Terminator Genisys is fine. If someone attempts to give you the ‘it’s better than Salvation‘ or ‘it’s better than Terminator 3,’ feel confident that they aren’t arguments. They’re both abysmal; that’s like saying that breast cancer is better than testicular cancer. There’s definitely a great deal of effort from director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier to ‘Days of Future Past’ the lesser sequels out of the timeline and rekindle the franchise. However in the midst of the film’s homage assault in seems to miss a great deal about what makes a Terminator film.
In a final offensive against the sentient robot overlord Skynet, leader of the resistance John Connor (Jason Clarke) and his right hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) discover the artificial hive mind’s final ‘hail mary.’ In the bowels of a secret base, they discover a time machine that’s recently been used to send a T-800 terminator back to 1984 to murder his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke). To stop the cybernetic killer, a digital post Mr Olympia Arnie, and set in motion the events that triggered his birth (and the series birth) John (Clarke) sends Kyle (Courtney) back in time as her protector. However, when we reach the familiar cyber punk L.A, we’re dropped into an unfamiliar timeline.
First; thank you to the marketing geniuses behind Terminator Genisys, who must have thought, who better to spoil our movie than us? No one; dipsticks. The second act surprise, that John Connor has indeed received the ultimate Terminator upgrade from Skynet, would have been an insane twist, which significantly upped the stakes of their pursuit. Instead we’ve seen it splayed all over the posters and from minute one you’re merely checking your watch until you reach the spoiled moments from the trailers. That said, from the outset Genisys (annoying spelling) has an apocalyptic uphill battle – The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day one two punch is probably only overshadowed by the Godfather Part One and Two as the best first and second film in any series ever. The precedents set by James Cameron’s films have essentially crippled the expanding franchise before they start.
And attempting to rewrite and amplify the new timeline atop the familiar events of the original two films ultimately results in literal one-upmanship to make every single narrative element bigger, badder and harder to kill. What the filmmakers ultimately lose sight of is that a Terminator is ultimately an infiltration unit. The human resistance begins to emerge as a genuine threat to Skynet’s world dominance which results in them resorting to evolving their approach. Instead of frontal assaults, they wanted to disguise themselves as humans and cut the head off the snake. The sequels forget to blend into the background and quietly and sleeplessly stalk their prey; their takes are about as subtle as the Hulk; levelling every structure they pass through.
There aren’t really any occasions where the characters are conveying emotion or attempting to develop a connection; just the bunker tour of the Eastern United States that Connor (Clarke) and Reese (Courtney) discuss the effect of their time hopping. Bruce Willis is gifted a valuable line in Rian Johnson’s Looper, incidentally the best Terminator film that was never a Terminator film, he says, “I don’t wanna talk about time travel, because if we start talking about it, we’re gonna be here all day talking about it and making diagrams with straws.” That perfect line (incidentally a dig at a previous version of Johnson’s earlier script) highlights that the more you talk about the granular detail of a time travel film you’ll start hurting your brain. That doesn’t excuse lazy plotting or unsound adherence to the basic ground rules, it’s more of a self-aware comment of the common pratfall of time travel films that feel the inclination to constantly explain the consequences of what they’re doing.
The essential tactile nature of Cameron’s originals feature sweat laden, bloody nosed, grubby heroines and heroes whose vulnerable humanity pales against the terrifying and near unstoppable killing machines. The most memorable moments in the Terminator franchise are those that involve blood and DIY surgery. There’s an even more heightened sense or your fragile mortality in comparison to that of the cybernetic organism, which will happily cut out the blubbering remains of an eyeball, rather than have his vision be impeded. And also, Joe Morton’s sensational Miles Dyson from Terminator 2: Judgement Day has one of the most mesmerising and affective deaths in the franchise after he’s shot up by a swat team and left to count down the time until the end of his life. With cavernous words, the beats of his breath pulse at descending intervals as he’s holding the final detonator that will ultimately consume his forthcoming terrible legacy. In Genisys‘ future no one has sweat glands or skin that wants to graze, get dirty or bleed. For a film with the word Terminator in the title, it did very little killing.
Terminator Genisys greatest achievement is that it received an acknowledgement from James Cameron as a film that he officially accepts into the Terminator canon. Now I’m not sure how many more multimillion-dollar trips to the ocean floor or screenwriters for Avatar sequels that marketing team from Paramount had to donate (nee sacrifice) to get that glowing endorsement, but it was A LOT. In all seriousness though, Cameron must be so completely affronted with just how terrible Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation that all the ‘O.K’ of Genisys was enough.
Terminator Genisys happens in front of you; and there’s really no point that the boom crash and technological wizardry is able to mask the fact that you literally couldn’t care less what happens to the people dressed as some of your favourite characters. If you go back in time to the beginning of this review, you’ll see that despite all the effort and an attempted disruption of the timeline; Terminator: Genisys remains fine.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Writen by: Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee