A lot of the fanfare accompanying Jurassic World was nostalgia and frankly, I wasn’t feeling much of it. But in the Terminator franchise, however, we have a series I hold dear to my heart. As a child I found The Terminator absolutely horrifying for the simple reason, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a perennial “blow man” for me, being cast as the unforgiving bad guy. He was an angel of death pitted against the seemingly scrawny but resilient Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor played by Michael Beihn and Linda Hamilton.
Normalcy resumed with Arnie in T2 and as a certain British critic noted, it was in this role inversion that we find the brilliance in the first two Terminator films. Arnie was no longer an angel of death and assumes the Kyle Reese guardian angel role to Sarah, whilst she herself has morphed from that frail green waitress to a gritty action heroine. We get some measure of a role reversal in Terminator Genisys but to ultimately middling effect as this film really only passes as a nostalgia action romp.
The one thing that jumps out at you in Terminator Genisys is the messy time travel logic. We are introduced to parallel and intersecting timelines which have significantly altered the human – Skynet dynamic most of us grew up with. I use the word logic but there is the temptation to think the film just made it up as it went along seeing as it presents a number of plot holes brought on by ostensive sloppiness and a leaning towards puzzling sentimentality.
The film opens in 2029 and per usual things have gone left for the human race i.e. Judgment Day has happened. The leader of the surviving human resistance, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his waitress mom, Sarah Connor, from the Terminator that’s on a mission to kill her – all basic Terminator fare for the initiated. The twist here is as Kyle is transported to 1984, an anomaly has tweaked timeline and upon his arrival in 1984, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is aware of who Kyle is and knows why he has travelled back in time thanks to Arnie’s cyborg character. Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and affectionately christened Pop by Sarah, is now a friendly and more like the cyborg from the second film.
The trio now have to get around their pettiness and work together to stop Skynet coming online; Reese’s distrust of the friendly Terminator, Sarah’s feisty independence and Pops … well Pop seemed alright save for his creepy grin. The film probably peaks in the first 20 minutes or so as director Alan Taylor serves us with exciting intricate action sequences backed by nostalgia and suspense as he merges fine moments from the first two films to make for a quite enjoyable opening. Taylor and his team appear to recreate specific scenes from James Cameron’s original Terminator from the moment Schwarzenegger’s character arrives naked to confront a group of punks to Reese checking if those Nikes fit him that department store. The T2 film isn’t left out of this reunion as Byung-hun Lee comes in as Robert Patrick’s iconic T-1000 aka Killer Alumi and Arnie’s T-800 is played, through the amazing wizardry of CGI, by Arnie himself. At this rate, 30 year-old Al Pacino will be starring in a remake of the Godfather.
As much as the film makes full use of advances in tech to deliver a ton of action and excitement in, the compelling character elements that elevated the much-loved originals from just action films are lacking here. Everyone is playing their part well from Clarke’s feisty and gutsy Sarah to the macho hunk that is Courtney’s Kyle Reese and then we have the not so surprising twist in Jason Clarke’s John Connor who carries some degree of un-caricatured charisma but never once did I feel invested in the film or its characters. Let me also drop this here: there was something particularly rabid and scroungy about Michael Beihn’s performance as the scampering PTSD stricken Kyle Reese in 1984 and he really did look like someone who had spent his life enduring an apocalypse but for some reason Courtney’s incarnation of Reese is in tip top shape and well groomed by the highest model standards – none of my business though.
On the conceptual spectrum, it isn’t Y2K any more people. It’s the cloud and our modern day obsession with interconnectivity that’s going to do the human race in. In 2017 this ridiculous (I may be proven wrong) revolutionary cloud system that links up basically everything called Genisys is set to go online and it’s basically Skynet: Millennial Edition and it promises to gift us Judgement day unless our heroes blow some stuff up. For those who take this film for the action romp it is, you will be entertained although I believe a revisiting of the originals are in order and on that point, the fact that some young’uns out there will make time for the James Cameron’s original vision kind of justifies this film’s existence. Terminator Genisys won’t milk the original feelings of dread and horror like the original and it definitely lacks the heart but it’s still a solid thrill ride.