A fun and ambitious revitalisation of the franchise. But does it make sense once the credits roll?
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
And so it is that the Terminator franchise rediscovers its sense of humour. As for everything else, well, the ground’s a little less resolute.
Somewhat appropriately, Terminator: Genisys is either the fifth film in the franchise, or the third, depending on your perspective. James Cameron, who wrote and directed the first (and best) two, openly declared both Rise of the Machines and Salvation to be blips on the radar that are best ignored, meaning — at least in his view — Genisys now rounds out the unofficial trilogy (cue joke about a director from the future going back in time to terminate inferior sequels).
Certainly, Genisys goes out of its way to fit solidly within the original movie's timeline, at least to begin with. In fact, it’s worth re-watching Terminator beforehand, if only to appreciate the lengths to which director Alan Taylor and his production team have gone in painstakingly recreating some of the film's signature moments (right down to casting a Bill Paxton lookalike for the then-unknown actor’s punk cameo).
The reason for the cinematic fidelity quickly becomes apparent, too, when those well-known moments from the original are hugely turned on their head. It’s difficult to explain without revealing giant spoilers, but suffice it to say Sarah Connor (played with remarkable likeness to Linda Hamilton by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) no longer needs rescuing back in 1984 by Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), and Arnie isn’t the first Terminator to be sent back there. Everything’s changed, and therein lies both the film’s strength and weakness.
As a positive, switching everything up was a sensible and necessary move to breathe new life into a franchise already guilty of retelling the same story with merely cosmetic differences. John Connor (Jason Clarke) undergoes a dramatic amendment in Genisys, and Schwarzenegger’s T-800 (easily the film’s shining light) has noticeably aged, explaining “I’m old, not obsolete”. Going back to 1984, too, is a clever device because — at least for fans of the original — as soon as the first difference becomes apparent, it raises a lot of questions that help drive the story forward.
The downside, however, is that making those changes requires some serious amendments to one of the more established and analysed lores in film history, and unless you’ve got rock solid explanations to back them up, gaping potholes quickly reveal themselves. In Genisys, some are answered via hastily mumbled lines about 'nexus points’ and parallel timelines, but the more critical ones — like how terminators ended up in the timeline long before 1984, who sent them there and why — remain unanswered. It’s a clear setup for a sequel, but mostly just lazy film-making, failing to tell the story it promises. When the credits roll on Genisys, you soon realise you’ve no idea what it was actually about.
2015 is proving itself the king of the reboot, with Jurassic World already destroying box office records, and new entries for Mission Impossible, James Bond and Star Wars all to follow. Terminator: Genisys will likely find itself somewhere towards the bottom of that list, mostly because — while it’s a lot of fun — it fails to ‘wow’ us like its predecessors. The terminators’ technology is largely the same, the action sequences are again mostly variations on a theme, and somehow the phenomenal special effects of 1991’s Judgment Day still remain more jaw-dropping than most things that have come since.
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