Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, JK Simmons
“The future’s not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves”; the events of the Terminator films have always been driven by this idea that the key to changing the future lies in the past. So it makes sense that in his attempt to reset this man vs. machine series and lead it back down a more prosperous path, director Alan Taylor has taken us back to the beginning of the story.
The problem, as it soon becomes all too painfully clear, is that this is just about the only thing in Terminator Genisys that actually does make sense. Saddled with a plot so artificial you wonder how it didn’t become self-aware of its own shoddiness, this overlong and overcomplicated ode to James Cameron’s original two Terminators is a disastrous disappointment that’s likely to decide the fate of the franchise for it.
From the start, Terminator Genisys has both the look and feel of a film that’s nothing but an inferior impersonation of what it’s trying to imitate. The opening shots of LA in 2029 are, like they were in McG’s feeble fourth installment Salvation, indisputably bleak but also inescapably bland.It is against this pallid panorama that we touch base with John Connor (Jason Clarke, disappointingly dull), leader of the Human Resistance, as he’s about to launch a major assault against Skynet’s last surviving stronghold. The war, it would seem, is all but over. However, there’s a problem; pre-empting their own defeat, the machines have built a time portal and sent a Terminator back to 1984 with a mission to kill John before he was born by assassinating his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke, a suitably strong but susceptible presence). And so to protect her, John sends his own loyal lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, as charismatic as an iron girder) back in time as well.
When Reese arrives, however, he discovers that not everything is as he expected it to be. Sarah is not the vulnerable victim; instead she’s a fully-fledged fighter who’s been trained since she was a child by a reprogramed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, frustratingly sidelined for the most part) whom she’s affectionately named “Pops”. And now the plan is to go forward in to the future and stop Skynet before it comes online.
It’s hard to condemn Taylor or his screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier for fracturing the Terminator timeline once more (though it is not expressly said, the 3rd and 4th films have been wiped from the memory). After all, if one were to sit down and try to truly make sense of the events that have got us to this point, they’d be lost before reaching the closing credits of Cameron’s ’84 original.
What kept Cameron’s films so grounded though was their ability to keep the story simplistic, something that Taylor, Kalogridis and Lussier struggle to do. The script here is an indecipherable mess that’s programed with a mass of misjudged humour, and more concerned with offering up explanations than it ever is with stirring up excitement.
Action sequences are few and far between, and when they do appear they’re so weightless and wearisome that you still find your interest dwindling; the puzzling plot causes any enthusiasm to be exterminated. Curiously, the CGI now is, though competent, less convincing than it once was. Even the early scenes, which meticulously mirror those from The Terminator, strike you as so soulless that all they really do is remind you of how groundbreaking the graphics were back in ’84 and ‘91.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, how good can we expect a film that apparently didn’t even bother to spell-check its own title to be? Judging by the post-credits sting, which ensures the set-up for further adventures, the answer is ‘very’. But you can’t help but be left thinking that Taylor’s overconfidence in what he has created does nothing but tempt fate.