[Review] Terminator: Genisys

Terminator: Genisys didn’t have the easiest start in life, having been revealed in a series of cast photos for Entertainment Now so ridiculously posed and doctored that they looked more like a deliberate parody of overwrought movie marketing than serious promotional material. The first trailer, seen below, didn’t inspire much greater enthusiasm, relying heavily on callbacks to James Cameron’s original movie and trying to sell a decidely girlish-looking Emilia Clarke as the hard-ass Sarah Connor. That’s without even mentioning the name, its spelling as ridiculous and ’90s inane now as it was when first revealed.

Everything leading up to the movie seemed to hint at a storm brewing on the horizon, a disaster lingering in the near future whose inevitability grew ever more unstoppable as the time drew nearer. I don’t know whether it’s therefore a relief to report that Genisys appears to have changed its fate for the better when all it means is, much like the Sisyphean battles Sarah Connor seems unable to extricate herself from fighting, the apocalypse may have been averted, but that doesn’t mean what’s left in its place is an especially good time.

Terminator: Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Rating: PG-13

Release Date: July 1st, 2015

James Cameron’s name has been plastered all over the movie’s recent advertising and one can only assume he looked at two possible futures – one where Genisys is a success and he presumably gets to wallow in an avalanche of royalties, and another where Genisys is the box-office bomb it’s looking to be and suddenly he’s got to put on hold that order for another deep sea submersible – and decided he liked the first one just a little more. Why else he would willingly attach his name, even peripherally, to a movie so profoundly mediocre rather defies comprehension – although let’s not forget that he also spoke favourably of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines around the time of its release as well.

Genisys, on balance, is better than the third and fourth movie in this series increasingly desperate for any sense of creative direction, though that’s not saying much. Rise Of The Machines was a tamer, lamer rehash of T2 with a surfeit of insufferably camp humour, while the most memorable thing about McG’s Terminator Salvation was Christian Bale’s on-set meltdown at the lighting crew. To its credit, Genisys tries something new, messing with the series chronology to perform a semi-reboot in the style of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek. Sarah Connor has now been raised since childhood by Schwarzenegger’s T-800, Judgment Day has been pushed back to coincide with the release of a global operating system called (you guessed it) Genisys, and someone or something seems to be producing surgery on the timelines they are hopping between.

emilia clarke terminator genisys

The novelty value of the movie screwing with its own history keeps it afloat for longer than it deserves. While the plot, again, amounts to nothing more than Sarah and her cohorts having to stop Skynet before a literal countdown reaches zero, there are some interesting if largely unexplored ideas introduced as a result of all the temporal upheaval, with a couple of the character relationships sent in potentially interesting new directions. One of the movie’s major twists was revealed in the second trailer and is at the epicentre for much of this, but in the off-chance you haven’t been spoilt already, I won’t do so here. Though these elements don’t add a great deal to Genisys itself, but at least lay the groundwork for better movies in the future. That’s hardly a great magnitude of praise, especially with Marvel having long since worn out the welcome of movies-which-are-actually-adverts-for-later-movies, but is perhaps the most interesting thing about an action blockbuster which otherwise seems content to plod through the formulaic motions.

Though hardly the disaster many would understandably have been expecting, Genisys makes a series of lousy choices which holds it back from leaving any sort of positive impression. Most damagingly, both Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney are severely miscast. While Clarke simply cannot pull off the warrior woman act convincingly despite her best efforts – the recoil of the Desert Eagle she fires in her big introduction would realistically tear her hand off at the dainty wrist – Courtney gives a non-performance as Kyle Reese that is among the flattest I can ever recall seeing. Reese is a man who has lived his entire life being hunted in an apocalyptic wasteland before time travelling back to the past and discovering history is changing around him, yet the only emotion he even comes close to expressing is mild disinterest. Yes, the script is weak, but the character has enough context and precedence that even a mediocre actor could dig up a slither of the pain and sadness and fear that Michael Biehn originated in the role. Courtney is a black hole at the movie’s heart, leeching away interest with every second of his extensive screentime. At least Sam Worthington and the Hemsworths, his predecessors as pre-fab Australian hunks, had the self-respect to stick with inert blandness.

terminator genisys jai courtney

On the plus side, Schwarzenegger seems to have rediscovered the fun in his signature role, despite being lumbered once again with a tedious line in character-breaking campy humour. The difference between his performance in Genisys, when even his deliberately mechanical line recitals have some gusto behind them, and his bored meandering through Rise Of The Machines could not be more apparent, even if it ultimately amounts to little more than small inflections and gestures. An engaged Arnie is a fun Arnie and while he can’t fully compensate for Courtney’s dead-eyed charisma vampiricism, he at least provides some successfully nostalgic pleasures amid the otherwise mixed bag of series callbacks. Among these, the weightless CGI sinks any pleasure that might have been had from the appearance of a ‘young’ T-800 Arnie (itself a repeat of a trick pulled in Salvation) and generally undermines the major action scenes with a visibly jarring disregard for even the most basic laws of physical motion and mass.

Considering the value that the Terminator series places on the importance of humanity’s survival in face of mechanised extinction, most of the present day world in which Genisys takes place seems to have been rendered by computer. Cameron’s movies were rough, dirty epics that were as scary as they were cool and as brashly emotional as they were exciting. Genisys hints at interesting plot convolutions but doesn’t get around to showing them, while its inert casting kills any humanity in the central relationship and hollow CGI creates action sequences that are easy to sit through but impossible to engage with. There’s some pleasure to be had in a Schwarzenegger back on form, the refrains of that iconic theme, or JK Simmons almost making a character out of a cardboard cut-out, even if he really should have been playing Dr. Silberman, if only to keep series tradition alive. Every ambition the movie has was already achieved to greater effect in the underrated TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while the rest seems trapped between rehashing the pleasures of the past and promising better things in the future, all while delivering little in the here and now.

Xander Markham

Londoner with a serious love of all things James Bond, most things Nintendo, plus crumpets, labradors, hammocks and horrible puns. Not necessarily in that order.

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