Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt(hew) Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
As far as the Terminator series goes, I think I’m just about in the same camp as everyone else. I think that The Terminator is an all-round great film and that Judgement Day is the mind-blowing sequel that managed to surpass the original in almost every conceivable way. Rise of the Machines is when things went downhill and when the franchise started to lose the plot. However I will say this for the threequel, I remember it. I remember it being really awful and really stupid but I still remember it. The most I can say about Terminator Salvation is that I’ve seen it. Beyond that there is nothing else to say; I cannot for the life of me remember what the hell happened in that film nor did I care to remind myself. Thus, with two great films and two bad films hanging in the balance, the fifth instalment in the Terminator series could potentially make or break this franchise once and for all. A shame then that Genisys has turned out to be such a soulless ill-executed film that ranks amongst the worst in the franchise.
In the futuristic apocalyptic world where man and machine are engaged in a devastating war John Connor (Jason Clarke), with Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) at his side, has led humanity to the verge of victory. Skynet has chosen this moment to employ its secret weapon, a time machine, and has sent a T800 back to 1984 to kill John Connor’s mother. Kyle is sent back as well to protect her but something goes wrong when John is suddenly attacked by a mysterious figure (Matt(hew) Smith). He lands in an alternative 1984 where Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is already aware of Kyle Reese and his mission and ends up saving him from the T1000 (Lee Byung-hun) with the aid of Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an aged T800 that was sent back to save Sarah during her childhood. That is more or less the point where the plot stops making sense.
At the risk of coming across as an angry fanboy rather than a dissatisfied viewer, this film really pissed me off. Admittedly the many flaws in this film probably would not have bothered me as much if the title did not contain the word ‘Terminator’, but that’s the price of tackling a beloved franchise. Living up to the high expectations of an impassioned fan-base is no easy task which is why the studio better be sure that the creative minds behind the film actually care about the franchise and adequately understand how it works. Failure to meets these requirements will be regarded by the fan-base as more than a let-down, it will be regarded as an insult. Jurassic World may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but the audience can at least recognise that some care and effort went into its inception. Thus when a film like The Last Airbender comes along, an uninspired film that demonstrates a severe lack of any regard for the franchise or its fans, it is met with the utmost aggression. It is not enough for fans of Star Wars to hate the prequels; legions of them, almost religious in their devotion to the original trilogy, have dedicated themselves to deconstructing the prequels right down to the barebones and pointing out every single conceivable thing that’s wrong with them. Terminator Genisys is therefore much more than a bad film; it is an insipid, lacklustre, faithless affront to everything that was good about the original Terminator films.
Now that I’ve got my fanatical ravings out of my system I’ll delve more into what was wrong with this film in a more (hopefully) constructive way. I think perhaps the film’s biggest mistake was thinking that the secret to making a good sequel is to make allusions and references to the original films. Thus we are presented with revived catchphrases and reconstructed scenes that ended up doing little to capture the excitement and thrills of the original films. So focused were the filmmakers on inserting references to the film’s predecessors that they forgot to add the interesting characters, compelling stories and the mind-blowing action that made the originals classics in the first place. The characters in this film may have the same names as their original counterparts, but they share little else in common. Arnold Schwarzenegger probably comes the closest to capturing the character he so effectively portrayed in the originals, but he has considerably aged since then. The film does address this, describing their incarnation of the T800 as “old, not obsolete”, but I simply wasn’t convinced that this was the same intimidating, unstoppable force of machinery that he originated so long ago. The film’s versions of Sarah Connor, John Connor and Kyle Reese do little to provide their actors with workable material as they barely manage to display a single characteristic between them.
The Terminator franchise is famous for having one of the most confusing and erratic timelines of all time and this film only makes it worse. The very idea of this Back-to-the-Future-II-esque alternative reality is a lot for the viewers to wrap their heads around but from there it only gets even more convoluted and confusing. The tired exposition and nonsensical scientific mumbo-jumbo does little to clarify what follows as the film ventures from the silly to the ridiculous. The plot twist involving John Connor that the filmmakers saw fit to include in the trailer is just as absurd as the advert promised. The action sequences are generically ho-hum for the most part and fail to offer anything new or creative. One clunky fight scene involving two T800s springs to mind that only served to remind me of how much Arnold Schwarzenegger has really aged. Overall it boils down to one gargantuan mess of a film.
Looking back on what is probably the harshest review I’ve ever written about a film thus far, I wonder whether I’m being too harsh on this film. It is fair to say that I have actively allowed my feelings on the original Terminator films to shape my judgement on this new instalment and so perhaps I should have made more of an effort to criticise this film on its own terms. On the other hand this film has so inextricably linked itself to its predecessors that I didn’t feel like I could bring myself to isolate it. When I saw the bland offerings of the formerly iconic characters of the franchise and the many forced allusions and references to the original films, all I could think about was how much I’d rather be watching The Terminator or Judgement Day than Genisys. I’m not going to pretend that the original films are flawless and do not have their own fair shares of plot-holes and faults, but the fundamental difference is that I was completely invested in those films because of how much there is to enjoy and get excited about in them. Genisys offers nothing of worth to its audience. This film is utterly devoid of thought, reason and heart. It may not objectively be the worst film to come out this year and may not even be the worst sequel this series has spawned, but it is an unworthy addition to the franchise and we as an audience deserve much better.