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July 2, 2015
Genisys is the best Terminator in over 20 years, but sadly that isn’t saying much.
The film does start with some promise, presenting what amounts to deleted scenes from James Cameron’s 1984 original, showing the future-set plot machinations that ultimately led to Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and his human adversary, Kyle Reese, being sent back in time.
From there on Genisys remixes that first film, painstakingly recreating scenes and even exact shots before flipping them on their heads for an alternate timeline take on the franchise, akin to JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot.
Beyond this first act, various plot machinations see Reese, joined by Sarah Connor and an ageing, protective T-800 nicknamed ‘Pops’, wind up in 2017 to prevent the latest take on the series’ robot apocalypse – this time, wincingly, caused by a “killer app”, the eponymous ‘Genisys’.
Dodgy references to social media and smartphones aside, the plot here undoubtedly represents a franchise nadir. Time travel stories almost always unravel if you pull on the strings for long enough, but Genisys gives way on the first tug, excusing itself with technobabble about “nexus points in the timestream” that would make Doctor Who ashamed.
Speaking of, fans looking forward to Matt Smith’s role (credited here as Matthew, oddly enough) should lower their expectations right to the ground, as it amounts to little more than a cameo appearance, presumably set up for a bigger part in the sequels the film’s ending goes out of its way to make room for.
The rest of the cast almost universally disappoint. Emilia Clarke shows little of the fire she’s demonstrated in Game of Thrones, her Sarah Connor a bland imitation of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but short a good deal of her steely determination. Jai Courtney suffers similarly from comparisons to past films, his Kyle Reese a monotonous, forgettable lump of muscle with none of the nervous, wiry energy Michael Biehn memorably brought to the role.
Jason Clarke at least has less of a legacy to live up to, other adult John Connors consisting of the perpetually sullen Nick Stahl and the perpetually shouty Christian Bale. He holds up better than most here, though that’s not worth much.
JK Simmons brings brief comic relief in a small role as a police officer, but is all too quickly forgotten by the plot as it rushes on to its inevitably explosive finale.
It’s franchise veteran, Arnie, whose performance shines the brightest here. It’s hardly a tour de force, but his physical presence and comic sensibility are both used to good effect throughout.
More surprisingly, there’s real warmth brought on by his T-800’s role as father figure to the young Sarah Connor, a natural extension of his arc in Terminator 2, and it’s here that the film almost – just almost – manages some fragmentary emotional depth.
Director Alan Taylor once again shows the skill for action he demonstrated in Thor: The Dark World, though nothing here matches that film’s portal-zapping finale. There’s a satisfying crunch to the hand-to-hand combat, though the film’s 12A rating keeps things bloodless for the most part.
A high-stakes helicopter chase sequence shows astonishingly little regard for the laws of physics even by Hollywood standards, and seems to keep forgetting when the vehicles have been damaged, but otherwise the action is exciting enough in the moment, if ultimately unremarkable.
Genisys is a desperate gambit to inject some life into the Terminator franchise, with plans clearly in place for the remaining parts of a trilogy, should this new installment find success at the box office.
This only adds to the feeling that Genisys is a film made principally because someone had the rights and Schwarzenegger wanted a new car or five, trading on nostalgia and one-liners to lure fans to the cinema.
If all you want is to watch the former Governator blow shit up and grimace his way through ‘I’ll be back’ one more time, Genisys is an enjoyable enough ride. If you’re looking for the dark, paranoid brilliance imbued in Cameron’s first two films, well, just re-watch those instead.
Terminator Genisys is released in UK cinemas on July 3rd