From the Vault #3: TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from July 3rd, 2015. Having just rewatched this one in advance of Terminator: Dark Fate, I pretty much stand by these four year old words, even if I was kinder then to the central duo than I was on a rewatch and Tweet thread I did…

There is no fate but the filmmakers make. That should be the new motto for the Terminator franchise, which since T2: Judgment Day way back in 1991 delivered what effectively would have been a perfectly bittersweet conclusion to the concept, has been hacked away at to the point of almost complete dilution. Cue Terminator Genisys.

The unfairly maligned T3: Rise of the Machines attempted its own sense of finality until Terminator: Salvation came along and put what seemed like a nail in the cinematic coffin, as leaden and misjudged as it was. Enter Skydance to mop up the rights to James Cameron’s franchise, long scattered to the Hollywood winds, and announce the beginning of a brand new trilogy that will revive the Terminator saga, not to mention revive the post-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger in the most seminal role of his career. That’s fine, right? The Terminator franchise has always poked about in temporal mechanics, with multiple timelines on film and TV versions, not to mention multiple actors in the signature roles of Sarah Connor, John Connor and now Kyle Reese. Genisys would be the start of a fresh new take on the war against the machines, right?

Well no. There’s nothing fresh about Terminator Genisys. It could be described akin to a James Cameron greatest scenes hits package left out to steadily roast in the sun.

Any fan of the original two Terminator pictures is going to have immense problems with Genisys, right from the get go. Why? Because its primary choice is rewriting the timeline of the first two films completely.

People have compared this to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek timey wimey reboot, which worked well, but there’s a fundamental difference; that picture reset the button but continued, effectively, the story of the franchise’s main character & delivered an entirely new plot around the timeline change. Genisys simply rewrites the original 1984 film by having Jai Courtney’s Reese thrown back, in exactly the same way, to find himself in a new timeline whereby Sarah is already a badass, T2 style, now in the comely form of Emilia Clarke, being protected by an old, not obsolete T-100 model Terminator, played of course by an aged Arnie, who she fondly refers to as ‘Pops’.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem were it not for the *major* temporal plot hole question, never resolved, as to how this timeline change happens – thanks to a key event in the SkyNet future that conveniently didn’t seem to happen in the original timeline. It’s one of those time travel problems that, once you see it, you just can’t look past it. Objectively if you try, the picture then gives us the traditional concept – Terminators coming back to 1984 to kill Sarah & make sure Jason Clarke’s John Connor is never born – this time with added Arnie, replete with robotic delivery and quippy, jokey moments along for the ride. Courtney is surprisingly decent as Reese (if no Michael Biehn) and Clarke makes for a damn fine Sarah, both in performance and looks – the Khaleesi was always going to nail this though, let’s be fair.

*Then*. Then. We get what may go down as ‘*that* plot twist’. Putting aside the fact, as part of its moronic marketing campaign said mid-point reveal was blown in the main trailer (which even Alan Taylor, on directorial duties, has bemoaned thankfully), it’s an enormously questionable idea which serves primarily to throw a massive curveball into the ideas Genisys is playing with, the same ideas about making our own fate that all the films have thus far.

In fairness, what does feel new is Sarah & Reese’s relationship, intentionally very different from Biehn & Linda Hamilton’s by virtue of them both knowing their destinies; Clarke especially plays Sarah as a woman who was from childhood denied a choice in life, forced to work toward the events of 1984 and the eventual battle with SkyNet. All that works and even, dare it be said, she & Courtney have decent chemistry, with Arnie always charming as effectively the ‘concerned father’ of the unlikely trio – despite a lot of his comedic moments feeling forced.

It’s the narrative choices writers Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier make which concern – sure the idea of Genisys definitely tracks well with the digital age (though don’t be fooled if they tell you the stupid spelling makes sense – it’s still idiotic), but *that plot twist* and its repercussions force the franchise to take a reactionary shape, and ultimately Taylor struggles to really prevent the picture drowning in a succession of explosions, chases, shootouts and smackdowns. It lacks the tension and straight up lo-fi weirdness of the original, or the hard boiled, epic, philosophical scope of T2. It’s just hollow noise in many places, and you may switch off during numerous action beats.

James Cameron has actually endorsed Terminator Genisys, describing it as the “spiritual T3“, which is just as well given the film utterly ignores both T3 and Salvation. One suspects he’s just doing his mate Arnie a favour and he’s not actually seen it. Had he, Cameron would realise that Alan Taylor’s film is written like a questionable piece of fan fiction, filled with lines evoking the first two films, filled with character beats you can imagine the writers salivating over portraying, and a massive conceptual twist in the standard Terminator tale that honestly just feels like one of those ideas that should have stayed cool on paper, because on screen it just feels desperate.

Let me be clear – Taylor does a perfectly good job, this has more oomph & incident than his last franchise picture, competently made; Emilia Clarke is great, Jai Courtney isn’t the usual movie Kryptonite you expect, and the Governator is of course always enjoyable to watch. It’s just utterly hollow, a big noisy shuffling of temporal timey wimey mechanics that does nothing we needed to a franchise that will always have legs, but deserved a comeback far less derivative and far more surprising.

Despite this, I’m sure ‘he’ll be back.’

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