TERMINATOR GENISYS REVIEW
Director: Alan Taylor
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Matt Smith
Genre: Sci-Fi / Action
Rated: PG-13/12 A
Running Time: 2 hours /6 minutes approx.
The Future: Mankind is being wiped out, systematically. SKYNET (a self-aware artificial intelligence) and its army of killer ‘Terminator’ robots are impossible to defeat, it seems. Except one leader thinks differently. John Connor (Jason Clarke) legendary leader of the resistance, is inspiring new drives forward by human rebels. As they approach an ambitious battle against the machine menace, they discover a new threat.
The Terminators have learned time travel and are intent on changing history once more by destroying Connor and his timeline. So John sends a human warrior, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to protect his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke). But John is ambushed just as Kyle is sent back, thereby fracturing the timelines. Kyle arrives in 1984 to find that Sarah is ready and waiting and protected already by her very own ‘Guardian’ Terminator or ‘Pops’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Is the future set? Or can mankind be saved once more?
It’s appropriate that this is a movie about alternate timelines. Because there are two approaches that one can take in viewing this new movie. The first is a reverent love for the original Terminator films from James Cameron. Adopt that outlook and yes, of course, you will leave the experience feeling disappointed and dejected.
If you go in recognising that the franchise’s best days are long behind it but accepting Arnold Schwarzenegger can still be an entertaining action hero in a popcorn summer blockbuster? You will be fine. The cinematic past is ‘set’ and cannot be recaptured. But your future is not: go in with minimal expectation and brain in neutral. You might – just might – have a little FUN!
It’s also appropriate that the movie centres on robots and their destruction or salvation of the planet. A robot is functional: it has a programme to execute and is judged on whether its mission is accomplished. A Director and /or actor is similar in a sense. Defined by the limits of mission.
Sometimes, there are higher functioning models with self-aware inspiration and creativity (models such as the James Cameron Director). Their output will always exceed competitors and set a high standard for the industry.
But it is possible to be a standard, functional and perfectly adequate success; pitching somewhere between visionary leader and the failure; without being a ‘hack’. For that balance, I recommend the Alan Taylor directorial model.
Efficient, clear, precise, accurate and always hitting its mark; knowing limitations whilst avoiding mediocrity: THAT’S Taylor’s style. He applied it before with Thor: The Dark World (fun, self-contained, unpretentious filler film for Marvel). And now he’s done it again with Terminator: Genisys.
It goes without saying that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the main attraction here. You want to see your old hero back in the game in a leading role that’s worthy of his comedic and action-man credentials. Shame that it took him so long to get this one made.
Arnie’s been available for movie work now since at least 2012 post Governorship and has made what seem like a series of damp squibs at the Box Office. Expendables was fun but does not really ‘count’ as it’s an ensemble effort. He must be kicking himself for not simply getting that amendment to the Constitution to enable his Presidency of the USA.
This movie is a much needed reminder of what Arnie does best: playing a killer robot with a softer side; creating awkward social comedy and looking VERY cool walking through doors and loading guns. He’s not QUITE the force of nature action threat he once was, though the script references that fact rather cleverly (Terminator skin ages like normal humans).
It might have been better to go with the ‘he’s the original scientist that built the machine prototype’ idea that was mooted? But the aging robot idea apparently came straight from James Cameron himself so let’s just accept the premise as canon.
It’s great to see him back, anyway. This franchise simply does not exist without Arnold Schwarzenegger (2009’s Terminator: Salvation suffered for his absence save a quick nod, despite being a solid action film).
There’s no suiting up in biking leathers or donning a pair of shades and no real ambiguity to his programming this time round (franchise staples of the past). But he’s in good shape and is served well by not being asked to do too much that might stretch credibility, even within the limits of science fiction. You’ll get the requisite blast of nostalgia, coupled with a new and welcome spin. In some senses, it’s sad to see that even a Terminator cannot beat the clock. Equally though, you’re just glad that he’s ‘back’.
Jai Courtney arguably makes yet another play here to be crowned the next action hero. He’s tried before with Arnold’s fellow Expendable and Planet Hollywood host, Bruce Willis (see: A Good Day to Die Hard; actually DON’T see it as it’s awful).
Jai plays Kyle Reese, replacing Michael Biehn from the original 1984 film. This is a functional action man as supporting player: he fulfils his mission as an actor here, same as the character in the film. Jai is edging closer to leading man status but he’s not quite there yet. The rise of Chris Pratt in other franchise reboots probably has done him few favours, too. But he’s competent and watchable. He’s just no Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that’s the whole point.
