Terminator Genisys is an unholy cash grab, pilfering from James Cameron’s sacred double decker of blissful, straightforward action cinema. It delivers rotten, insultingly lazy studio-churned slime. Its most obvious faults clearly lie in its story, presenting a ragingly incoherent mishmash of timelines which intersect, dissect, but certainly do not connect either on a logical or an emotional level, playing its audience for fools. The film’s first twenty minutes show what the first film explained in a mere two lines of dialogue, adding nothing new to some iconic moments in the Terminator mythology. Having just defeated Skynet, John Connor sends his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese back in time to protect and have sex with his mother. To finally get to see these fabled moments could be thrilling, but in these hands it’s superfluous and boring, adding absolutely nothing beyond what we already know.
That is when we see the established universe fragment and for some ludicrously shoehorned plot device, a second timeline is created. Reese, for other plot-contrived reasons, experiences flashes from an alternative universe in which he did not live under the decree of the machines, which conveniently tell him to travel to 2017 to prevent their rise. Unlike the original film, Sarah Connor (here played by Emilia Clarke whose accent is all over the place) is already a full on ‘badass’, or could be if she was given any personality beyond guns. She’s been raised by a now aged T-800 (Arnie) who Emilia Clarke (I refuse to acknowledge this character is Sarah Connor) cringeworthingly refers to as ‘Pops’. The presence of this Terminator in the grand story is gaping and nonsensical and if by the film’s end you think you’ll get an answer then you’re just another mug like me. It’s a mystery left for the sequel but it’s atrocious, incomplete storytelling which presumes its audience don’t want a coherent narrative because there’ll be so hooked for the next instalment of this cynical pile of filth. Jurassic World put an anti-corporate message uncomfortably alongside product placement, whilst this film about evil androids is so cynical, it quite clearly points to the real evil machine lying within. This summer has gone strangely meta.
The film thinks it has a light touch but its attempts at humour are pathetic. Jai Courtney is a charisma vacuum, an utterly disposal, unenforced cardboard box of an actor who unbelievably seems to keep getting big gigs. If the rest of us could have the same passion to create positive social change as big film studios seem to have to force Jai Courtney’s chiseled, featureless face into grimy multiplex then the world would be irrecoverably better. Director Alan Taylor, a ‘Golden Age of TV’ veteran with a previously unblemished résumé makes the interesting decision to layer Jai Courtney’s boring tones with the monotony of Jason Clarke, who recently showcased his ability to add dullness to an otherwise interesting Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It’s a remarkable tapestry of notably boring actors, admittedly working with some incredibly dreary material. From the script, it’s no wonder this project could not attract anyone with an ounce of charisma.
Terminator Genisys does not duck away from asking interesting questions related to time travel and scientific pursuit, it simply goes nowhere near them. How does it feel to be raised by machines? Or to live a life devoid of free will? At the end there’s an opportunity for some discussion between the AI and humans. Why do they want to destroy humanity? It avoids such questions in favour of empty, shallow gunfights and dubious CGI. In the first Terminator, the machines are the enemy, shown in little ways such as a walkman preventing Sarah Connor’s roommate hearing a Terminator come into the house. In T2, it turns out to be the people who made the machines who are the real evil, disregarding morality in favour of unfettered scientific progress. In Genysis (because no one would go and see it if it was spelt properly, apparently), the evil Google-like corporation is just a nondescript big, bad evil to shoot at, not linked to any problem in society or our human makeup and when destroyed, everything then feels fine.
The stakes are apparently the entire human race, the same stakes that plague every single comic book and big budget movie out there at the moment. At the end of T1, Sarah Connor might have saved her unborn baby but not the whole human race. Her goal was focused, but blemished by incredible, inevitable tragedy. Here the stakes are so big and so impersonal they do not mean a thing. We’ve done saving the human race, blowing up the Golden Gate Bridge, cars flying into cars and flying off the edge. We’ve seen these same shots and battled these same perils so many times in other, not necessarily better movies. Genisys is frightened to take risks. The special effects are bland and weightless and none of it means anything.
The other big question is just who is this film for? Kids new to the series will be completely bambooozled by the original/alternate timelines jiggery pokery. It’s a quasi-reboot which requires extensive knowledge of the originals. It wants to have its cake and eat it, another illustration of just what an awful mess has been woven. It typifies how popular culture is obsessed with nostalgia but only by looking at the surface of what made the original popular. Furthermore, it overwrites and poisons some of the overriding mythology of the original films, not least the character of John Connor (a big plot twist which is already ruined in the trailer).
A mid-credit sequence teases future mythology nobody in their right mind will care about. It promises to be back. Oh god, must it really be back.
Review by David Rank
Terminator: Genisys is out now in the UK and US. Rating 12A (UK). Running time 126 mins.