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. However, when he arrives expecting to find a naive young waitress, he finds 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 it and the 1984 T-800. When that’s complete they use a time displacement field Sarah and ‘Pops’ have built in the 80s (somehow) 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, instead of still being at the cutting edge of film making while other far less worthy film makers try and make an easy buck off a great idea he had 30 years ago. As it is he probably just regrets losing half the rights to the franchise in his divorce from Terminator produce Gale Anne Hurd. Unlike Terminator Salvation which, set entirely in the future with no time travel elements, felt disconnected from the franchise’s roots, Genisys goes too far the other way. I appreciate that it’s made for people who have seen the first film, and can remember specific monologues from it, or recognise the name Danny Dyson. There are Easter eggs galore for fanboys, which can be fun. The scenes from 1984 are painstakingly reconstructed in a very effective way showing a nice attention to detail and 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. As the bulk of the film takes place in 2017 the need for a time travel section to the 1980s is very questionable, and seems more an attempt to hearken back to the original than to craft a story that makes sense. In an effort to show how aware it is of The Terminator it adopts an utterly baffling and nonsensical plot horribly explained. Having all come from different time lines, in most cases one of Kyle, Sarah or Pops has the future knowledge needed to get out of the situation, but what they know and when seems to vary to suit the film. At some points the T-800 has had its mind wiped, Kyle has random memories of pasts he didn’t experience and Sarah knows things she probably shouldn’t about Kyle, given they’ve never met. Horrendously hurried explanation strings together the random selection of action scenes to explain why they’re now driving somewhere else and doing something else in as little time as possible to get to the next explosion.
Overall there’s a sense that time travel cinema has outgrown Terminator, with Days of Future Past and Looper having taken up the mantle of clever time travel sci-fi mixed with stunning action. Terminator Genisys is so poorly thought-through you give up trying, which is probably what the film makers want you to do, so we don’t notice how crummy it all is. Clever it certainly isn’t. While aspects of the 80s scenes are carefully created, particularly in terms of the visuals, it fails to achieve the two most important things: good quality sci-fi and emotional depth. The characters have the same names as in the original, but literally no effort is made to make them look or act the same. They could have at least made their haircuts match up. A re-cast character doesn’t have to look identical to the original for it to work, as long as they look broadly similar and capture the essence of the character. Think Fassbender and McAvoy in First Class. So little effort is made to make Emilia Clarke look like Sarah Connor, the famous photo of her Kyle has in the future has had to be altered to show the new actor’s face.
The characters are totally gutted, replaced with 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. The characters are as gutted as fans will be at the quality of this film. The T-800 is supposedly more human than ever, having lived amongst humans for some 45 years, but this is just an excuse to undermine the character with lame comedy in every scene. There was a bit of this in the second film, but it made sense and wasn’t overplayed, And crucially, we cared far more about the relationship between the decidedly robotty robot and the young John Connor than any two characters in this film. We’re also treated to the worst new catchphrase of the year: the T-800 saying ‘theoretically’ at the end of every plan.
Bland meat-headed potato man Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke, an actor so lacking in presence she could play the Invisible Woman with no special effects, totally fail to capture any of the depth, emotion or character of their 80s counterparts with the worst on-screen chemistry in a prequel since Anakin and Padmé. They’re at each others’ throats for most of the film, and not in a romantic way, meaning it’s pretty implausible they’d ever get together. The two actors are the the two biggest reasons that this film is such a disaster. The casting director should be fired…from a cannon, so they can do no more evil. The scenes the two share are utterly unwatchable, made even worse by the fact they are trashing the legacy of a far better film. The explosion-focussed film makers seem to have thought audiences would be bored if time was spent developing the relationship, not realising that strong relationships improve action scenes, they don’t impede them.
They both act totally irrationally and out-of-character, at least as the characters were originally written. Sarah repeatedly risks herself to save a robot and Kyle is offended when Sarah suggests the John Connor that has entered the room may in fact be a T-1000, in spite of the fact they both know of the existence of shape-shifting androids. Sarah wants to avoid sleeping with Kyle as she thinks that means he will die, even though the whole point of these films is that the future isn’t set (although I wish it was, then there would be no room for sequels). She’s also scared about them creating the now-evil John Connor, presumably having not heard of contraception…or anal. It’s like they thought having Arnie would be enough and they could fill the rest of the cast with the worst of the worst of second rate actors. Or he 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. Arnie himself has deteriorated significantly, in performance as well as physically, 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 and re-evaluate your career. Tensionless, bland, and uninteresting, this is an entry to the franchise so poor it’s 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.