James Cameron, father of the Terminator franchise, recently proclaimed director Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys as the real third film in the series, and after watching this enjoyable if flawed upgraded entry, I can see why.
Cameron’s assessment may not make much sense tonally, as this film is much more of a flashy fun popcorn blockbuster than its grimly mature techno-thriller ancestors – probably the biggest hurdle for die-hard fans coming into this – but it applies narratively, as Genisys outright ignores the events of Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation and builds so heavily on the continuity of Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, that unfamiliarity with those films may lead to some confusion and definitely will lead to you missing out on several very nice touches as Taylor perfectly recreates classic scenes from them with new twists.
The reason for said twisting comes from Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick’s Lussier’s wibbly wobbly timey wimey not-always-100%-logical script that sees future human resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke), on the cusp of defeating Skynet after a glorious purple-lasered battle (purple lasers!) in 2029, sending his best-bro second in command Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to stop the first Terminator (a CGI recreated young Arnold Schwarzenegger) from attempting to kill his mother Sarah before he was born. Familiar so far, right? Except this time something changes, so when Reese gets ejected naked out of the time stream, it’s in a 1984 that he – and the audience – does not expect.
Instead of the damsel in distress waitress with a penchant for too much hairspray he was briefed on, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is instead a sniper rifle toting firecracker who has been waiting on Reese for years after a future mystery benefactor had sent Arnie’s T-800 back in time to when Sarah was 9-years old to stop an even earlier attempt on her life. In this resultant new timeline, the “old but not obsolete” Terminator, who she affectionately refers to as “Pops”, has become her surrogate father (a riff on Sarah’s ruminations about his paternal potential in T2) and prepared her for the battle to come. One that’s not quite playing out as we remember it.
And with this flipping of the script, fans are treated to newly-flavoured beats as a liquid-metal T-1000 Terminator shows up in 1984 to try to skewer Sarah and co, and we get to see a current Arnold Schwarzenegger go toe to robo-toe with his 30-year younger counterpart. And when the action jumps ahead to 2017 thanks to a make-shift time machine and a sketchy plan to stop Skynet’s new modern “killer” app iteration, Genisys, we get to see…
Well, that’s where I have to stop as the film introduces an intriguing villainous wrinkle into the Terminator mythos, which – in the type of grossly criminal behaviour that is usually judged in the Hague – the studio of course felt necessary to completely give away in one of the latest trailers. I won’t do the same though, as this is a pretty neat twist.
But to borrow an applicable term from another recent blockbuster, everything is not shiny and chrome in Terminator Genisys though. While the throwbacks are generally handled well, the movie unnecessarily feels the need to have memorable dialogue from the original films crowbarred into the mouths of different characters here, more often than not for nothing more than trite fan service.
And while most of Taylor’s action sequences are very technically polished and competently choreographed – with the Terminator vs Terminator battles especially having an immensely satisfying wrecking ball physicality to them – there are a few that are completely superfluous, inserted almost as if only to meet some studio mandated explosion quota. The worst offender is a protracted helicopter chase scene that is not only a cartoonish session of CGI bumper-cars in the sky, but also utterly pointless to the story other than as an overly elaborate justification for Arnie to say his most famous line.
Then there’s Jai Courtney, who is still the on-screen equivalent of unseasoned oatmeal, despite Hollywood’s brute force insistence on making this blandly adequate actor a star. His un-charisma is especially glaring when stood next to the seasoned Arnie who just owns this movie. He may have you playing “Spot the Stunt Double” quite often during his action scenes, but in the off-beat moments he’s the inhumanly smiling heart of the movie, an utterly hilarious deadpan one-liner never too far from his robotic visage.
And while the young Emilia Clarke may be the “Mother of Dragons” over in Game of Thrones, there was just no way she was ever going to top Linda Hamilton’s original “Mother of John Connor”. To her advantage, Clarke doesn’t try to mimic either Hamilton’s frantically desperate Sarah from the first film or her carved from stone badass from the second, instead ending up somewhere in the middle of the two. It’s nowhere near as iconic, but certainly an able showing.
Which is really a perfect summation of Terminator Genisys. The pretzelly alternate timelines plot may do your head in trying to work out all the temporal paradoxes, but that’s been par for the course in this franchise since T2 came along and smudged the first film’s perfectly singular logic. And despite the occasionally clumsy dialogue and sometimes overly cheesy gags it still ends up being immensely entertaining with many a “F— yeah!” moment. What Taylor and co have produced here may be a vastly different model to the masterful first two films, but it’s also a superior model to the unforgivably poor last two films. Don’t go in expecting the deep and layered sci-fi of Cameron’s films and Arnie might even teach you how to smile (hopefully not as creepy though).
Last Updated: July 2, 2015