Terminator Genisys understandably pretends that Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation never happened, yet fails to provide much justification for its own existence. It’s an awkward attempt to channel the success of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the James Cameron-directed classics that pretty much set the template for today’s science-fiction blockbusters.
Genisys is one of the year’s less successful 1980s and 1990s revivals, getting neither the mighty box-office take of Jurassic World nor the enthusiastic reviews of Mad Max: Fury Road. It isn’t as terrible as some of the harsher reviews suggest, but Genisys is an uninspiring attempt to retrofit an old franchise with millennial stars and concerns.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises the role that helped make him one of the world’s biggest stars in the 1980s in an altered timeline that remixes the events of the first two Terminator movies. In the year 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke), the leader of a human resistance against the malevolent Skynet AI, is about to win the war against the machines that nearly wiped out humanity.
To make the victory stick, however, John needs to stop a cyborg sent back in time to kill his mother (Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor) before she can get pregnant. He transports right-hand man Kyle Reese (a bland Jai Courtney) to 1984 to save Sarah from assassination. But in a departure from The Terminator (1984) and from what John told him to expect, Kyle finds that she already survived an attempt on her life during childhood.
At her side is Schwarzenegger as a T-800 sent to save her life in 1973. She affectionately calls him Pops and effectively turns him into a walking dad joke. “I’m old, not obsolete,” insists Schwarzenegger’s terminator, knowing that he’s both. Still, the hunk of scrap metal goofs it up endearingly as he repeats the deadpan catchphrases that made him famous.
Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) does a competent job with the slick special effects and the obligatory set pieces, though most of the CGI-heavy action sequences are weightless and bloodless. Compared to the thunderous, balls-to-the-wall spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road, Genisys is tame and conservative. There’s nothing here as exciting as the police station shootout in T1, nothing as groundbreaking as the liquid metal effect for the new model terminator of T2.
Casting is a mixed bag. Emilia Clarke, Games of Thrones’ Mother of Dragons, cannily interprets her alternate timeline Sarah Connor as a midpoint between Linda Hamilton’s frightened, frizzy-haired waitress in The Terminator and her lean, resolute warrior in Terminator 2. But she is let down by a script that turns Sarah into a whiner and she has no chemistry with Courtney.
Looking like he stepped out of a photoshoot for a cologne ad rather than out of an apocalyptic future, Courtney is a dull substitute for the wiry, twitchy Michael Biehn in the first Terminator film. Jason Clarke, who’s normally interesting to watch, also has an underwritten part to work with. JK Simmons, one of those scene-stealing character actors who elevates every film he’s in, provides some welcome diversion as a bungling cop trying to make sense of the “goddamn time-travelling robots”.
By retconning the events of the first two Terminator films, Genisys further scrambles a mythology that was already muddled in the way of most time-travel films. Since Genisys is meant to be the start of a new trilogy, there are many plot holes left to be answered in the next two films.
The incoherence would be more forgivable if Genisys had something memorable of its own to add to the franchise’s fiction. Though there are a couple of neat wrinkles, the film’s biggest surprise is spoiled in its trailers and it doesn’t mine current angst about privacy, iPhone preorders and technology taking over as effectively as it should.
Much like an ageing rock band on tour to promote a new album, Genisys gets the most cheers when it breaks out the old hits. It has a charismatic front man in the form of Schwarzenegger to keep it all together. Even if Arnie’s just there for the pay cheque, he’s a good sport about it. No doubt, he’ll be back, with even more “goddamn time-travelling robots” to keep track of. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media