There is no fate but what Hollywood remakes. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until every franchise is dead. But this strangely-spelt retcon may not be terminated just yet. Warnyng: Contayns myld plot spoylers.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Corey Hogan
Initially, things were not looking promising leading up to the release of the latest Terminator entry. The franchise rights jumped from company to company, bankrupting some and forcing others out of production before landing in Paramount’s lap; a number of directors were cycled through only to drop out (including Ang Lee, Rian Johnson, Denis Villeneuve and Justin Lin) before Alan Taylor was hired. Creative decisions, including a timeline rewrite, a lower rating certificate and deliberate misspelling of the word “genesis”, alongside an absolutely disastrous marketing campaign, featuring SyFy channel-quality promotional images, and a series of trailers that showcased unfinished-looking visual effects, ruined several of the film’s big twists, and shamelessly pandered to Game of Thrones fans (the “Mother of Dragons” is the “Mother of the Resistance”?).
And yet, lo and behold, Terminator Genisys is not the train wreck so many expected. By no means great; the film is still hugely flawed, and was never going to live up to the first two classics, but it does surpass the hapless third and fourth films, and manages to hold its convoluted and overcrowded narrative together – just – to make for an entertaining, albeit puzzling ride.
In 2029, leader of the human resistance John Connor (Jason Clarke), and his predestined father Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) lead an assault on killer-machine syndicate Skynet, arriving too late to stop the A.I. sending a T-800 back to 1984, setting the events of the first film in motion. Connor sends Reese after it as planned, but Reese discovers this past is not the one he expected – instead of a waitress, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is already a warrior, made aware of the impending apocalypse by her own guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger, naturally) sent back to her at age 9. The trio discover this altered timeline has changed the time and cause of Judgement Day, and so travel forward to 2017 to stop Skynet, now disguised as media platform GENISYS, from coming online; all whilst hunted by another T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) and John Connor himself, newly transformed into a T-3000.
Terminator Salvation proved audiences have no interest in the Terminator world post-apocalypse, so the only option was to return to the original back-in-time face-off formula and rewrite history – the future may not be set, but it seems neither is the past any longer. The film’s first half-hour can only be described as a nostalgic clusterfuck; editing the events of 1984 and cramming in as many references and lines (however clumsily) from the original films as possible. Though tarnishing the sacred in the eyes of some, this actually proves to be quite good fun, but sadly bodes ill for the remaining runtime. Rooting itself so deeply in recalling the best moments, Genisys struggles to find an identity of its own; its confusing and uninspired story fizzling out over the next hour and a half. Taylor keeps the pace and action beats coming fast to distract from the baffling time schematics, but just can’t shake the sense that it could have been so much more if not rushed through and angled as another trilogy kick-off.
Schwarzenegger slips back into his signature role with ease, finally feeling at home again since his return to acting a few years back, though somewhat sidelined by the franchise newcomers. Jai Courtney, a normally bland and unfavourable screen presence, is finally given a role with some meat and is surprisingly decent – he’s no Michael Biehn, but he at least shows a little more charisma than we’re used to. Emilia Clarke has Linda Hamilton’s look down-pact but oddly bears little personality resemblance to the Sarah Connor we know; she instead seems to channel Edward Furlong’s young badass John from T2, which bewilders, but at least allows for some amusing banter with her pet Arnie. Lee Byung-hun is impressive as the new T-1000, which makes it sadder that he exists only to reference T2 and vanishes after the opening, while former Doctor Who Matt Smith is underappreciated in a role far too small. Jason Clarke does his best with a questionable arc for robo-John Connor that ultimately doesn’t satisfy; again it feels as though much more work was needed in minimising script messiness.
With Terminator rights reverting back to James Cameron in 2019, the future is again not written for our cybernetic organisms. Cameron has expressed interest in returning, though he could leave this trilogy to play out with Paramount if he so chooses, in which case, there is much work to do still to prove its worth. As with Thor: The Dark World, Alan Taylor has delivered a serviceable, but fairly forgettable franchise filler that will divide fans. With a new timeline established though, let’s see what this old bucket of bolts can do.
Terminator Genisys is in Australian cinemas as of Wednesday July 1st
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures