continuity issues that arose post Terminator 2. It’s going to be interesting to see where they go to next (providing they get the chance) with future instalments as they attempt to open up the franchise to a new generation.
There’ll undoubtedly still be many viewers who’ll feel like this instalment tramples over their fond memories over Cameron’s first two movies, but my advice is to try your best to go in with as open a mind as possible and try to enjoy the story it’s trying to tell. The writers might have taken away the events of Terminator 1 and 2 from the series’ mythology, but they can’t take away your copies of them on DVD or Blu Ray; so no matter what happens you’ll always be able to rewatch them over and over again to your heart’s content and just ignore this instalment.