Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys becomes the latest franchise to be given a glossy modern update to try and pull in a whole new audience.
I’ll start off by saying that this is a reboot. Anyone who tells you different is lying. There are elements that connect it to the 1984 original but it’s also a complete restart of the franchise. Ignore any marketing buzzwords about being true to the original vision or other such nonsense because this film erases all the Terminator films you loved and hated.
That in itself doesn’t bother me because by its very nature the Terminator franchise is in a constant state of reboot. The only film that remains internally consistent within a specific timeline is the first one where preserving the future was the only goal. The rule there is that Judgement Day is inevitable and it was necessary to ensure that John Connor was born so that someone would be able to lead the charge against the machines. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is where things really start to get messed up as the timeline is changed and Judgement Day is apparently stopped though is later confirmed to be postponed.
I’m not going to go into a massive analysis on how I think the Terminator timeline works but maybe it’s an article worth writing someday so we shall see how that goes. I’m just making the point that a franchise that reboots itself by design isn’t going to annoy me when it tries to do it again. Not for that reason alone anyway.
In terms of reboots it goes with the Star Trek model in so far as the original franchise is heavily referenced and respected to a degree but the purpose is to go in a completely different direction. It also bears similarities to the recent Star Trek films by taking something that used to be well crafted and thought provoking and turning it into something loud and flashy with little substance.
The film starts out with a narration from Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) sets the stage for the audience. Apparently nearly every sci fi movie needs to start with a flashback narration setting up the world because actual world building through storytelling would require some level of effort and skill. What follows is a look at the future events that led to the first film pretty much as they were described to us by Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese in the first film.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this part of the film but it just comes across as really uninteresting. In the original we didn’t need to see this part of the story play out because it’s not really that important. A few lines of dialogue is more than enough to get the point across before moving onto something more interesting rather than wasting several minutes focusing on something that doesn’t need to be seen.
When Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 things start to change. Before this point this could simply have been a remake of the first one albeit a really lazy one. Alan Taylor slavishly recreates scenes from The Terminator such as the arrival of Arnie’s T-800 in 1984. It doesn’t take long to go in a different direction when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s older T-800 shows up to dispatch his younger counterpart.
Seeing Arnie fight his younger self was something that was incredibly hyped and the end result is pretty disappointing. The fight is awkwardly staged and it really doesn’t go on for too long. It doesn’t help that the digital Arnie looks far too plastic to believe that the same physical presence is actually fighting. It definitely sets the stage for what to expect from the whole thing.
Nothing here is as Kyle Reese expected it. When he meets Sarah Connor she is already a badass after being raised by Arnie’s older T-800 -hereafter referred to as Pops just like in the film- to prepare for Kyle and the T-800’s arrival. As such Kyle isn’t really needed any more as the 1984 threat is dealt with pretty quickly.
There’s a further complication when a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) relentlessly pursues the trio across 1984 L.A. allowing Alan Taylor to pay frustrating homage to both The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day at the same time. It’s all fine but a bit too heavy on the action at the expense of any real drama or tension. The 1984 scenes are definitely the most entertaining but that might be my affection for the original clouding that perception. I do actually like the idea of going back to where it all began and changing it from that point. It makes things more complicated but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s just that the execution of this is so bland that it’s hard to get invested in anything that’s going on.
I’ve always said to myself that my reviews won’t spoil anything that isn’t contained in any of the trailers so for that reason I feel that talking in detail about what happens after the 1984 section would constitute a spoiler as the trailers haven’t actually revealed where -or when- the bulk of the film is set so I’ll leave that part out. One thing that I do feel really comfortable talking about is the big twist spoiled by the trailers. It turns out that John Connor (Jason Clarke) has been altered in some way by the machines and now he’s part human/part machine with lots of badass abilities to go with it. As twists go it’s pretty idiotic all told as it really makes little sense within the context of the universe.
It might have been forgivable if the idea was to use John to get to his mother and throw her off due to the emotional connection but the film doesn’t really do that. It’s touched on in some awkward expositional moments that are pretty much ripped from the handbook that must exist on this sort of thing. There’s lots of “John, you don’t need to do this” and other such predictable tripe.
