Director: Alan Taylor; Screenwriter: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier; Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Matt Smith, Dayo Okeniyi; Running time: 126 minutes; Certification: 12A
Get ready to sigh heavily: this isn’t the Terminator film the world needs.
The first thirty minutes of Terminator Genisys feels like the giddy imaginings of a group of fifteen year old boys who saw The Terminator, thought it was too boring, so decided to write their own version with more shooting, less talking. “Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if Kyle Reese was totally ripped and a real wise-cracker? And then that liquid terminator from the second film could show up instantly and start killing people, ’cause that’s cool, then Sarah Connor rocks in but she’s already a totally hot badass. And then Arnie could come and fight himself as two different terminators!”. It’s like a cosplay that’s more interested in cracking jokes and conjuring classic lines for marketing value than telling a story of its own; it’s clunky, silly and annoying.
Admittedly there’s a certain nostalgia accompanying the early scenes set in 1984; the retro filter over the frame reminding us fondly of watching James Cameron’s seminal thriller. But that’s just the problem. It reminds us of watching something brilliant, leaving us only to question why we’re now sitting through the same set-up with 1/10th the quality. A young, naked Arnold approaches a group of punks smashing bottles off a telescope, yet there’s no Bill Paxton in sight, and in place of the charismatic Michael Biehn we have charisma vacuum that is Jai Courtney. “What day is it?” he asks the cop in the alley, “What year!?“. It’s 2015, and the Terminator franchise is hitting a depressing low. Watching this opening shot-for-shot remake is just the first stumbling block of many, and a platform for a film largely happy to rest on the laurels of its iconic title.
Casting-wise we’re not in terrible territory. To be completely fair to Courtney, he’s not nearly as rubbish as he’s been in the past, but that remains about the highest praise affordable. I’m desperate for him to prove me wrong, to impress even a little, but he just continues to land big roles and do nothing interesting with them. It’s probably unfair to place all the blame on him for the lack of chemistry between Kyle and Sarah Connor (think about how much you cared about Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn’s relationship), but he certainly doesn’t do anything to help it. Thankfully Jason Clarke and Emilia Clarke (no relation) are both fine actors – Emilia even looks rather similar to Hamilton, which must have been a deliberate choice. Predictably, Arnie is by far and away the best thing about Genisys, but even he can’t save the thing.
When the film finally becomes a bit more interested in actually telling a story of its own and not just ripping off the original, it does get more interesting. But even as it improves steadily through to the end, it’s still an incredibly ordinary film. A Terminator movie should stand out from the crowd, not be like any other generic 12A action movie out there. For large portions of this explosion-heavy, excitement-light slog, we could be watching any old thing. Terminator Salvation changed the dynamic of the series and got a lot of stick for doing so. It was called pointless and boring – but at least it tried to do something. If it was a failure, at least it was an admirable one. All Genisys does is retread footsteps it can’t possibly fill, and hope that Arnie cracking off deadpan jokes will be enough to make people blind to the fact that, actually, this is all rather rubbish.
Want to see me talk fondly of Terminator? Read my review of Terminator 2: Judgement Day here