“Terminator Genisys” actually comes pretty close to revitalising the franchise. Frustratingly close, in fact. But some poor casting choices, a muddled middle act and some drearily repetitive direction from Alan Taylor mean that whatever good ideas it has are frittered away in an aimless and nostalgic romp through the better moments of the previous “Terminator” movies.
In the far future, humanity under the leadership of John Connor (Jason Clarke) finds itself on the cusp of victory over Skynet and the machines. In order to thwart Skynet’s final desperate attempt to save itself, Connor sends his closest friend Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother from Skynet’s Terminator in 1984. But when Reece arrives, he finds Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) not only waiting for him, but accompanied by a friendly T-800.
It’s not just Skynet that finds itself caught in an unbreakable time loop, the franchise itself is caught in a Möbius loop and it’s the obsession with the Connor family that’s ultimately holding the saga back. The need to include them and the Terminators themselves has hamstrung every attempt to break new ground by tying it into the same old story, over and over again. The ‘Genisys’ addition this time round feels tacked on at the last minute, like a forgotten detail or the sudden realisation that they can’t make the entire movie a Terminator ‘greatest hits’ compilation.
For the first hour or so though, “Terminator: Genisys” manages to at least feel like it’s trying to inject a new spark of life into the Terminator series largely, thanks to the successful pairing of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor and Arnold’s aging T-800. Playing the Terminator-turned-good-guy for the third time now, Schwarzenegger has the shtick nailed down and you can sense he’s having a lot of fun being back in the role he was made for. He plays it with knowing irony and his comic timing is pretty good too, used in a series of withering put-downs and glares. He also manages to imbue the T-800 with an emotional weight with a great deal more subtlety than the ham-fisted attempts in “Judgement Day”. Together, the two of them could have delivered a pretty good action movie. Unfortunately, “Genisys” isn’t an Emilia Clarke film or an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. It’s a Jai Courtney film and his Kyle Reece is a charisma vacuum who sucks the atmosphere from the film, aided and abetted by a badly miscast Jason Clarke as John Connor. (Wait – was he cast because he shares a surname with the actress playing his mother?). The more interesting castings, J K Simmons and Matt Smith (begging your pardon, Matthew Smith) are largely wasted, especially Smith in a blink-and-you’ll-miss him cameo (but he wasn’t lying when he said he has a pivotal role).
Although director Alan Taylor does a decent job, the action quickly becomes repetitive and not just because it’s revisiting set pieces and pivotal moments from the franchise’s previous films. There’s nothing fresh about the many fight scenes, all of them either variations on shooting various projectiles against an oncoming enemy or various editions of robots picking each other up and slamming them through walls. The lack of innovation is compounded by the baffling decision to put every set piece, and I mean every set piece in the trailer. This film is so comfortable with the fact that’s it’s simply re-treading old ground that it blows all of its potential surprises in the trailer.
And that tells you everything you need to know about this film and the people who made it. They don’t care about honouring the legacy of the previous films, or telling a great story or even making sure you enjoy yourself: they only care about getting you to hand over the cash to buy the ticket. After that, it’s none of their concern.
Until the Terminator movies are in the hands of people who care about good storytelling and can break themselves out of Skynet’s Voldemort-like habit of defining itself by a single ‘prophecy’ adversary and broaden the story, every successive version is going to be like photocopying a photocopy. It doesn’t matter how expensive and hi-tech your photocopier is, every copy is going to be slightly worse than the one before.