If you’re heading into Genisys expecting the second coming of Judgement Day you’re going to be sorely disappointed, just as you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you’re expecting a disaster on the scale of Terminator 3 or Salvation. What you will find is a movie that almost doesn’t seem to be striving for anything beyond mediocrity as it fumbles its way through twist after twist. If the post Judgement Day Terminator movies have taught us anything, it’s that they’re just not the same without writer/director James Cameron at the helm.
Things start off well enough though. The world as we know it is gone and we find ourselves in 2029 with John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the rebellion against the evil machines of Skynet, as he makes one final failed attempt to put an end to the war that has stricken humanity ever since the machines rose up on Judgement Day in 1997. Though Connor’s troops win the battle, they fail to win the war, with a CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger shaped T-800 being sent back in time by Skynet to kill John’s mother Sarah before she could give birth to her son. So far, so familiar. Sent to follow the T-800 back through time and protect Sarah is Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese, the future and past father to John Connor. All of which is essentially the plot to The Terminator, until….
Twist! This time around, Sarah’s not the meek waitress we met in The Terminator, instead she’s already the stone cold badass she became by T2, and – twist two! – she’s got her own Terminator to take care of the T-800 sent back to kill her, this time played by the actual Arnold Schwarzenegger whose T-800 is “old but not obsolete”, and programmed to protect Sarah Connor. Together Sarah, Kyle and Arnie’s Terminator (lovingly named “Pops” by Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor) must find a way to bring down Skynet before the war that destroys humanity ever begins.
If that all wasn’t convoluted enough for you, it only gets worse from here as the plot throws multiple timelines into the equation, wrapping itself up in its own twists to the point that logic goes out of the window. Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) simply doesn’t have as firm a hand on the tiller with the time travel elements as James Cameron did in The Terminator and T2, leading to a messy and frankly confusing middle act of the film. And this is all before even taking into consideration the events of Terminator 3 or Salvation, which are glossed over and best left forgotten to be honest.
Despite the confusion the initial meeting between Kyle, Sarah and “Pops” is actually well executed, essentially acting as an extended chase sequence as a liquid metal, shape shifting T-1000 (which has ALSO been sent back from the future) hunts down the heroes. Emilia Clarke handles the action well as Sarah Connor, but isn’t quite the force to be reckoned with that the original Sarah, Linda Hamilton, was in the first two instalments of the franchise. Clarke’s Sarah Connor and Courtney’s Kyle Reese also don’t exactly sizzle together, leaving their key romantic pairing feeling a little flat, if serviceable. Meanwhile Arnie is his usual self, putting in a performance which as expected does the job it needs to do, whilst showing that he can still manage action convincingly. Yes he’s kinda goofy, but he’s by no means the biggest issue the film has.
It’s when we reach twist three – the big one – that it all starts to really derail. If you’ve seen the trailer then you probably already know this one, but I won’t repeat it here for those who have not. In a plot that has more turns than a doorknob, it’s this one that throws the biggest spanner in the works and acts as the final nail in the coffin for logic. Rather than reeling it in here as you might think would be sensible, writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier decide to throw twist four into the mix at this point (because why not?) involving Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, with this one being exactly the sort of revelation liable to inflict fan rage.
In fairness to Genisys, besides this revelation it does actually keep silliness down to a minimum, as much as a film about self aware machines waging war against humanity can do. As expected there are plenty of lines recycled from The Terminator and T2 , with the film as much paying homage to its history as it is leeching of its better parts, but there’s nothing on par with the absurdity of the call backs in Terminator 3:
The majority of movie goers will be heading into Genisys for the action and in that respect they won’t feel short changed. There’s lots of it and it’s fairly impressively pulled off. But it’s a crutch that just barely holds up a film that had a great deal of potential. A sloppy handle on the increasingly complex and messy timeline undercuts anything genuinely decent to come out of Genisys leaving us with yet another failed attempt to recapture the magic of the Judgement Day.
A disappointing take on the Terminator franchise from director Alan Taylor which never threatens to reach the heights of its early predecessors. Big explosions and the novelty of seeing Schwarzenegger back as the T-800 can’t save Genisys from the befuddled plot. It’s undoubtedly the third best movie in the franchise, but that’s really not saying much considering the competition that the third and fourth films bring, but it still can’t hold a candle to the classics that are The Terminator and Judgement Day.
Rating (out of 5):