Review: Terminator: Genisys
In an attempt to reinvigorate a stalled series, the enduring Terminator franchise returns to the past, compiling an awkward pastiche into something new and shiny, loud and incompatible.
That’s because this sequel/remake/re-imagining as it were runs parallel to the first 1984 film, where we witness two naked men from the future land separately in Los Angeles, one looking to kill Sarah Connor, the other trying to protect her. This time though, because of events that have taken place in the future (and in order to create a ‘new’ story), the 1984 these men return to is different. Instead of Linda Hamilton as Connor serving tables and being an ordinary, unaware victim, we have actress Emilia Clarke, a soldier and survivor who has been enlisted with a lifelong protector in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 series machine.
The most consistent part of the franchise has returned, thankfully. Schwarzenegger did not appear in the fourth, most recent film while tending to his Governor duties, but is welcomed back with a lead role. He is given then name Pops by Connor, and brings to the screen more emotion and certainly compassion than his male counterparts. He is Connor’s guardiain this alternate 1984, one that sees him confront the previous, evil version of himself early on in the film (it gets a little confusing).
Before that though, we are treated to a monologue by soldier-hero Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), a successful raid on the evil Skynet, and an order by rebel leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) to send someone back in time to protect his mother. That something goes wrong and sees Connor reappear much later is one in a long line of predictable, silly tweaks.
While being chased down by a pair of different terminators, one in 1984, and one in 2017, Reese does an awkward courtship with Connor, acting both inadequate and sexist towards a woman that he wants to protect but doesn’t quite understand is his equal. Terminator: Genisys feigns to present a tough female character: it comes from a condescending, skewed point of view as if to say sure, she is gun-toting and ass-kicking, but she still inevitably needs a man. Unfortunately that man is Reese, whose wild, childlike emotions and griping about Pops is meant to be seen as love of the entitlement that it is.
We also bear witness to a nude shadow of Connor as she undresses in preparation for time travel, a move that of course Reese sees as some sort of romantic connection and not the necessary survival act that it is. It’s fitting that Reese is insecure around Sarah’s robotic guardian because Courtney pales in comparison in terms of charm and likeability to Schwarzenegger himself, who is for the most part the only fun aspect of the film. “Old, but not obsolete,” he proudly proclaims.
Not that Terminator cares about emotions or equality; or plot for that matter. This Terminator, directed by Alan Taylor, often stalls in trying to explain just what is going on and why, failing to bring interest or levity to what is an absurd story told soberly. The 1984 Terminator is another T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), and the film makes sure to have him riddled with bullet holes in order to show the liquid metal return to form, something we saw in the second film. We’ve another kooky detective (J.K. Simmons) who believes in Connor and Reese, but made to be the butt of jokes. There is more motorcycling-riding, shotgun-firing, and an explosive finale that like so many other blockbusters, does well to damage San Francisco – it’s really taking a pounding lately.
The only slightly poignant discussion comes from Genisys itself, a global technology company on the eve of releasing a much-anticipated piece of technology that will link together everyone’s information and make life easier. That should sound familiar. Little do the people who are lining up and watching the countdown clock know that Genisys isn’t just some app that help them take pictures of their meals; no, it’s a program that will see to it robots rule the world. Perhaps Connor and Reese and their metallic companion can stop them – it’s all a bit of history repeating.