Arnie is back as the Terminator with a resounding clunk. While TERMINATOR GENISYS isn’t quite the mirthless Hunter-Killer crash TERMINATOR SALVATION was, it hasn’t earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as any of the first three films either, especially James Cameron’s originals. Speaking of Cameron, he endorsed this one over TERMINATOR 3 as the official third instalment of the franchise. Oh dear.
As the future war between machines and mankind draws to a close, Skynet’s secret weapon, a time machine, allows them to send an assassin back in time to end humanity’s resistance efforts before they begin. The resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) in hot pursuit to protect his mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) only to find she already has a guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The first half hour or so of Genisys is just fine. It’s a sort-of Terminator franchise greatest hits really, featuring a battle in the future, time travel back to 1984, new vs old Arnie and the (re-cast) T-1000. After that the film completely derails itself.
I get that there had to be callbacks – that’s partly what the fans are paying for. The recreation of Arnie’s nude arrival and confrontation with the biker gang from THE TERMINATOR works, as does the reprise of John Williams’ iconic musical cue for the reveal of aged Arnie ready to do battle with himself from 30 years ago. Oh by the way, you know that fight that has been hyped to death in every single trailer? It amounts to a pretty uninspiring 2 minutes of punching and conveniently placed shadows.
While the initial musical reprise works, I’ve no idea why director Alan Taylor, composer Lorne Balfe, and especially executive music producer Hans Zimmer thought it would be a good idea to use it again and again at the most inappropriate moments (the worst being when Arnie is literally just sitting down in the back of a truck). It’s just completely unnecessary, like bringing a claymore to a knife fight.
The great thing about the Terminator movies (Salvation aside) is that despite the twisty time travel mechanics they’ve always worked really well as linear chase movies. It always comes down to a simple game of cat-and-mouse between the evil robot of the day and [insert name] Connor and their designated protector. The biggest problem with Genisys (aside from the title) is that it has absolutely no momentum. There are too many story tangents that don’t go anywhere and rarely any clearly defined reasons for why characters make the decisions they do.
The returning characters, so well-defined in previous instalments here are vapid and unlikeable, mere shells of their previous portrayers. Emilia Clarke’s performance is fine, but she talks like a women from 2015 despite Sarah being from 1984 – particularly annoying given the amount of time and effort the crew have put into recreating the streets from the first film, even using the same colour palette and lighting – and somewhere along the way Sarah Connor has lost her edge too. Clarke is sadly no Linda Hamilton. Jai Courtney is certainly no Michael Biehn. He isn’t even an Anton Yelchin. Jason Clarke is clearly having a lot more fun playing his role than we are in watching him, but at least our laughing at Schwarzenegger is intentional – his (sometimes underrated) comic timing just about salvages several scenes.
The first three Terminators all had one jaw-dropping, usually practically achieved, action set piece. The Terminator had that spectacular petrol tanker explosion; T2 had the superlative LA flood channel chase; Terminator 3 had the sublimely destructive crane pursuit through the city. Here there’s really nothing of note. I’m writing this about 48 hours since seeing Genisys and I’m already struggling to recall much of anything. I think there was a helicopter chase in there somewhere, but I think the editing was a bit too quick to really appreciate it. If nothing else, you’d expect a big tentpole action movie like this to be able to deliver on the action. But I guess in the same year as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, every other action film will ultimately come up short.
It was a big mistake for the marketing team to ruin the only real twist in the tale almost out of the gate. I’m not going to spoil it here, but good luck avoiding it because they decided to put it on the poster! The whole enterprise just smacks of attempting too much too soon, Paramount executives’ desperate attempt to churn a few more of these out before Cameron gets his Intellectual Property back in 2019. A few smiles raised by Arnie back in his most famous role and the machines looking shinier than they ever have before can’t make up for such lacklustre efforts everywhere else. SSP