In general the story was all over the place and tries to be too complicated for its own good and the tone is all over the place. I think that the writers felt that if they threw enough references to the original films and bad science at the audience it would somehow disguise how stupid the whole thing is. The approach to time travel is vague and inconsistent, there are a number of plot points brought up and dropped but these are probably setup for the inevitable sequels. Everything here just feels like franchise maintenance rather than making something worthwhile that works on its own merits.
Now onto the cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger is as iconic as ever in the role that made him famous though the biggest challenge for the T-800 seems to be pronouncing the word “Theoretically”. It’s said a number of times and on each of them the pronunciation changes.
Arnie’s presence as an older version of the Terminator fits perfectly and he settles right back into the role. Any entertainment here comes from him. It’s a shame that the dialogue he is given is complete roadkill. I think about 70% of it is bland exposition about how things work rather than his badass one liners and lack of understanding of humanity. Such a waste of Arnie.
Jai Courtney is absolutely hopeless as Kyle Reese. Whoever decided that he would be a suitable candidate to fill Michael Biehn’s shoes really needs to lose their job as they probably couldn’t have done worse. It baffles me that this guy turns up in so much because as far as I can see he has no redeeming features as an actor. He has no range, no charisma and no measurable acting talent by any other definition. To call him a bad actor is an insult to bad actors. When he introduces himself as Kyle Reese my only thought is “no you’re not”. Anton Yelchin did a far better job in Terminator Salvation.
Emilia Clarke doesn’t work as Sarah Connor. I’m sure she’s not a bad actress as I’ve been told she does a great job in Game of Thrones. I don’t watch it so can’t really say for sure but she feels really miscast as Sarah Connor. I could never believe her as being a badass gun warrior and there’s something forced about her performance when she tries to be more human and vulnerable.
With these two characters in particular I felt that the instruction must have been to emulate the performance of the original actors as closely as possible. With the talentless meat sack that is Jai Courtney you can’t really tell but there’s something very Linda Hamilton about her Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor but it feels like an insincere imitation. I’m sure you’ll see what I mean if you see it yourself.
Courtney and Clarke have next to no chemistry and all interactions feel incredibly forced. The film was telling me that they were falling for one another but it just wasn’t on the screen. They have to fall for each other because the script says so not because of any measurable attraction between the two of them.
Jason Clarke is fine as John Connor but merely fine. He has very little to work with and the character is so one note that it’s impossible to find anything identifiable about him. He merely exists to move along the action sequences and accomplishes little else.
I could almost have forgiven much of this if the film was any fun to watch but it just wasn’t. The action scenes were really boring to watch for the most part. One or two of them are reasonably impressive but they go on for too long and not enough time is left between them to feel as if another one is earned. They are separated by awkwardly forced dialogue exchanges that only serve to tick the boxes of what this film needs to get through. It all feels as if it’s rushing to the next thing.
If you have no knowledge of the first 2 films in the franchise then there might be something in this for you. I doubt it was made for me despite the constant references to the older films so younger viewers might get more out of this. Of course I’d just suggest watching them instead and skipping this altogether. I was entertained some of the time I’ll admit but that was mostly because of Arnie.
A formless, soulless reboot of a beloved franchise that lacks anything resembling finesse or knowledge of why the older films worked.
Arnie is back as an older version of the T-800 and it feels like he never left. If any entertainment can be taken from this abomination then it’s from him and nobody else. The script ruins this by giving him lots of clumsy scientific exposition that sounds increasingly implausible.
It really baffles me that Jai Courtney turns up in so many movies as the guy has absolutely no measurable talent as far as I can tell. Whoever thought he could successfully pull off the iconic Kyle Reese really shouldn’t be working any more. To say he’s bad in this would be an understatement.
Emilia Clarke isn’t quite believable as Sarah Connor. There’s something about her performance that never quite lands. She and Courtney are basically impersonating Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton instead of putting their own stamps on the roles so that probably has a lot to do with making this feel inauthentic.
The story and tone are all over the place and there’s a sense of rushing to the whole thing. Interesting dialogue and character development take a backseat to overlong boring action sequences each more ridiculous than the last. There’s no time to stop and catch your breath to figure out why we should care about any of this.
In conclusion, don’t see this. Watch the first 2 films and pretend that nothing else ever came of this franchise. Maybe give Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles a try but that gets axed at the end of season 2 with an excellent cliffhanger so it might just frustrate you.