I was very worried about Terminator: Genisys. Just the whole idea seemed shaky: it felt very forced to bring another film to this franchise, and while Arnold Schwarzenegger does still have something left in the tank – I for one really enjoyed The Last Stand – perhaps he’s getting a bit too creaky to play his best-known character again. Bear in mind, the film needed an excuse as to why this Model 101 looks significantly older than previous incarnations (the Terminator is covered in living tissue, which therefore ages). The trailers weren’t brilliant either, and made me wonder if Arnold’s total screen time was going to be limited. But I still love Terminator and I still love Arnold, so I went to see it anyway. And it was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared.
The beginning details the events that originally led up to the first Terminator film: in 2029, as the human resistance is on the verge of defeating the artificial intelligence Skynet and its army of machines, Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to erase resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) from existence. Connor’s right hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), is sent to 1984 to protect John’s mother Sarah – and father John while he’s at it. When Reese arrives, however, things are far from what he expected. There’s a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) waiting for him in 1984; Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is ready and waiting for his arrival; and she has a loyal Terminator of her own (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The timeline has seriously diverged – and this could provide Sarah and Reese with the opportunity to prevent the rise of Skynet altogether.
So yes, pretty much the only ways they could have another Terminator movie was by setting it after Judgement Day a la Terminator Salvation (yeah, that didn’t work too well) or by retconning the franchise as they do here. Some might see it as spoiling things – or you can just look at it as a separate, parallel entity. The other films still exist; they’re just in another universe now. And with its new scenario, Terminator: Genisys does bring new things to the table rather than just rehashing. I particularly liked the relationship between Sarah and her guardian Terminator, who she calls ‘Pops’, and who has basically raised her since she was a little girl, accounting for her changes in personality. In previous films, we’ve only seen human-Terminator relationships form and develop over a few days, so it’s interesting to see their interactions when they’ve been together for a long time, and how they react to Reese joining their little team. The film – which eventually moves to the year 2017 – also rewrites the development of Skynet, and does a good job of applying it to the present day with our dependence not only on machines in general, but the interconnections provided by technology, and how that makes us vulnerable.
Schwarzenegger’s latest Terminator, aka Pops, has pretty much everything that’s made the character work in the past: his action skills, his awkwardness and bluntness that creates quite a few humourous moments, and a one-liner here and there. He’s always a machine at heart, but much like in Terminator 2, a little humanity does seep into him, and problems caused by his age give him a little extra vulnerability. Admittedly, Arnold doesn’t have any especially memorable moments, but he has plenty of screen-time – it’s not just Sarah and Reese for most of the film, like I’d feared – and he doesn’t let his advanced age stop him. When the Terminator calls himself “old, not obsolete”, we know what he’s really referring to. I was keen to see Emilia “Daenerys” Clarke in something other than Game of Thrones, and she does a good job too as this new incarnation of Sarah Connor: I was hardly ever thinking of Game of Thrones while watching her. Oh, and Matt Smith (as in Doctor Who) is in this too, and speaking in an American accent, which is cool.
While the film is certainly entertaining throughout, it’s ultimately not that special as action and sci-fi goes these days. The action scenes towards the beginning are fast-paced and inventive, but the one at the climax felt very generic, like just another average action movie. It’s made very much in the modern style with overblown cinematography and special effects: these days, we can watch Judgement Day in all the detail we like as nuclear missiles blast San Francisco to smithereens, but it just doesn’t have the same impact as that horrific nightmare sequence in Terminator 2. I didn’t like what was done with the character of John Connor, either (as seen in the trailer): while it’s fairly creative, it just didn’t feel right.
If you’re a fan of Terminator, you needn’t be too worried, but don’t expect anything spectacular; taken a simple action flick, this one’s worth a watch. Based on the ending, who knows where the upcoming sequels will go; the timeline’s so all over the place I’m not entirely certain how John Connor will exist at all. Rating: 3.5/5.