The fifth instalment in the Terminator franchise,1 Terminator Genisys, reinvigorates the series, moving past the point of no return offered by Terminator Salvation in offering an alternative timeline of the events that lead to Judgement Day. This is done by ignoring the events of the third and fourth (and much of the first and second) instalments through an ingenious and (somewhat) convoluted plot device. Using a hybrid of the conceits of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day as a jumping-off point, Terminator Genisys sufficiently creates a new canon for the rebooted series, although the film itself is unfortunately bogged down by neutered, “safe for teens” violence, convoluted plotting, contrived dialogue and weak pacing.
The film kicks off with a bang, with John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading the Resistance in an ambush on Skynet’s greatest weapon, a time travel machine, which will apparently lead the Resistance to victory if destroyed. A huge, bloodless lazer battle ensues with a lot of explosions and some pretty poor sound effects as Connor and company breach the base. Unfortunately, Skynet is one step ahead of them, sending a young Arnie (played by Brett Azar with some pretty rubbery CGI make-up and overdubbing by the man himself) back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). In retaliation, the Resistance sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect Sarah Connor,2 however John Connor is attacked by Skynet just as Reese is being transported, leading to the splintering of timelines that sees Reese dropped into an alternate 1984, one that already features a good Arnie (played by the actual Arnold Schwarzenegger) and an evil T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun, of The Good, the Bad and the Weird and I Saw the Devil fame). In this alternate timeline Reese has a fresh set of new memories, which inform him that Skynet is Genisys, a cloud computing service that closely replicates Apple’s cross-platform integration practices, which will be launched in 2017. Using a makeshift time-travel device, Reese and Connor travel to 2017 to stop Skynet from launching and save humanity, with a number of twists and turns along the way.
While it’s a very convoluted premise, it’s also an effective way to reboot the franchise, sitting in a middle ground between the genre-film roots of The Terminator and the ridiculous FX-film cred of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The return of Schwarzenegger to the franchise is welcome too, turning in a wooden yet fairly entertaining performance. The film’s problems all lie in execution – no performance is particularly good, and for every great action set-piece3 there’s one or two fairly bad ones. The bloodlessness of this entry into the franchise (the series’ second PG-13 instalment) is to its detriment, as the film is unable to turn everything up to eleven and escalate the stakes raised by previous entries. As with many other action flicks, the runtime is also bloated, the dialogue is silly (forgivably so, as it is mostly fairly self-aware), and the whole thing is just a bit dull at times.
In saying that, the film is a nice counterpoint to the recent Jurassic World, a film so arrogantly malicious in its attack on fans and the franchise that it comes across as a snarky hate letter to the Jurassic Park series it is supposed to be a part of. Terminator Genisys, while probably just as bad as Jurassic World in terms of filmmaking quality, is about ten times more fun, a worthy reboot that respects the fans of the franchise and rehashes a lot of past material to its own benefit. While it’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination (unless you count being respectful to its roots as being “good”), it’s a pretty fun time overall and, in spite of some plodding moments, is probably even worth a lazy rewatch sometime in the future (which is a lot more than can be said about a lot of the other action sludge that has come out of late).
Much of the criticism Genisys has received this year is unfounded, the film has somehow managed to become the whipping boy of every critic and their dog, tired of sequels and reboots in an ever more saturated market.4 That said, Terminator Genisys just isn’t up to snuff overall, in a world where genre gems like Lucy, John Wick, and Mad Max: Fury Road see wide release in mainstream cinemas. That’s not to say that it’s an ineffective reboot – the catalyst for change is a respectful one that retains the glory of all of the prior instalments that matter, the reintroduction of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is welcome, and the world that Genisys has carved out is ripe for fresh new tales of termination – however as a standalone feature, Genisys doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. I look forward to the inevitable sequel in this reboot’s apparent trilogy – if it learns from this film’s mistakes it could be something truly worth a look at.