Before I get into this review, I’d like to make something clear: if you’ve seen the trailer for Terminator Genisys, you have no need to see the movie. Not in the cinema at least. I’m serious. The trailer for this film summed up everything I detest about Hollywood trailers, giving away the most interesting scenes, all the major plot points and leaving you with little else to do in the movie theatre than sit back, turn your mind off and bask in a load of fan service that you already knew was coming. Regardless of how I rate the film on its own merit, I’d prefer audiences to take a stand against the profit-hungry marketing department’s lack of respect towards storytelling and not pay cinema prices for it. Alas, I realise I’m set to be disappointed in that endeavour.
So… There are some rather cool moments in Genisys, as one would expect. This is, after all, a new Terminator movie, and if you’re not coming for cool moments then one would have to wonder what exactly you are coming for?
Indeed if it’s a revolutionary bit of filmmaking or even a good story you’re looking for, Terminator Genisys sadly (and rather spectacularly) fails to deliver. I say sadly because I, as much as anyone, really wanted this movie to live up to the extraordinary standards set by the first two films in the series.
The Terminator (1984) was a dark, atmospheric and – in comparison with its sequels – rather small scale science fiction movie that had aspirations towards horror. Looking back on it now feels somewhat refreshing. To think the premise was all so relatively simple back then; a soldier sent back from the future to protect Sarah Connor from a cyborg assassin. Though time travel was an important element in the narrative, at that point it wasn’t yet beyond the intellectual grasp of the average viewer.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) remains not only one of Hollywood’s finest examples of an excellent sequel, but quite possibly one of the greatest action movies ever made – ramping up this element in contrast to the slower, darker tone of its predecessor. In fact a large part of its success lay in how it turned certain audience expectations upside down; Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role as a T-800 from the original, only this time he was here as a protector, while the antagonist Terminator (the T-1000) was a more agile model with a slimmer build.
Successive sequels did not follow suit; bringing Schwarzenegger back only to pander to those audience expectations and repeating the kind of action sequences one can find in any other generic Hollywood movie. Furthermore, as is the risk with a series based so heavily on time travel, it became bogged down in its own messy, flimsy continuity. T2 was already pushing the rules with its ‘changing the future’ idea, but it would have been fine if the series had ended there. Which, in the eyes of some fans, it did.
Genisys takes the time travelling premise to a newer, more confusing level than ever before. We see one particular character travel from 2029 to 1984 en route to 2017, all in the first half hour. The 1984 in this film is a different version from the one we knew from the series’ own history, due to other characters travelling back to 1973 beforehand and changing things (for unknown reasons probably revealed in another future sequel). Sarah Connor is no longer a naive waitress with a hairstyle fitting of the decade; now she’s a wise-cracking tough girl who knows more about Terminators than the soldier sent back to protect her from one.
Though Emilia Clarke is a talented actress in her own right, they made little effort to replicate Linda Hamilton’s look from the first film. The problem I had here is not with performance – Clarke made the role her own – but the fact that Sarah Connor now seems totally out of place in her own timeline. She looks nothing like someone who grew up in the 1970s-80s. I realise her revised backstory has made her a different person, but like I said; this is less about character and more about fitting into your setting.
It’s ironic then that this film’s best moments actually take place in those first twenty minutes in 1984. To an extent, Genisys returns to the series’ roots, showing further details of what led to Kyle Reese (played here by Jai Courtney, a fine actor himself but firmly in Michael Biehn’s shadow as this character) being sent back to 1984 in The Terminator. A couple of early scenes are direct recreations of memorable moments from that film. The nostalgia is bound to bring a slight smile if you recall those moments yourself.
Unfortunately however, the film does not continue in that vein. Its references to the original are surface-level; there is none of the lurking atmosphere or true sense of threat that one associates with the first film. Such moments are soon eclipsed in favour of fast-paced action and CGI; though we do get another nice throwback to T2 with the appearance of a T-1000, its similarities to the second film end there as well.
If you’ve seen the aforementioned trailer, you’ll know what happens in the story (involving John Connor, who gets in on the time travelling action himself – of course) and can probably predict how it ends too. Try not to overthink it; it’s rather more predictable than you’d imagine. This is a Hollywood film, with an ending appropriate for those who pay for these movies over and over again. There are explosions and naturally, the biggest is saved for last.
Not that I wanted to go on about this too much, but I’d like you to pause for a moment and, if you’ve seen this film, ask yourself whether you might have thought it better had you not been privy to the numerous details revealed in the trailer? Something tells me Terminator Genisys might have had a better chance of standing out if the marketing had not so aggressively tried to shove it down our throats.
Still, that wouldn’t have helped the film’s own problems; it perhaps may have simply led to people overrating it. There is a further, rather obvious gripe I have with the plot’s continuity: if events had changed in 1973, changing the course of Sarah Connor’s life, wouldn’t that have interfered with the fact that Reese and the original Terminator were sent back from the future (what should have then been an alternate future) to 1984 in the first place? Yes, of course it would have, but we’re not supposed to think so hard about it.
In the end that’s why Terminator Genisys soon starts to throw so much meaningless bullshit at its audience. It doesn’t want us to think beyond the first twenty minutes. It wants us to laugh and giggle at Arnie’s parody-like characterisation, and consider how privileged we are to have him back. To marvel at another different Terminator as the upgraded antagonist who is, of course, more advanced than the rest. To wait with baited breath for the next cool moment in reference to a time when this franchise was actually relevant and still had good movies to its name.
This film, at its absolute best, belongs firmly in the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines pantheon of being merely average. And unfortunately, for a Terminator movie, that’s one of the most damning judgments one can make.
4 / 10