This sequel/prequel/cannot unsee-quel to The Terminator (and possibly T2. Pretend 3 and 4 didn’t happen) starts in familiar territory with everyone’s favourite futuristic super-soldier Kyle Reese being sent back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor from a robotic assassin, the menacing T-800. But instead of a naive young waitress, he finds a battle-hardened Sarah waiting for him with another T-800 that was sent back to protect her from a different terminator when she was 9, which she has named ‘Pops’ (yes, I almost cried too). A T-1000 is also sent back to 1984, leaving Kyle, Sarah and the 1973 T-800 to battle the T-1000 and the 1984 T-800. When that’s complete they build a time machine to go forward to 2017 to stop Judgement Day from happening (even though it was previously pencilled in for 1997). This is just the basic set-up of the film. If it sounds convoluted, that’s just the beginning.
This is a new low for a franchise which has been sorely lacking in creativity since part 2. It’s the point where the Terminator has been well-and-truly milked dry and has no reason to exist other than the availability of Arnold Schwarzenegger (at least one improvement on Salvation). James Cameron would be spinning in his grave if he was dead. As it is he probably just regrets losing half the rights to the franchise in his divorce from Terminator produce Gale Anne Hurd.
In an effort to show how aware it is of The Terminator it adopts an utterly baffling and nonsensical plot. Having all come from different time lines, one of Kyle, Sarah or Pops (Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger) always has the future knowledge needed to get out of the situation, no matter how convenient. Whiplash-inducing explanation strings together the random selection of action scenes in as little time as possible to get to the next explosion, giving us no time to stop and thing how crummy it all is.
Unlike Terminator Salvation which, set in a post-Judgement Day future, felt disconnected from the franchise’s roots, Genisys goes too far the other way. Scenes from 1984 are painstakingly reconstructed with a studious knowledge of the first film. But the plot convolutions needed to justify the 1984 scenes, and to explain the T-800s aged appearance, are too great. And in spite of the technical skill in the reconstructions literally no effort is made to make the re-cast characters look or act the same. They could have at least made their haircuts match up.
So little effort is made to make Clarke look like Sarah Connor, the famous photo of her from the future has had to be altered to show the new actor’s face. The characters are now bland plastic mannequins who look like they’ve just come from a Freederm ad, but lacking even the sincerity to convince us they use a skincare product, let alone that they can travel through time and the worst on-screen chemistry in a sci-fi prequel since Anakin and Padmé. It’s like Arnie has it written into his contract that he has to be the best actor in the movie, so they had to cast awful people in supporting roles.
Meanwhile the T-800 is supposedly more human than ever, having lived among humans for some 45 years, but this is just an excuse to undermine the character with lame comedy in every scene. Arnie himself has deteriorated significantly, forgetting how to play a character that should be effortless for him by now. When you’re upstaged by a computer generated version of your younger self it’s time to take a step back.
Overall there’s a sense that time travel cinema has outgrown Terminator, with Days of Future Past and Looper having taken up the mantle. Tensionless, bland, and uninteresting, attempts to recapture the original film end up feeling like an act of vandalism, in an entry to the franchise not even worth watching for die-hard fans. Don’t be lured in by the promise of an Arnie-on-Arnie fight – it’s time this franchise was confined to the scrap heap.