Terminator Genisys feels like a superfluous do-over for a franchise whose glory days are long behind it

Terminator Genisys

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

2015 has so far been the year of the long-awaited sequel, from the motorized mayhem of Mad Max: Fury Road to the dino disaster flick that was Jurassic World.

Compared to the time that’s passed since the character of Max Rockatansky, and Islas Nublar and Sorna, last appeared on our screens — 29 years and 14 years respectively — it seems like only yesterday that we failed to thrill to the dubious charm (or lack thereof) of Terminator: Salvation.

What Terminator Genisys offers, though, that its immediate predecessor lacked, is the return of the flesh-and-blood Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, where would the series be without the (now well-matured) Austrian Oak?

Terminator Genisys is less a cut-and-dried sequel, though, than a “soft reboot”, simultaneously paying homage to and mucking around with the continuity of the original films — specifically those directed by James Cameron— in a way that would make Back to the Future Part II blush.

Picking up in that now iconic dystopian future, best described as blackened-skulls-and-burnt-out-vehicles chic, we finally play witness to Kyle Reese’s (Jai Courtney) departure from 2029 — including a knowing encounter with humanity’s savior, John Connor (a scar-faced, strangely avuncular Jason Clarke) — leading to an almost shot-by-shot recreation of his arrival in L.A. circa 1984.

While his choice of kicks may be the same — a pair of oh-so cool Nike Vandals — Kyle quickly discovers that all is not as it should be. Instead of the feathery haired damsel in distress he was sent back to protect, the Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Kyle encounters is a pistol-packing bad-ass with a formidable guardian already in tow: a slightly more grizzled T-800 which she calls “Pops”.

In fact they’ve already dispensed with the villain of the original film — then seemingly unstoppable — in a young vs. old smack-down marred only by some slightly wooden CGI (that being said, Arnie never was never the most expressive actor during his early years).

What follows is less a cinematic experience in its own right than a mash-up of Greatest Hits from the first two films. There’s a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) to contend with — now with added spear-throwing ability! — and cameos by alternate timeline versions of a few old favorites, like Courtney B. Vance AKA Not Joe Morton as would-be Skynet creator Miles Dyson.

In terms of new characters we get Detective O’Brien, played by Oscar-winning person J.K. Simmons, a slightly manic detective with a personal investment in all this time travel malarkey. O’Brien’s role in the actual plot is negligible, but he does get to deliver the line “Goddamn time-traveling robots”, so that’s something.

Sadly, though, these callbacks to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are inevitably more interesting than anything Terminator Genisys can come up with of its own accord. The T-1000 remains a great villain — those liquid metal effects are still as cool as ever — and there’s a tense sequence involving a menacingly mobile T-800 exoskeleton, but the film’s two new models lack the same innate sense of menace.

Already spoiled in the marketing campaign — much to director Alan Taylor’s apparent chagrin — the conceit of hero-into-villain is a nice twist on T2 but the character’s revamped motivations are too compromised to be truly effective.

Arnie is more relaxed than he’s ever, coming across as a logical, grey-haired development of the T2 incarnation, still working on that horsey grin — as Sarah’s Pops is quick to (repeatedly) say, “Old but not obsolete”.

Neither Jai Courtney nor Emilia Clarke fully convince, however: Courtney lacks the traumatized intensity Michael Biehn brought to the role and Clarke feels disappointingly lightweight compared to Linda Hamilton, never finding the striking blend of toughness and vulnerability that fellow Game of Thrones alum Lena Headey conjured up in TV spin-off The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Also, in the given context, the usually excellent Matt Smith is simply distracting.

While paving the way for the future, Terminator Genisys replaces the series’ grit with gloss, upgrading it into a big, dumb actioner — and for all that (disrupted) continuity there’s nary a sign of the unfortunate Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen). Upturning school buses on the Golden Gate Bridge brings nothing to the screen that we haven’t seen in the likes of The Dark Knight or Rise of the Planet of the Apes; a poor shout for arguably sci-fi’s most enduring franchise (then again Prometheus was no great shakes either).

They even wasted the one “I’ll be back” in the service of misjudged humor and Brad Fiedel’s marvelous score barely gets a look-in. For shame. Okay, that competitive clip-loading moment was nicely underplayed. What more do you want from me?

Broadly speaking, here’s been a noticeable drop off in quality from Mad Max to Jurassic World to this dreck. Only time will tell if Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the curve…

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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