Trying too hard. Thinking of great ideas but executing them in a poor fashion. Tipping the hat to everything that has come before it. Terminator Genisys ticks all the boxes you would expect from a re-sequ-make-boot but unlike most, the good outweighs the bad. Just about.
Truth be told, that opening salvo is probably the most negative thing I’ll say about this film. Certainly it ranks as the third best in the franchise behind 1 and 2 and having suffered 3 and 4 it is clear there’s worse directions they could have taken this. Like J.J Abrams did with Star Trek, Genisys uses the alternate time line concept to kick-start a new Terminator trilogy wherein the original films are wiped from the slate and a new timeline begins.
Few films achieve the level of analysis and fan amended mythology that the Terminator series has and so when it comes to any new entry in the series, the knives are out en masse. From my own perspective, Terminator films tackle time travel and seeing as how little if any films are yet to tackle said topic with even an attempt at credibility, I don’t see the point in trying to find places to trip up in a Terminator film. Anything you raise as a plot or continuity contrivance can be immediately written off with “cause…time travel” and so the point is moot. Genisys takes us to an alternate timeline where the original Terminator films never happened because Sarah Connor has had a guardian angel in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 101 model having been sent back to 1973 to thwart the first attempt on her life and in turn essentially raising her as a father figure. I badly want to go into detail about how this is the worst and most blatant disregard for the “rules” of time travel the series has displayed, but again I won’t bother. Just ignore it.
So in this new time line, Kyle Reese is still sent back to protect Sarah but he arrives to find that he is even more so a stranger in a strange land. My first full fledged criticism of the film has got to be Jai Courtney. Look, I hate to rag on an actor’s talents or lack thereof as a focal point of a review, but Jai Courtney is yet to impress me in a role and this film is no different. Michael Biehn was great in the original, playing above and beyond the level of commitment the role even required. Here, Courtney is required to exhibit many of those same qualities that Biehn brought to the role but he just doesn’t have the mettle. Emilia Clarke fares a lot better though you could argue she is playing a more forgiving character. When we meet her in this film she is in no way supposed to represent Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor because, well, that character doesn’t exist anymore. Clarke puts her own solid stamp on the role and she will be a joy to watch throughout this trilogy should it happen. Then we get to the Austrian Oak himself. I have been trying to determine since seeing this film is the presence of Arnie is the strongest contributor to this film’s strength over the last two sequels and I think I can now safely say that yes, he has once again proven himself crucial to the franchise. Those who have seen T2, and especially the Director’s Cut, will be right at home with Arnie’s “Pops” Terminator here as he gets to play the role with more humanity than we have seen before.
To round up the plot here as simply as possible, the creation of this new timeline has created a new Judgement Day (the third of the series so far) which will take place in the year 2017. After Reese arrives in 1984, he and Sarah travel to 2017 in a time travel device created by Pops in order to once again thwart Skynet. When they arrive in the future, they are shocked by the arrival of the 2029 John Connor on the scene, who it transpires has been turned into a nano-tech T3000 Terminator model. Let’s talk about all that for a second because this has been one of the film’s biggest pre-release controversies. Director Alan Taylor hasn’t been shy in recent publicity appearances about lambasting Paramount for including this big reveal in the trailers. Having seen the film, it is clear that audiences were intended to be shocked by the plot twist that John Connor is indeed a machine when he arrives in 2017 and I’m right on side with Taylor here, we shouldn’t know this before seeing the film. It is clear to me that the reveal within the film would have been massively effective had I not known. Much like Jurassic World earlier this summer, the pre-release marketing went too far with this film to the point that it hurt the cinema-going experience and, unlike Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys has suffered dramatically at the box office as a result. Amongst other things.
As I have said before, Genisys definitely sits in with the first two films in the series with regard prowess. James Cameron himself has said that he considers it the true Terminator 3. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect or that it even comes close to the original two, but in today’s world of studio interference, PG-13 obsessions and money speaking louder than credibility it is certainly as good if not better than we could have hoped for. Rumour has it that Paramount will go ahead with the trilogy regardless of box office as the rights to the series revert to James Cameron in 2019, to be honest I would love if that were the case. Terminator Salvation may have been underwhelming, but it was doubly so given that it was the launching pad for a series that never happened. The least we could ask for is that this new generation is allowed run its course.