In 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger played the lead role in the James Cameron directed The Terminator. The Austrian man mountain of muscle became a Hollywood heavyweight thanks to his performance as the terrifying T-800 cyborg. 31 years later, Arnie’s back and greyer than ever, in the fifth instalment of the franchise Terminator Genisys directed by Thor: The Dark World’s Alan Taylor.
Genisys starts off in the year 2029 with the leader of the Human Resistance John Conor (Jason Clarke) and his right hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) launching an attack on the evil artificial intelligence system Skynet. While they defeat Skynet, they fail to stop its back up plan: sending a T-800 into the past to kill Conor’s mother Sarah and therefore wipe out his existence. In typical Terminator tradition, Reese volunteers follow the T-800 back in time and protect Sarah Conor. However, moments before Reese is transported into the past by the time machine, something happens which alters the familiar timeline.
When Reese arrives in 1984, he expects find a clueless Sarah Conor who is in need of his protection against a T-800 seeking to kill her, like in the first Terminator film. Instead he finds a battle-ready Sarah (played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) who is aware of who Reese is and why he has been sent into the past. Not only is Sarah in fully fledged badass mode, like she is in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but she is accompanied by an aged T-800, Arnie, who has been her guardian since she was nine years old.
The pace picks up from there and the first half turns out be an adrenaline fuelled spectacle. The mind blowing twist midway through the film would have been even more mind blowing if it hadn’t been spoiled in the trailers. It’s understandable why such a plot point was revealed in the marketing of the film but the impact of the twist itself would had been multiplied significantly if it had been kept a secret. Still, the twist works as the concept it throws up is very interesting.
Unfortunately it’s after this point where things start to go downhill. When the trio of heroes head to the future, the time-travel element is a little confusing and can be hard to follow on first viewing. There are exciting and entertaining sequences, like when the school bus is flipped over on the Golden Gate Bridge or the physics-defying helicopter chase, but nothing happens action-wise which is particularly memorable.
The special effects used in the film are good but there’s nothing game-changing here like there was in Terminator 2, where James Cameron set a precedent for the use of CGI . Considering Alan Taylor had a $155 million budget to play with, you’d expect more “wow” moments than bog-standard blockbuster explosions which Genisys is guilty of relying on. To be fair the recreation of Arnie circa 1984 is impressive as you’ll completely believe the computer generated Schwarzenegger is a real life human being. Well, technically speaking he’s a cyborg. The moment when the young Arnie squares up against his older self is spine tingling and is certainly one of the more memorable sequences of the film. Ultimately like most of the actions scenes, young Arnie vs old Arnie does quite payoff as you’d hope, as the fisticuffs don’t last very long, but to just see the two face off against each other is satisfying enough.
Ultimately Schwarzenegger is the star of the film as he lives up to the line he says: “Old but not obsolete.” Even though he is far past his physical prime, Arnie still manages to deliver a great (by his standards) performance. Armed with his trusty shotgun, he is still convincing as the menacing machine man you don’t want to mess with, but this time he adds a sense of weariness to the role.
Emilia Clarke’s performance is also very good as she trades being the mother of dragons for being the mother of the saviour of the human race. She brings a level of grit and determination to her role although it would have been an even better performance if her Sarah Conor was a bit more on edge like Linda Hamilton’s one was in Terminator 2.
Jai Courtney is fine as Kyle Reese; he’s not charismatic enough for you to really root for him but he’s not bland enough for you groan when he’s onscreen.
While the cast are all on good form, there’s still something lacking from Genisys which means it misses the magic from the first two films. Perhaps it’s the lack of graphic violence which could have raised the stakes and made Genisys feel like a mix of sci-fi and horror that Terminator’s 1 and 2 felt like. The threat that Arnie and Robert Patrick (as the liquid metal T-1000) brought to their Terminators in the original and first sequel would have served Genisys well as its Terminators look cool but are nowhere near as scary or imposing.
Genisys is a strange blend of reboot and sequel which aims to rewrite the Terminator lore we know and love for a new audience. While its ambitions are admirable, it’s a little bit too confusing in its second act to live up to the standards of the first (and best) two films of the franchise. While a mid-credit scene leaves the door open for a sequel, you probably won’t leave the cinema dying to see it. Still, it’s an enjoyable film and scores a: