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Published on July 6th, 2015 | by Michael

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Terminator: Genisys – Review

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Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room – The Terminator franchise is bad and has been for years. 1984’s The Terminator is a bona fide classic, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is as good as any sequel has a right to be. Personally speaking, I prefer the first film but it’s a matter of taste.

Since then though, oh dear. The Rise of The Machines  was one long car chase and not in a cool Fury Road way. It even featured a Terminator clearly inferior to the Liquid Model of the previous film. Salvation was when the franchise finally stopped being such a tease and actually set the film in the post-apocalyptic future. It was supposed to be the first in a new trilogy but this was not to be, partly because the production company filed for bankruptcy but mostly because the film was unremittingly terrible.

Ignoring the TV series, like most of the planet, we get to the new film, Terminator: Genisys, a film that has two spelling mistakes in a two word title. The new film has the blessing of the director of the first two films, James Cameron and attempts to homage those films and retcon the previous two out of existence. Retconning like this can work in a film franchise, as shown by X-Men: Days of Future Past (in conjunction with X-Men : First Class). That worked though because they had something compelling with which to replace the unwanted parts. What has Genisys got to offer?

To its credit, the film does have one new twist on the original Terminator idea. In this film, when Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back through time, he doesn’t arrive in the past that spawned his future (if that makes sense). Instead, he is met by an already battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Emlia Clarke, picking up where her Game of Thrones co-star Lena Heady left off) and her pet Terminator, an aged T-800 model. Clarke looks far more like Linda Hamilton’s Connor than she has any right to, though her version of the character isn’t really similar to either version that we’re familiar with. She’s not the gruff, half crazed Sarah of Judgement Day but she is hugely capable, helping take down both a T-800 and a T-100 then were sent to an increasingly crowded 1984. This is where Genisys seems a bit to beholden to the first film, recreating several classic sequences. In fairness, they were prevented from actually just reusing them, because the studio, Paramount, couldn’t secure the rights. Either way, it does feel like they’re trying to remind us of when the films were good.

Terminator Genisys Sarah Connor

With all this out of the way, the film can try and strike out on its own. Kyle Reese has started remembering a life he didn’t have, courtesy of witnessing a monumentally important event as he was thrust back through time. There’s a certain joy in watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 explain the intricacies of time travel without apparent irony even if Courtney’s ‘I don’t understand a word’ banter is a little stale. Informed by Reese’s new memories, our heroes decide to go to San Francisco in 2017 to prevent Skynet, now styling itself as Genisys, from becoming operational.

‘We can’t be wearing anything’ Sarah tells Kyle at one point.

‘I know how time travel works!’ comes his unintentionally hilarious reply.

The poor T-800 has to travel the long way, allowing Schwarzenegger to play the role looking his own age (it is explained that the human tissue on a Terminator ages normally). Schwarzenegger may be past his prime but he still brings it as a sympathetic terminator, once again sent back by the resistance to help the Connor family. The issue of his age is addressed head on – ‘Old, not obsolete’ is the repeated refrain. It’s hard to think now that Arnie’s original T-800 was once one of cinema’s most terrifying villains, so powerful is the image now of him as a robot protector.

Terminator Genisys

Arnie trying to look like he’s enjoying this shit

In the future of 2017, everyone is eagerly anticipating the release of Genisys, an operating system that seamlessly links all your devices and allows you to live your entire life online, which frankly sounds horrendous even without the knowledge that it will wipe most of mankind out in nuclear fire. More than most films, Genisys gave away too much in the trailer but on the assumption that not everyone has seen it, I’ll limit myself to saying that John Connor turns up in San Francisco, played by Jason Clarke, the sixth (!) actor to play him, making him pretty much the Tracy Barlow of resistance leaders. From there, things unravel with a tedious inevitability as once again the heroes prepare to assault Cyberdyne, who are once again determined to inadvertently bring about the end of days. Thankfully, some relief comes from police detective O’Brien (J.K Simmons), whom Sarah and Kyle saved from the T-1000 in 1984. He has spent the intervening decades obsessed by what he saw, leading him to drink. ‘Damn time travelling robots covering their tracks!’ he snarls at one point. He does provide invaluable assistance though and is just about the only character in the entire franchise so far who believes the truth the first time he is told it.

Terminator: Genisys is an attempt to recapture the magic of the first two films but it’s really little more than a pale imitation. And while it might try and retcon the mistakes of previous films, it makes a fair few of its own. Why does a simple infiltration unit like the T-800 possess the knowledge and ability to create a time machine? How can Kyle Reese and John Connor makes helicopters fly manoeuvres that it would be hard to pull off in an X-Wing? Why would Skynet disguise itself as the world’s most famous time traveller? Yes, Matt Smith appears in this film as the embodiment of Skynet. Early on, in the grim future, a panning shot of the resistance fighters shows Matt Smith stood among them. It’s obvious as soon as you see him that he’s up to no good, or why else would they have cast Smith in such a role?

No doubt Genisys will make a packet at the box office but in truth it’s not even a brave failure. It’s a safe, join-the-dots entry into a franchise that became obsolete, not just old, years ago.

 

Michael

Michael comes from the middle ground between light and shadow, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. He will write on comics, TV and film, plus anything else that might occur to him.

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