Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the Terminator but is this latest adventure for cinema’s most iconic cyborg any good? Ryan Pollard finds out…
John Connor sends his best friend Kyle Reese back through time (in a self-referential way) to 1984 to rescue his mother Sarah from the original murderous Terminator. However, when Reese arrives he finds Sarah already armed and ready for combat, under the protection of an ageing Terminator known as either ‘The Guardian’ or ‘Pops’. So due to a “nexus”, the entire timeline has been corrupted, nothing is as it should be and all bets are off as a brand new threat arises.
James Cameron said that this was a worthy sequel to his first two Terminator films, which goes to wonder how much money he got to say all that because is it a great and worthy sequel? Not really, but it is marginally better than both the average Rise of the Machines and the god-awful Salvation, although that’s not really saying much. It starts out promising with the first 20 minutes being perfectly enjoyable, but it increasingly becomes frustrating. The plot becomes convoluted to the point where you start to wonder what the hell is happening on screen in the last 45 minutes. The genius of the first Terminator film was its simplicity, having a smart sci-fi concept that you could understand quite easily, and the second film may have been a bit more complicated, yet it wasn’t too complicated, you could still understand it and it was more action-focused. Putting Rise of the Machines and Salvation aside, Genisys is trying to be all things to all people that you genuinely don’t know what just happened by the time it finishes, and there’s so much missed opportunity, you’d wished they had made more effort.
The comedy is good for the most part, and there are pleasures to be had, but yet it can seem a bit “been there, done that”. You feel as though you have seen this before and done better in the first two films. Yet, it is admirable seeing the great care and attention-to-detail used in order to recreate classic moments from the first film, and it’s a nice novelty seeing the events of the older movies from a new perspective, but this alone does a great movie make. The look of the film looked too clean and sterile, especially in the third act where it just looked fake, and the film would’ve benefited from having a dark and grungy aesthetic like in the originals. The CGI holds up really well, but there were some scenes (particularly during the end helicopter chase) where you felt like as if you were watching a cartoon, but it looked great for the most part, and the young T-800 effects look much better here than they did in Salvation.
The performances are a mixed bag overall with some okay, some badly cast and some being given bad things to do. Admittedly, it’s great seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger back as the T-800, and he plays the character so well, being the perfect combination of killer robot and humanised protective father figure. The backstory with him and Sarah Connor does make sense and the relationship between him and Sarah works incredibly well. However, it’s just a shame this is never properly delved into or explored more as we only just get fleeting glimpses of their emotional conflict on screen. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke does try her best, giving it one hundred percent, yet at times, she just doesn’t seem like Sarah Connor. This meant to be the same Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and yet you don’t really believe that this can be the same person. Clarke does give a good performance, yet she lacks the grit and world-weariness of Linda Hamilton, and her youthful appearance does make her look like a teenager.
Jason Clarke is a great actor as demonstrated through films like Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but he just doesn’t work as John Connor, primarily because of the content he’s been given to do, making his role a thankless task. If you’ve seen the trailers, they contain one of the worst plot spoilers that’s been seen for such a long time, showing you just what his character actually is and blowing that huge twist out of the water. Never been a fan of Jai Courtney in the past after giving lacklustre performances in A Good Day to Die Hard, the Divergent series and I, Frankenstein, but this film demonstrates how much of a charisma vacuum he is. He is like Shia LaBeouf’s less troublesome cousin, and with this film, he has absolutely none of the charisma Michael Biehn brought to the role of Kyle Reese, and he just ends up being a waste of space like before. God knows what he’ll do with Captain Boomerang in next year’s Suicide Squad. JK Simmons has a nice little arc, but his part is just small in the grand scheme of things, and former Doctor Who Matt Smith barely gets a look in, amounting to nothing more than a glorified cameo.
In the end, Terminator Genisys can be entertaining and enjoyable, but for all the wrong reasons. While it lacks the emotional weight and gravitas of the first two films, it respected the mythology of the franchise far more than Rise of the Machines or Salvation did. The call-backs to the originals are superbly well done and you are just awash in a sea of nostalgia. However, unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, the new stuff presented here just doesn’t hold up, and as a result, the film risks devolving into a generic action movie with the plot elements of Terminator 2 and 3 thrown in for good measure. For a film that is supposed to be both a reinvigoration of the franchise and the launching pad for a new trilogy, it suffers the same pitfalls as The Amazing Spider-Man films had by setting up questions for future movies to answer, but leaving audience confused and unsatisfied by making the movie feel incomplete.