Terminator: Genisys Review - Arnie Tries Desperately to Save This Once-Great Franchise

Thursday, 25 June 2015 - 8:55AM
Terminator: Genisys
Reviews
Thursday, 25 June 2015 - 8:55AM
Terminator: Genisys Review - Arnie Tries Desperately to Save This Once-Great Franchise
Arnold Schwarzenegger returns for his fourth Terminator movie, and while the living embodiment of this franchise's ethos is once again in his element, he's unable to save what feels like a completely unnecessary addition to a story that should have ended with James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day back in 1991.

From the moment the very first details began to emerge about Alan Taylor's movie, there was a sense that something wasn't quite right. From the bizarrely-spelled title to the knowledge that Genisys would "change the Terminator timeline", even the hardiest of Terminator fans has struggled to get truly pumped up for the fifth entry into this classic Hollywood franchise. With low expectations in hand, I went to Terminator: Genisys in the hope that I could be pleasantly surprised. And while Genisys didn't disappoint on a universal level, it did unfortunately live up to fans' low expectations. 



Using time-travel as the convenient tool with which to rip up the rule book, Terminator: Genisys sends us back to the birthplace of the franchise; Los Angeles, 1984. But as Emilia Clarke's soundbite from the trailer tells us, "Everything has changed." 

Before sending us back in time, the movie opens in the original timeline with humanity - led by the heroic John Connor- on the brink of a major victory over Skynet's machines. As short lived as they were, these futuristic battle scenes served as a high octane opening to the movie, especially when viewed through a set of 3D glasses, and gave hope that this would actually be a decent action flick. But with victory over the machines assured, John Connor reveals that Skynet has initiated a failsafe which sees an original T-800 terminator (in the mold of a young Schwarzenegger) sent back to 1984 in an attempt to kill Sarah Connor and prevent humanity's saviour from ever being born. And so it begins. Enter Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), John Connor's right hand man who boldly volunteers to travel back in time to save the woman who, even though they've never met, we're meant to believe he has fallen in love with.

Some of the movie's best scenes occur back in the franchise's original 1984 setting, which introduces a host of familiar scenes, characters and nods to the franchise's history. The shots of the computer generated 'young Arnie' were quite remarkable, and in a Q&A after the screening, Schwarzenegger revealed that the creation of this retro T-800 took almost an entire year for VFX teams to put together. It was time well spent, because as meta as it seemed in the trailers, seeing Arnie's older T-800 battling a younger version of himself delivered exactly the sort of thrills you expect from a blockbuster movie.

We're also introduced to another semi-familiar face in the shape of Byung-hun Lee's T-1000. The relentless metal shapeshifter that was first introduced in Judgement Day mysteriously appears on the scene of Kyle Reese's entry into 1984, just before Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) rides in to save the time traveller's bacon. But before you know it, the villainous T-800 and T-1000 have been dispatched by a well prepared Sarah Connor and her T-800 guardian who she has cutely named, Pops.



One of the movie's key struggles comes in trying to establish a chemistry between the newly-formed heroic trio of Pops, Sarah, and Kyle. While Schwarzenegger delivers on this front, there is little to convince you that there is any real feeling between Kyle and Sarah. Terminator: Genisys should have been as much a movie about the founding of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor's relationship as it is about killer robots, but the script never gives us a chance to care about this crucial aspect of its story. Instead, the lack of chemistry between Clarke and Courtney is completely overshadowed by some touching moments between the former and Schwarzenegger.

Adding a flourish of personality to his classic Terminator portrayal, Schwarzenegger is far and away the star of the show. Schwarzenegger's performance is surprisingly well-rounded given the robotic nature of his character, but it's in the action scenes where he really surprises. At 67 years young, Schwarzenegger was remarkably hands on with a lot of his stunts, giving many of the movie's fight scenes a handy dose of reality, grit and raw power. As the trailer suggests, Schwarzenegger also adds a nice amount of comic relief, whether it be from a cheesy smile or a sly scoping of Kyle Reese's manhood, many of the movie's best bits stem from the action hero's perfomance.

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger's performance is still not enough to drag Terminator: Genisys out of the mire caused by the decision to spoil the movie's big twist during its trailers. Had the studio opted to keep John Connor's robotic nature a surprise, it would have given fans a real post-movie talking point that unfortunately was completely lacking elsewhere. But even after the reveal, this nanobot John Connor simply doesn't offer the same level of terror provided by the likes of a T-1000 or T-800. Even when he's stripped of his human skin, John Connor suffers from the same cartoon-like appearance issues as the titular hero of Avengers: Age of Ultron. What made the robots of the first two Terminator movies so terrifying was their relentless urge to kill and their completely expressionless faces, which one would normally associate with a stone-cold killer. None of this is present after Terminator: Genisys's first 30 minutes, and the movie suffers fatally as a consequence.

Worse than the movie's 'big-bad' is its ridiculous timeline. While time travel may be a convenient plot device, its overuse is a surefire way to ruin a movie. Genisys attempts to reset the franchise's timeline, but instead threatens to take away everything that made James Cameron's creation great. The attempts at displaying multiple timelines and talks of "nexus points" in time are half-hearted, and as soon as Kyle Reese travels back in time, the movie becomes bogged down it its own over-complicated narrative. 

Alan Taylor deserves praise for the painstaking manner in which he created his homage to James Cameron's original works, but in doing so he has highlighted the massive disparity in quality between those movies and the subsequent sequels. Were it not for Arnold Schwarzenegger's presence and passion, this movie would arguably rank on a par with the awful Terminator: Salvation. Instead, it's a confused movie with some entertaining moments that feels slightly less-contrived than its 2009 predecessor.

Extra bits
- Was Matt Smith in this movie? 
- If you are a Matt Smith fan, Terminator: Genisys's post-credits scene will give you some hope.
- J.K Simmons is excellent at delivering some much needed comic relief. We need more JK Simmons.

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