Trailers have already given away the game, so there is no risk of spoilers here when I say that John Connor is the macguffin and the villain here. It’s an interesting concept and a shame it takes half the movie for it to start up as a premise to the advancing action. It reduces the preceding scenes to mere filler.
Jason Clarke is fine in the role: suitably creepy as villain and a brotherly leader when playing nice. He’s a good actor (Zero Dark Thirty) and becoming something of a talisman for franchise sequels (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
Unfortunately, Clarke is not connected to the film’s past. Neither is Courtney. Nor is Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor (she’s lovely and does a fine job here and is a star; she’s just not Linda Hamilton). We have no emotional connection to these actors’ realisation of older characters, each of whom have been played before. John Connor has now been played by as many actors as James Bond.
Edward Furlong, Nick Stahl, Christian Bale and now Jason Clarke (plus the blink and you’ll miss it cameos from the future-scape in the first two movies): they’ve all assumed the mantle of the character. Connor therefore remains an elusive plot device rather than fully developed character. There is no continuity here and that hurts a movie that now revolves around conflicting timelines in the franchise’s history.
If they can give us older Arnie vs his younger model self via the magic of CGI and editing, then would it have been SO hard to integrate some of the other series’ stars? Even in quick cameo? Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield, Earl Boen: ANY and /or ALL of those surely deserved a nod?
You are waiting for such appearances as the film sets up a kind of Back to the Future 2 style meddling with past movie’s events premise. It never happens. Missed opportunity: ESPECIALLY in a film that DEALS with TIME TRAVEL!!
There is even a slavish recreation of sets and sequences from the first Terminator film in 1984. They need not have bothered. All it does is reduce the related script and story to what feel like bad, meta- fan fiction on a big budget, whilst also making the original movie look superior in its (then) lower budget execution and resulting atmospherics.
JK Simmons is thrown in half way through the film. Presumably as an additional point of comic relief? It’s a pointless part and he’s above playing it. Matt ‘Dr Who’ Smith pops up, too. Blink and you’ll miss him. Glad he made it to Hollywood. Shame it’s such a small part.
Weirdest of all? They go so far as recreating (and re-casting!) the scenes from the first Terminator film with the Bill Paxton punk. WHHHHYYYY? Would they have had to pay Bill some residuals to use the original footage? Could they not have left it out altogether and just put it down to timeline convergence? Bizarre. And utterly pointless.
There’s no real imagination here and the tagging on of old symbols such as a T-1000 without using the old actors or truly advancing a new story makes much of this whole movie look and feel redundant. Consequently, the pace lags on occasion and there is little to no sense of real urgency, jeopardy or impending horror that defined the first two films.
Terminator 1 worked so well partly because it was a simple slasher film that happened to use a robotic machine rather than axe murder or ghost as its antagonist; but its vibe was very much Halloween meets Mad Max. There’s NONE of that atmospheric magic here.
Terminator 2 worked because they varied the T-800 killing machine and made it a hero, coupled with the special effects innovations of the T-1000 and a clear moral about humanity and peace vs machines and war.
This effort (part five; let’s forget the silly subtitle) has none of those merits, either. Its special effects are fine but there’s nothing that reinvents the wheel and there are few moments of horror, terror or even thrilling peril that truly convince or compel.
But as I said at the start: your levels of enjoyment and appreciation here are governed by expectation and comparison. IF you hold up the Cameron original classics the standard to which this effort must be compared, then of course, you will not be happy. If, however, you respect those previous movies and appreciate they were at once lightening a bottle brilliant – yet NOT QUITE the inspired works of perfect genius that many claim – then Terminator: Genisys will be a fine, fun blast of popcorn cinema.
It looks good. There are one or two solid action sequences (the bunkers). Plenty of sex appeal (Emilia and Jai). Some decent laughs. And a big, warm, welcome blast of nostalgia and hope for the future by having Arnold Schwarzenegger back to his best in action on the big screen at last.
Those factors alone save the movie and mean it’s watchable and passable, despite not necessarily being unmissable. It won’t win awards or leave one begging for more sequels; but neither is it deserving of derision or ‘termination’.
Satisfying. Adequate. Does what it says on the Titanium Alloy. Perfectly fine FUN. Grade B-