Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke & Jai Courtney
Synopsis: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be
Rating: 12A Run time: 126 minutes Release date: 2 July (UK)
As with any reboot of a beloved franchise, it can be hard to disassociate yourself from the feelings you have toward the series’ golden days, and any attempt to take the new film on its own merits can fall drastically flat. The problem often lies in the suits and the creators not knowing which direction to take. Do you appease those who have stood by the franchise or do you try to appeal to a wider audience in the hope of wider returns? Terminator Genisys tries to do both, but it’s a strategy that is hit & miss and will likely prove infuriating for long term fans.
Terminator Genisys starts off in familiar territory, with a voice over from Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) detailing the events that led up the near extinction of the human race at the hands of Skynet. Skynet is a computer system built by the US government with the intention of keeping the world safe, however things don’t go to plan and the sophisticated programme becomes self aware and launches nuclear missiles against the worlds various defence systems. Despite the robots dominance, a resistance is formed by John Connor (Jason Clarke), a man trained since birth to become a warrior and saviour of the human race.
So far, so James Cameron. At this point, everything is as it was in 1984. Skynet have sent a Terminator back in time to prevent John Connor from being born, while the resistance have sent back their own soldier; Kyle Reese, to help Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) escape the clutches of the pursuing T-800 model Terminator (a CGI’d Arnold Schwarzenegger). Only, once Reese arrives, things are not how they should be. Sarah Connor is not a naive young waitress, instead she is the badass we know from Terminator 2, and she has had help preparing for Reese’s arrival with the help of a reprogrammed T-800.
The audience, much like Kyle Reese, is all of a sudden at a loss. The 1984 we knew has seemingly gone, altered by another time travelling Terminator who was sent back to when Sarah was a child, and who has proceeded to protect her ever since. They have been planning for Kyle Reese’s arrival and have built a makeshift time machine in order to travel to 1997, the original judgement day, and destroy Skynet before it has the chance to obliterate the human race. Only, Reese has been having visions of an alternate future/past and manages to persuade Sarah and Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to instead travel to 2017.
The opening 20 minutes or so are home to a large part of the films best moments. Director Alan Taylor thrusts us into the action, switching between 2029 and 1984 with relative confidence. The set up for both timelines remains true to what has come before, with an obvious CGI upgrade, and the pace is quick enough to ensure the audience are immediately interested in what is happening on screen. With Kyle Reese, the audience has someone to connect to, and his disorientation is shared by everyone. Taylor is not quick in giving answers though, and prefers to indulge in the chase mentality that made the first two films in the franchise so successful.
After the opening barrage of action, the pace does let up as the film attempts to fill in the logic gaps and bring the audience up to speed on why things are so different now. A similar tactic was used in the recent Star Trek reboot; fill the film with familiar characters, while casting them with a new set of actors and using time travel as the excuse for the change in everyone’s fate. Time travel is often used in films to allow for a reboot to mark itself as different from its predecessors, but the Terminator franchise is already full of time travel loops and plot holes, that it’s hard to keep track of things.
Perhaps that’s why Genisys has chosen this specific route. Create a new timeline and forget everything that came before it, therefore wiping out any confusion and simplifying things for new and old audiences. Only, that’s not what the Terminator series really needed. The changing of events provides more questions than answers and opens up more than its fair share of plot holes in the process. Maybe what was really needed was a return to the chase scenarios of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, keeping things simple and not project a series of confusing events onto the audience.
Terminator Genisys reaches a certain point, where it becomes difficult to understand what is going on at times. Who sent the Guardian Terminator back to Sarah’s childhood? How many of the other films no longer exist? Why would robots drive trucks in the future? And how did the T-800 pass an interview for a job in construction?
At times it’s true that Terminator Genisys does feel like a troubled mess and that it feels like a poor relation to the other films in the series. However, it’s as good as, if not better, than Rise of the Machines and Salvation, and provides some nice moments reflecting on the series’ more successful past. It also features some impressive scenes that should placate the action junkies, and overall it feels like a solid entry into the series, that is nowhere near James Cameron’s best, but it is also far from being the worst.
In summary: Terminator Genisys never hits the high notes of T1 or T2, but the alternate timeline allows some fun to be had and marks a distinct change in style from the previous films.