Let’s step back in time a second to September 1991. I was a lad all of 13 years old and I had just witnessed as close to a perfect science fiction film as I will ever see. That movie was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the James Cameron masterpiece that took the brilliant ideas introduced in his 1984 original and expanded and explored them further than anyone could have hoped for. The ending of Judgment Day ended on a perfect, optimistic note, and I walked out of the cinema happy knowing that Cameron’s one-two punch of Terminator films was complete.
Flash forward 12 years, and with money to be made, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines was released. Cautiously optimistic, I went along and was pleasantly surprised at what was done there. Though mostly a retread of Judgment Day, Part 3 did a lot of things right and had some superb action which rivaled the best moments in Part 2 at times. It also bravely ended on a dark note, rare for a Hollywood blockbuster, and though ultimately pointless, T3 was a good, solid action movie. 2009’s Terminator Salvation was pretty dire. Though it looked amazing, the storyline was trite and Christian Bale and Sam Worthington both sleepwalked through their roles. It didn’t really feel like a Terminator film, and though it tried to do something different, I found it to be boring and tired. Arnold Schwarzenegger was missing in action as well which hurt the film, aside from a quick cameo by a Arnie stand-in towards the climax.
So even though the series should have ended when Cameron walked away, we had two further sequels in the Terminator series. And now, this week, we have another movie in the series, the fifth in the series, Terminator: Genisys.
Convoluted, poorly written and flatly directed, Genisys messes with the Terminator mythos by going back into the timeline of the original movie and then spring boarding into its own plot as our heroes – Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and an aged T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) – must literally leap through time to stop judgment day yet again (the third such time this has been the main plot of a Terminator movie). With the release of a new operating system named Genisys, the evil computer intelligence known as Skynet plans to use the OS’s launch as a way to ensuring it takes over the world as depicted in previous movies, no matter what steps the human characters take in trying to stop them.
With lots of time-hopping and messing with the Terminator timeline as we know it, Genisys resembles Back to the Future Part II at times with its alternate timelines and changes in character. The basic setup is all that it has in common with BTTF though, as that film cleverly and humourously changed timelines, but this film is a mess. Though the premise is initially interesting, you soon realise this is all just window dressing to launch a mundane plot that again turns into a race against time to avert judgment day, with nothing in this film approaching anything that happened in the first three movies. It’s about on the level of the fourth film for the most part.
Arnold tries his best to inject life into the script, but the constant callbacks are more cringe-worthy than amusing. His fight with his 1984 counterpart is brilliantly done but all too brief, and his one-liners are occasionally fun but pretty weak. It’s always welcome to see him in his most famous role but he didn’t really get much of a chance to shine in this movie. Still, it’s great that he got the chance to play the Terminator again, possibly for the last time? It all depends on the box office if this is the final Terminator movie I think. Jai Courtney, not one of my favourite actors after his poor performances in Jack Reacher and A Good Day to Die Hard, is OK here. He does nothing to embarrass himself but nothing to excel either. The part of Kyle Reese still definitely belongs to Michael Biehn who was a grittier, tougher hero in the 1984 original.
Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke is likewise fine as Sarah Connor, and to be fair, it would be hard for anyone to eclipse the iconic performance Linda Hamilton gave in the second Terminator film, turning Connor into one of cinema’s greatest female action heroes. Clarke does her own thing here and it doesn’t feel like an imitation of Hamilton. She does her best and is a credible action star, but like everyone else, it’s the script that lets her down. Jason Clarke as John Connor is again decent but Clarke is an actor who never really makes much of an impression. Whether it is in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or Public Enemies, Clarke is always solid but rarely memorable. That again proves true here. Not even the brilliant J.K. Simmons (a recent Oscar-winner for Whiplash) can save this, wasted in a nothing role as a lone Detective on the side of the good guys.
In the end, it’s the script, which piles plot contrivance after contrivance upon the audience, and only serves to complicate the Terminator timeline rather than setting it right. Apparently there are two sequels planned which I am sure will add further artificial contrivances and complications to the timelines that Arnie and Co. must fix, but please stop. Enough has been done to tarnish Cameron’s franchise already and I am happy for this to be the last Terminator.
The best thing I can say for this is that it’s better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and A Good Day to Die Hard when comparing it to iconic screen heroes returning in a post-2000 installment. It’s definitely worth seeing for Terminator fans, I’m glad I saw it if only to see where they took the story, but in a summer movie season where I am still thinking about the tour de force that was Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator Genisys looks more than a bit rusty.
**1/2 out of *****