Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
The Terminator series hasn’t had an easy time regaining momentum since its superb second instalment seemed to close the book on any future sequels. Yet, it still managed to limp its way through a third and fourth outing, both of which were met with a lukewarm welcome from fans and critics alike. Much like the birth of Skynet itself though, further films in the franchise apparently cannot be avoided, merely postponed. And so here we are again, taking on the machines for a fifth time in sequel/prequel/reboot Terminator: Genisys.
While the plot of the film is needlessly complicated, perhaps the most confusing question it raises is that of which of the above three categories it most accurately falls into. Since T2, the ongoing narrative of these movies has become increasingly contrived and chaotic, but one thing has seemed certain up to this point; they do all follow the events of their predecessors.
Rise of the Machines very clearly continues on from Judgment Day and there’s nothing in Salvation to suggest that Christian Bale isn’t the very same John Connor previously played by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl. The fact that the fourth entry directly acknowledges events depicted in the first two and features Kate Connor – a character introduced in the third – all but confirms that it’s still attempting to build upon the story started by James Cameron in 1984. That being the case, one would assume that even if Genisys didn’t want to specifically reference all that came before it, it wouldn’t go out of its way to discredit anything.
But that’s seemingly exactly what it does at its first available opportunity. It’s no secret that the purpose of this movie was to reset the timeline in the vein of X-Men: Days of Future Past and 2009’s Star Trek. Although the difference is that those movies made a point of honouring what had preceded them. Terminator: Genisys, on the other hand, accepts that the first film happened and, aside from some ideas plucked from the second, nonchalantly brushes the last three entries under the rug before time travel even has a chance to change anything.
With a few harmless tweaks and the omission of a line here and there during the future prologue, Genisys could easily have left us to assume that it picks up eleven years after Salvation. It wouldn’t have prevented it from simultaneously hitting the reset button, nor would it have changed the plot or made it less accessible to new viewers. It just would have made it more satisfying for established fans and allowed it to fall more flawlessly in line with its forebears, while still achieving its goal of standing on its own two feet.
Having said that, in a paradox akin to the one created within the movie’s fictional reality itself, its most frustrating attribute also becomes something of an imperfect saving grace. This is because the sooner you give up on concerning yourself about continuity, realise that it’s not worth contemplating the illogical nature of the time travel and just turn your brain off, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy this for what it is; a daft and entertaining popcorn piece.
It’s true that Genisys is not the smart and slick Terminator film we were all hoping it would be and that it’s rife with missed opportunities. But it is a fast paced and exciting blockbuster in its own right. So the best thing that long time franchise fans can do is to forget about the rough edges and just enjoy the ride with which they’re presented. It might not sound like ideal advice, but it will probably save you from a huge headache.
And there is plenty to appreciate about this as a movie unto itself. For starters, the special effects are absolutely amazing. Consider how cool characters such as the T-1000 looked back in 1991 and imagine what can be done with today’s technology. The filmmakers have definitely spared no expense in the visuals department, that much is for sure.
The same is true of the action. One thing that Terminator: Genisys most assuredly is not is boring. It’s crammed full of thrilling set pieces and confrontations that keep the adrenaline pumping and the impetus extreme from the moment the title appears on screen. With cyborgs tearing chunks out of each other, cars careening around cities, exciting aerial pursuits and countless explosions and shots fired, there’s rarely a dull moment throughout the two hour run-time.
It may lack the depth and sense of consequence of Cameron’s originals, and unfortunately the tension isn’t as palpable as it may have been had the marketing campaign not ruined a major plot twist, but it does make for fun, if shallow, watching. At the same time, it’s not completely without heart, thanks to impressive turns by two of its lead actors, especially good old Arnie.
Yes, beloved action legend Arnold Schwarzenegger is back! Returning to the role that originally made him an international sensation, – albeit technically playing his fourth different character in the franchise to date – Arnie is without a doubt the best thing about this movie. His portrayal of this particular Terminator lands somewhere between those of the second and third movies in terms of ferocity and humour.
It works marvellously and Schwarzenegger is clearly having a great time revisiting the part. His enthusiasm to embrace the character both on screen and off really makes you want to root for him as an actor and as a fictional construct. Seeing Arnie in action again alone is worth the ticket price. He also enjoys some surprisingly touching chemistry with female lead, Emilia Clarke.
Anyone who watches Game of Thrones knows how adept and likable an actress Clarke is and that shines through into her take on Sarah Connor. She does well in channeling elements of Linda Hamilton’s definitive performance, while also adding her own splendid spin to the character. Clarke is definitely capable of great things and she and Schwarzenegger effortlessly outdo the rest of their cast mates. Her wonderful rapport with Arnie’s on screen persona allows her to enact some genuinely affecting moments.
Unfortunately, there’s not as much praise to be thrust upon Jai Courtney’s portrayal of Kyle Reese. To be fair, he doesn’t actually do anything particularly terrible, he just doesn’t do anything particularly great either. This is mainly due to the fact that Courtney feels extremely miscast in the role. He neither remotely resembles Michael Biehn, nor exhibits any of the traits of his iconic iteration of the hero out of time. Anton Yelchin did a spectacular job of paying homage to Biehn as a younger version of the Tech-Com sergeant in Salvation. It’s a tremendous shame that he didn’t get to do so again here.
The problem that Jason Clarke comes up against as he steps into the shoes of Resistance leader John Connor is that so many people have worn those shoes by now that it’s hard to care any more. Humanity’s saviour has become more of a concept than a character, but at least Furlong, Stahl and Bale were all playing the same person. The questionable continuity of Genisys means that it’s not clear if we’re supposed to have met this John Connor already, which leaves him feeling hollow and underdeveloped.
Of the rest of those involved, Lee Byung-hun excellently imitates the mannerisms of Robert Patrick’s T-1000. It’s only a pity that he’s not afforded more of an opportunity to do so. And the arc that J.K. Simmons is given as Detective O’Brien was a potentially interesting one that ended up being largely wasted.
All in all though, Terminator: Genisys isn’t the disaster it could have been. The tone and intensity of its progenitors have been vetoed in favour of something more family friendly and it certainly doesn’t serve as a satisfactory sequel as far as continuity and clarification go. But once you get beyond these drawbacks and view it as a standalone story, the unrelenting action and admirable efforts of Arnie and Emilia Clarke make for an adequately arresting summer thrill-fest.
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