Terminator Genisys is one part reboot, one part rip-off, and all parts ridiculous. Fashioned as an update to James Cameron’s massively popular sci-fi franchise, this movie somehow manages to both pay homage to the original 1984 film and to destroy our childhood memories of watching it. “I’m old, not obsolete,” Arnold Schwarznegger says repeatedly during the movie. Sadly, this franchise has been reduced to both.
Directed by TV veteran Alan Taylor (who also helmed Thor: The Dark World), Genisys opens with the same premise as the original: In 2027, where much of mankind has been wiped out by sentient computer network Skynet and its cyborg army, resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to keep an assassin Terminator from killing his mother and preventing him from being born.
Anyone who’s seen the first film knows how that turns out. Except that there’s a twist. When Kyle arrives in 1984, both he and we are surprised to find Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) waiting for him with a loyal Terminator (Schwarznegger) whom she affectionately refers to as “Pops”. What’s more, Judgment Day – when Skynet will turn evil through all-powerful operating system Genisys – is not 1997, but 2017.
There’s something comforting about the familiarity of the movie’s first act and the iconic imagery from the original film that’s recreated here. But that quickly goes out of the window. It’s hard to keep up with the shifting timelines and to keep track of who is coming from where. At one point someone says: “Time travel makes my head hurt.” He speaks for all of us.
The action feels repetitive and frankly never as thrilling as in the first two films. The best set-piece, however, is a confrontation between both Schwarzneggers – the Guardian Terminator versus the younger, evil T-800. Visual effects are impressive, but exactly how many times do we need to see cyborgs being shot at, only to regenerate within moments? Nothing is more underwhelming than the performances though. Jai Courtney is dour and charmless in the part of Kyle Reese, and Jason Clarke is spectacularly disappointing as John Connor. It doesn’t help that their parts are poorly fleshed, making it hard for you to care for them. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, playing the new badass version of Sarah Connor, is surprisingly bland.
What does it say about a film when the actor playing a robot is the least wooden of the cast? It’s true; the only person who brings any wit whatsoever to this singularly humorless enterprise is the 67-year-old Schwarznegger, whose presence invokes the earlier films. Too bad he’s saddled with such clunky dialogue that when he finally utters that iconic line: “I’ll be back”, you can’t help responding, “Don’t bother!”
I’m going with two out of five for Terminator Genisys. This fifth chapter in the saga is all sound and fury, with none of the character depth or emotional impact of Cameron’s terrific first two films.