Despite being the fifth film in an ageing series it’s best to forget everything you thought you knew about the Terminator as director Alan Taylor (‘Thor 2: The Dark World’) and co. skew the timeline and alter characters to truly reset all that has come before. It’s a bold move, and one that the devoted fanbase won’t take kindly to, but movie audiences in 2015 aren’t the same as they were in 1984 (when the original film was released) and as much as this fourth sequel has a built-in audience to satisfy, the viewers of today need to feel it’s a film, and potential franchise, they can rally behind.
With the James Cameron-less sequels not living up to the standard set by the (still) stand-out ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991), with 2009’s ‘Terminator: Salvation’ arguably viewed as the series’ lowest point, ‘Terminator: Genisys’ at least wins the smallest of victories in that Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned, and we can all agree that these films shouldn’t be made without him; the intimidating Austrian emerging as the best thing on offer with his generous contributions of self-deprecating humour proving how much he has to offer, even when working with the slightest material. On the subject of said material there’s been much said about just how drastic a change to the series timeline ‘Genisys’ toys with, making this like the ‘Back to the Future 2’ of ‘Terminator’ sequels, and the more you think about it, the greater your head will hurt in trying to logically work out just what has happened.
As we’ve come to know through the first two films Skynet, the self-aware, artificially intelligent operating system that set out to destroy mankind on the basis that humanity would impede its capabilities in safeguarding the world, has been defeated and human resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who has been targeted for termination. Upon his arrival Kyle is unprepared when Sarah is already aware of the threat on her life, having been raised by a paternal T-800 (Schwarzenegger) the expected timeline has been fractured and now the three of them must face a new threat as Judgement Day plans to launch in 2017. As I said before, it’s a bold move and its clear director Taylor and writers Patrick Lussier & Laeta Kalogridis are working under the best of intentions but the idea to alter the story so heavily works both in the film’s favour and against it. ‘Genisys’ truly succeeds to those who have no knowledge of the first two films (the only ‘Terminator’ films this film acknowledges) and if they aren’t aware of what they’re missing out on, I dare say there’s plenty of fun to be had. Puritans will think differently, and so they should, as there’s always a risk in tampering with the familiar and the 2015 character realisations of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, so masterfully created by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in the original, pale in comparison.
On their own merits Courtney and Clarke work as well as they can with the material presented. None of their dialogue sounds natural, and their chemistry doesn’t exactly set things alight, but both of them comfortably fit the action hero mould. As for Jason Clarke as John Connor, there’s much to be said on how his character has been handled (the trailers for the film have opted to reveal the biggest alteration, I will resist) and it sadly betrays everything we have come to know about him, but Clarke still revels in this opportunity and delivers suitably. On the supporting side of things, J.K. Simmons pops up briefly as the obligatory comic relief though winds up being one of the year’s most useless characters, but Byung Hun-Lee proves a worthy additive as the lethally-bladed T-1000 who brings to memory the psychotic sleekness Robert Patrick adopted in ‘T2’.
Action-wise the film certainly delivers on a series of wildly choreographed sequences, with today’s special effect technology being utilized to the best of their ability; the highlight being the Schwarzenegger of today facing off against his 1984 counterpart, the scene near-flawless in its execution. Gotta love modern technology!
The intent of ‘Genisys’ is clearly to kickstart a new series of ‘Terminator’ films, and the ending here (not to mention a telling post-credit sequence) certainly indicates this direction but is this a case of too little, too late. Overall this 4th entrant won’t leave fans salivating for more, instead the likely new (uneducated) audience it plays to will reward it accordingly, and if Arnie is indeed going to be back, he’ll need a little more cohesion to play with.
My rating: 3/5
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke
Classification: M (Science Fiction Violence and Infrequent Coarse Language)
Review by Peter Gray