HE said he’d be back, didn’t he?
Ladies and gentlemen, humans and robots, we have a fifth Terminator movie, Terminator Genisys, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned as the eponymous butt-kicking, one-liner spouting, cyborg protector.
Terminator Genisys (I’ll call it TG for short) completes the trifecta of 90s nostalgia movies in 2015 after the perfect Mad Max Fury Road and the record-smashing Jurassic World. TG does not match the critical success (and likely not the commercial success) of either of these other two movies, but (don’t terminate now) it is still worth the price of admission and is a must-see for all Terminator fans.
The Terminator franchise began in 1984 with the low budget action fest The Terminator written and directed by the visionary James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). The movie tells the story of a cyborg (Terminator) played by Schwarzenegger who is sent back in a time from a post-apocalyptic future ruled by machines and the artificial intelligence “Skynet” to kill a woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), before she can give birth to the future leader of the resistance John Connor (whew!). The resistance sends back a soldier, Kyle Reese, (Michael Biehn) to protect her and he is also John’s father. I know, it’s a bit confusing.
The film was an unexpected critical and commercial success and Cameron followed it up in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgment Day or T2 with Schwarzenegger returning as a new and reprogrammed Terminator sent back in time to protect a now teenage John Connor and his mother from a superior model, the shape shifting T-1000.
T2 was the highest grossing film on 1991, is listed as one of the greatest action films, science fiction films and sequels of all time and Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, arguably his best performance to date, is listed as one of the greatest heroes of all time according to the American Film Institute; his antagonistic first Terminator is also listed as one of the greatest villains.
If you have never seen this movie – hello cave person – T2 deserves every accolade it receives and it’s on a lot of people’s top movies list, including yours truly. There are lines and scenes that are still parodied on film, TV and in real life.
Sadly, Cameron left the franchise after T2, the inarguable zenith of Terminator movies, and it was all downhill from there with the mediocre Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the abominable Terminator: Salvation which you should save yourself from watching. So, for this latest outing, we have the movie equivalent of a crazy cousin showing up at your wedding – you are not sure you wanted or needed him there but it is still kind of fun he came.
After skipping Terminator: Salvation, save for a lame CGI cameo, Schwarzenegger returns to the role which made him an international megastar. He is joined by an entirely new lead cast: “Game of Thrones” dragon queen Emilia Clarke as Sarah, Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard) as Reese and another Clarke, Jason (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), as John Connor. The film is part sequel and reboot, going back in time and changing the story a la Star Trek 2009.
TG opens with Reese and John battling Skynet’s minions in 2029 and it gets props for being the most fully realised the post- apocalyptic future has ever been on screen. We also get to see an iconic moment only mentioned in the first film – Reese being sent back via the time machine. When Reese goes back, however, he does not find a weak and defenceless Sarah but a soldier that was raised by Schwarzenegger’s Terminator since the age of nine and whom she affectionately calls “Pops”. In the early scenes we see a retelling of the opening scene of The Terminator with Pops fighting a younger and alternate version of himself. Then we have a wonderful nod to T2 with a battle against a T-1000 played by Lee Byung-hun.
One of the high points of the film is the action which rarely lets up and packs a strong robo-punch. I would have liked some longer chase scenes, a staple of the earlier films, but I may be nitpicking. Your hunger for human on Terminator, and Terminator on Terminator violence will be satisfied in spades and is really edge-of-the-seat at immersive IMAX.
The main villain is – and it probably should have been left as a surprise but was spoiled in the trailer – John Connor himself who was infected by Skynet nano-technology and has become a new type of Terminator. For a good Terminator movie you need a great Terminator villain portrayal – one of the few good things about Terminator 3 – and Clarke is riveting and unstoppable as the human-form Terminator and my favourite performance of the movie.
After Clarke (J) I would give it to Schwarzenegger who slips into the role like fuzzy bedroom slippers and his “old but not defunct” Terminator is equal parts action and humour. Courtney is competent as Reese but lacks the haunted soul which Biehn brought to the role.
Of the leads my least favourite is Emilia Clarke who is actually the third actress to play the role: we had Linda Hamilton for the first two movies and Clarke’s Game of Thrones alum Lena Headey in the little known but fantastic Fox TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Clarke does not fully capture the strength and force of will of the character as both Hamilton and Headey, and plays her a little too lightly for my taste. It is not completely her fault, however, as she does not have a son to protect nor do we get to see her grow from victim to victor as in the first film.
In the movie Sarah lacks a true story arc and Reese does not have much of one, so the resolution is not very emotionally satisfying. I also found the love relationship between Sarah and Reese a bit more high school and less robot apocalypse. But the father/daughter relationship between Pops and Sarah is great and has some emotional weight though the mix with all three characters is a bit hit and miss.
TG could have very easily been a train wreck (and some believe it is) but kudos to the creators for making a cool, entertaining movie that pays respect to a beloved but uneven franchise. Cameron in an interview described it “as being extremely respectful of the first two movies” and he counts it as the official third film in the franchise. TG is scheduled to be the first film in a new trilogy – the ending could not scream sequel harder if it was an opera singer dressed in neon lights – but the poor critical and commercial performance is likely a death knell. It is a pity though, because I was really looking forward to Terminator Exodus and Terminator Leviticus.
RATING: Terminator Genysis gets 2/4 endoskeleton mangoes
So have you seen Terminator Genisys? What did you think of it? Feel free to comment below.