Who exactly is Terminator Genisys made for? That was the question going through my mind throughout the latest installment in the long-running, diminishing returns sci-fi action franchise that once married real ideas and humanity with thrilling action but now resembles the type of generic, flavourless blockbuster that so often permeates the multiplexes these days.
In a narrative that’s not too far away from announcing that you should just plain ignore Rise of the Machines and Salvation, Genisys kicks off by explaining how the dreaded Skynet went online and resulted in the world being a wasteland of despair before the famous John Connor (this time played by man-of-the-moment Jason Clarke) rises up and leads the Resistance against the machines.
Everything is as Terminator fans know and expect, with the machines sending back a T-800 Terminator to 1984 to kill John’s mother, with Kyle Reese (played now by Jai Courtney) being sent back to the same time to protect her. However, this is where Genisys differs as when Kyle gets back there nothing is as it was expected to be.
Plot-wise it’s best not to know much beyond that and, to be honest, even in seeing the movie it’s hard to really decipher it all – both in terms of the specific ins and outs of the time travel and perception of events and in the general bombastic filmmaking style – because it’s never really clear whether the movie itself knows exactly what it’s doing.
As I posited up top; who is this movie really for? If it’s for fans of the first two Terminator movies – for those either old enough to remember them in cinemas or from renting on video – as is clearly evident in the constant referencing to those films, then it’s just going to disappoint because it lacks the smarts, thought-provoking concepts, genuine emotion and above all else truly amazing and memorable action sequences. Also, in its approach of moving things forward and trying to be its own movie, it ultimately brushes the originals aside as if they never mattered at all.
On the other hand if the movie is to be treated as very much its own machine, as it were, then it’s entirely frustrating because it repeatedly leans on the shoulders of the originals for support – not so much hat-tipping but rather pointing a giant foam finger shouting “Remember that scene!” – in a way that will leave new, unfamiliar viewers cold. At the same time, as a modern blockbuster, with all the new age CGI bells and whistles, it merely blends into that most crowded of crowds. This is undoubtedly a by-product of the cinematic age in which we live, where liquid metal is no longer ground-breaking, but nevertheless it does nothing to create any sort of memorable blockbuster experience.
Now that’s not to say that the movie is completely worthless. A major plus point is the performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger – he said he’d be back, didn’t he? – who by now has that character perfected down to an absolute tee and he seems to be the only truly self-aware, so to speak, actor in the film. His comic relief – trying to blend in with an unsettling forced smile etc. – is a welcome break from an otherwise po-faced instalment; it’s not quite at the level of Salvation on that front but there are moments that definitely come close.
Emilia Clarke has a lot of beauty and screen presence and she can certainly hold her own in a male-driven world, as any Game of Thrones fans will know, and she’s solid here but doesn’t get anywhere near to filling the considerable boots of Linda Hamilton. Courtney continues to be a charisma vacuum of the highest order – along with the A Good Day to Die Hard, this is another fifth franchise instalment marred by his sheer presence – and there are several other actors, namely J.K. Simmons and South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee (as this film’s superfluous liquid T-1000), woefully underutilized in nothing roles.
The action sequences are fine, perfectly watchable in the modern blockbuster sense, but that’s all they are and in an age where there are so many big movies like this coming out, that just isn’t enough. There’s no real flair in their direction or content and so it ends up just lurching from one ordinary set-piece to another without a single one that will have you dying to talk about with friends afterwards.
While it’s not the outright disaster that it had the potential to be – and let’s be honest that a lot of us were truly expecting – Terminator Genisys is nevertheless another disappointing instalment in a once great franchise. Where T2 in particular posed fascinating questions – about everything from the logic of time travel to the responsibility of humans when it comes to creating technology – which had you pondering long after the credits rolled, this feels like it throws up questions that it doesn’t know how to answer; they are confusing rather than complex, a distraction rather than a welcome challenge. The film is just about passable fare if you’re not looking for anything intellectually demanding but even in the realm of leave your brain at the door mindless entertainment, it leaves a lot to be desired.