Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney and J.K Simmons
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: July 3rd
At movie number five, Terminator: Genisys is the rubber match, the decider whether a much-loved and recently maligned movie series is predominantly good or bad. After 09’s Salvation sucked all the life out of the dwindling franchise — less cybernetic organisms and time travel, more growling Christian Bale and deforestation — little was left to say or explore. A reboot then, was always on the cards.
Genisys, directed by Thor: The Dark World and Game of Thrones vet Alan Taylor, is more than a reboot though, working more like a retcon of the entire universe, akin to how comic books hit the reset button only to find that established lines, tropes and constructs have been warped. The familiar sight of a nuclear wasteland California is there, along with T-800s crushing skulls and John Connor (Jason Clarke) sending Kyle Reese (Sam Worthington, rebranded as ‘Jai Courtney’) back in time to both save his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and sire him. It’s at the jump to the 1980s where things get strange as Genisys doesn’t look to rehash James Cameron’s original but gate crash the actual movie with a whole new agenda. There’s the familiarity of mohawked punks, the T-800 Model 101 (a young CG Schwarzenegger), the department store and hi-top Nikes; but then there’s an older Model 101 — affectionately named Pops (an aged, non-CG Schwarzenegger) — acting as a guardian for a fully militarised Sarah Connor and a T-1000 thrown in to boot. It’s the best sequence on offer, playing out like a massively budgeted fan fiction romp.
From there, things get more colluded, messy and daft. Sarah, Kyle and Pops orchestrate a time-travel jump to 2017 to stop Genisys, a multi-platform operating system that is a smokescreen for malevolent all-humans-must-die virus Skynet, from being brought online by Cyberdyne. Put simply, they have to blow up Google to stop an Android update. The time-jump sparks a chase sequence that doesn’t let up even briefly as they’re chased by another Terminator, the T3000, which uses nanobot technology to deus ex machina itself out of any situation.
Taylor has made a career for himself as a steward of established properties and he ensures Genisys uses the same visual language of previous instalments — particularly in the painstaking accuracy of the 80s scene — but doesn’t have anything new to stamp on the franchise. In his defence, he’s working off a script that asks a lot of its viewer. The Terminator‘s time-travel paradoxes have always been a challenge but adding in the creation of a different timeline certainly doesn’t help.
Arnie makes a respectable return, having just enough presence to still feel a physical threat and extending on the more human side he approached in T2 with out descending into the camp farce of Rise of the Machines — his constant fatherly badgering of Sarah to ‘mate’ with Kyle Reese is hilarious and incredibly creepy. Clarke makes a decent stab at approaching Linda Hamilton’s toughness, showing that’s it’s not just her TV children that can spit fire. She’s a mismatch with Courtney, who lacks any of the charisma or guile to have you believe the two were meant to be great lovers.
So how exactly does Genisys tilt the scales between good and bad for The Terminator franchise? To cheat, I’d use its convoluted alternate timeline to answer. There’s a timeline where your expectations are quite low and don’t feel the original text sacrosanct. In that world lies a perfectly suitable blockbuster. In the other, where the T 800 stands as a God and Sarah Connor a queen, it’s best to give it a hard pass.