Terminator Genisys

Posted: July 9, 2015 in Film reviews
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Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney.

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In 2029 the human resistance have finally managed to defeat Skynet and its Terminators, but as John Connor (Jason Clarke) always knew it would, Skynet hasn’t admitted defeat with good grace, and has sent a Terminator back to 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah before he can be conceived.

Kyle Reece (Courtney) volunteers to go back and stop the Terminator, again as John Connor always knew he would, what with him having a somewhat pivotal role in John’s conception, and the scene is set for a showdown on the streets of LA in 1984…

Except, when both the Terminator and Kyle arrive, things go down a little differently. The T800 demands clothes from a fake Bill Paxton, only before he can clothe himself another, older, T800 shows up. Kyle on the other hand finds himself fighting a very different enemy to the one he was expecting, until he’s rescued by Sarah Connor, who isn’t the timid waitress he imagined. Instead she’s a trained warrior who knows his name and all about Terminators, because when she was nine her parents were killed, and she was only saved by a T800 (Arnie obviously). Since then the Terminator has protected her, and now she calls him Pops.

With time in flux, Sarah, Kyle and Pops have to travel into the future to stop Skynet, only even the future has shifted, and rather than Skynet in 1997, the trio will have to confront something called Genisys in 2017…
To say I went in to this with low expectations is not an unfair assessment. Realistically Genisys had two jobs, just two. It had to be better than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (which isn’t a terrible film, it’s just incredibly average) and it had to be better than Terminator Salvation (which is a terrible film. Seriously even the word terrible doesn’t do justice to how awful it is). So yeah, Genisys had two jobs just two…

Missions accomplished thank goodness!

This is definitely the year for nostalgia, with new films for Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Star Wars…not to mention the continuing franchises of Bond, Mission Impossible etc. etc., and whoever started the bandwagon, someone decided the Terminator needed to get on that bandwagon too. But how to refresh a franchise that hasn’t had a good film since 1991? Well if you’re dealing with time travel the solution is a temporally soft reboot, JJ Abrams’ style! This isn’t unusual for the franchise, Terminator 2 set the template for the future not being set, and Terminator 3 played with the idea of Judgement Day still happening, just later, and the cruelly cancelled Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show played with the idea of alternate timelines, and of characters travelling forward in time.

Genisys plays with our expectations, and it’s fair to say that if you’d never seen a Terminator film before an awful lot of homages will go right over your head. For fans of the series there’s fun to be had in spotting scenes that start out as near like for like copies, before morphing—T1000 like— into something very different. It’s amusing to see 1984’s Sarah Connor have the upper hand over Kyle Reece, and to see knowledge that she shouldn’t have used to take down a foe who shouldn’t have shown up in LA until 1995.

Once the mismatched trio scoot forwards to 2017 the film relies less on homages to the past and tries to cement its own legacy with varying degrees of success. There’s an interesting twist, or rather there would have been if they hadn’t stuck it in the trailer (even the director is pissed off). There’s plenty of action, though a lot of it is kind of generic. And then there’s Genisys itself. On the one hand the notion of updating Skynet to reflect our modern, interconnected world is a great idea, but on the other it feels like they missed the boat by a few years, as what Genisys offers doesn’t seem to justify its must-have status.

The casting is a little off kilter. Emilia Clarke is on the surface a very good fit for Sarah Connor, she looks like a young Linda Hamilton circa 1984, and is even the same age, and for the most part she convinces as this new iteration who’s somewhere between the Terminator and T2 ones, tougher than 1984 Sarah, but not as damaged as the 1995 version. The only criticism is that at times she looks tiny (according to the internet she’s a good ten centimetres shorter than Hamilton) especially next to big men, and obviously Arnie and Jai Courtney are on the big side.

Fair dos, Courtney was better than I expected him to be, and his Kyle Reece is a vast improvement on his John McLane Jr. in the feeble Die Hard 5. He’s nowhere near as wooden, and makes his Kykle a likeable sort. The trouble is he isn’t remotely Kyle Reece. Michael Biehn looked like he’d been fighting machines amidst the rubble of a destroyed world. He was sinewy and battered, and looked like he could use a decent meal and a shower. By contrast Courtney looks like he popped to the gym, grabbed a latte then headed for the final battle with Skynet. It’s also fair to say that he lacks chemistry with Emilia Clarke as well, in fact he probably works better with Arnie who acts like an overprotective father who doesn’t think he’s good enough for his daughter.

Which brings us onto the hulking Austrian. I’ve been an Arnie fan as long as I can remember, which doesn’t mean I’ve always liked his films, he has made some that are better than others, and some I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch again but, like Pops says, he’s old but not obsolete, at least not from where I’m sitting.

He is a lot older though, and his Terminator reflects this. He isn’t the cold emotionless killing machine from the original film, but he isn’t that cool, if dorky, father/uncle substitute from T2, it’s probably fairer to describe this Terminator as a grumpy, if dorky grandfather, complete with metallic arthritis to slam the point home. Despite his age Arnie handles his action scenes well, and though the film lacks a real ‘Hasta La Vista’ moment it’s a good performance, showing there’s plenty of life in the old bodybuilder yet.

Rounding out the cast are Jason Clarke, who makes for a convincing John Connor, and JK Simmonds and Matt Smith, sadly neither of whom get nearly enough screen time, although I think it’s a safe bet that if there are sequels, Smith at least will show up.

I liked Genisys probably more than I should have, and I realise a fair bit of that is down to nostalgia, but so what? It is nice to hear that Terminator theme again, it’s nice to see Arnie back in one of the roles that made him, and it’s nice to see that the Mother of Dragons is equally adept with a submachinegun. The franchise has been neutered somewhat, what began as a pure 18 certificate has turned into 12A summer blockbuster fare, but again can’t we blame Cameron for that to some extent? Sure T2 was a 15, but it was still a radical change from the franchise’s exploitation roots.

The script isn’t brilliant, the action is never quite awe-inspiring enough, and some of the casting is a little off, but it’s funny, well-paced, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, and though this might be damning it with faint praise, it’s clearly the third best film in the series, which is fair enough given I doubt anything could top the first two.

It might not be likely given its poor opening, but I think it’s safe to say that if there is a sequel, I’ll be back to watch it.

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