Terminator: Genisys

Okay, fine; the character stack will never die.
Okay, fine; the character stack will never die.

“New Mission. New Fate.”

Directed by Alan Taylor
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke

In 2029, the human resistance is on the verge of victory over the Skynet AI and its army of machines. In a last ditch attempt to protect itself, Skynet sends a Terminator (Schwarzenegger), a machine disguised as a human, back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Clarke), mother of the resistance leader John Conner (the other Clarke), while John sends a lone soldier, Kyle Reese (Courtney) to save her.

So far, so The Terminator, but this time the Terminator is stopped by an older version of the same model (also Schwarzenegger), and Reese sees John attacked by another Terminator (Matt Smith, so for a moment it looked like the Doctor was just fucking around with the humans’ time experiments) just as he is sent through time. In 1984 he is rescued by a militarised Sarah Connor and the ‘Pops’ Terminator from a shapeshifting T-1000, then travels with Sarah to 2017, following a new set of memories to hunt down and destroy a new Skynet, manifesting as a ‘killer app’ called Genisys with a new timetable for Judgement Day (if you’ve not seen the original films, are you following any of this?)

In 2017, a new enemy appears. John Connor, transformed into a new kind of Terminator and determined to see Judgement fall.

What’s wrong with it?

The Terminator franchise has traditionally rewritten its time travel rules every episode. In The Terminator, predestination; in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.  Then in Rise of the Machines, it turns out that Judgement Day somehow wants to happen, and that even John Connor’s romance is destined to happen somehow. Finally, in Terminator: Salvation, it’s screw time travel; let’s do the show right here. (And this is without mentioning The Sarah Connor Chronicles, although this film kind of borrows from that one by having someone come back in time and then jump Sarah forward in time.) Aptly enough with Smith as the face of Skynet, Genisys opts for a big old ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey, which is somehow less satisfying.

While better than in Salvation, CGI Arnold is pretty eerie.

As a long time watcher, Jai Courtney just seems a little too… built for Kyle Reese. I’m sure resistance against the machines keeps you in good shape, but I’m equally sure it doesn’t leave much time to work on your definition.

For a film with so much budget, the production is occasionally kind of rickety, with actions cutting in out of nowhere and the occasional dead take where the film cuts away between reacting and non-reacting expressions.

Oddly for a film that pits mother and father/surrogate son against son/father figure, it lacks emotional punch.

Neither Skynet nor Sarah Connor quite have the accent down.

There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s your human leads surviving when the bus they’re in is flipped clean over and then rolls along the road four or five times.

What’s right with it?

With the exception of those stumbles, it’s a slickly made actioner, and not terrible given just how long it’s been in coming. It’s more interesting than Rise of the Machines and has more substance – if only just – than Salvation, in the latter instance cementing the role of time travel in the franchise’s success.

Arnold is surprisingly good, coming back to the role of the Terminator and playing it unabashedly old, complete with palsied twitches and grumbling.

While Reese doesn’t feel quite right to me, Emilia Clarke is a superb Sarah Connor, once you get past the Mother of Dragons swearing in an American accent.

The metal-on-metal fights have an impressive ‘world of cardboard’ weight to them.

How bad is it really?

As much as my bad points list outweighs the good, the truth is that this is another in a line of successful late sequels, if rather closer to Jurassic World than Fury Road. Its only failure is the failure to be truly outstanding, the way The Terminator stood out from a admittedly less crowded field.

Best bit (if such there is)?

  • Pretty much everything with JK Simmons as slightly batty true-believer detective is awesome, the rest tops out at pretty good.
  • There is also a nice visual gag where they are all being booked in at a police precinct, flash cutting between quite tall Courtney, tiny Clarke and massive Schwarzenegger.

What’s up with…?

  • Serial numbers? Apparently the ‘machine phase matter’ reboot of John is a T-3000 and the Skynet avatar a T-5000, but these are never mentioned in the film. I guess the fandom just loves to have their serials.
  • The march of progress? Seriously; we’ve gone from Judgement Day to a movie where the T-1000 is a footnote.
  • The squee of it all? A lot of this film reads like exuberant fan fiction, with the saving of Kyle and even Pops making it through, and becoming a rad cool liquid metal badass.

Ratings

Production values – There are glitches, but for the most part it is a pretty slick production. I mean, you’d hope so. 5
Dialogue and performances – This could have been so much worse, but they manage to fit in their classic callbacks and new dialogue without anything being horribly strained. 6
Plot and execution – Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. I like that they make Sarah not just the heroine, but also the point of the film, rather than an auxiliary to John. On the other hand, it gets to a point of saturation where there are almost too many bad guys and, as mentioned, the T-1000 is almost an afterthought. 7
Randomness – It’s unclear why or when Skynet sent the T-1000 back in time. Was it part of a cunning Xanatos Gambit? And why did it wait to strike when Kyle had already been sent back in time? What the hell? 11
Waste of potential – Once again, if not for Fury Road I would be feeling this was top dollar. As it is, it’s… pretty good. 7

Overall 36%

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