Film review of ‘Terminator Genisys’

Try as it may, it can’t match ‘Back to the Future Part II’


The thrill of James Cameron’s first Terminator film (1984) was its purity: a waitress stalked night and day by a mute, invincible, stone-faced killer. Unstoppable, relentless – it required neither sleep nor sustenance and could not be reasoned with – its sole mission was to end her life. The stuff of nightmares then.

Familiar? He said he’d be back
In the backstory was a war that raged on between men and machines in the future following nuclear warfare. As the franchise went on, this backstory found its way increasingly to the forefront of the narrative, along with increasingly convoluted timelines created by all the instances of time-travel.

In this latest instalment (technically the fifth, but the third and fourth are ignored) we revisit certain moments from Cameron’s first two films in order to weave in a new story about an alternate timeline.

First off, in the future, the war with Skynet (read Google – the company that built the Terminators) is going great for the human resistance led by John Connor (Jason Clarke). And yet, on the precipice of victory, John finds out that Skynet has rigged the game by building its own time machine and sending a Terminator back to 1984 to murder his mother Sarah (Clarke), thereby preventing John’s birth. John responds by sending his own man, Kyle Reese (Courtney), back in time to stop the assassination taking place.

No cast-iron promises
Aside from Schwarzenegger, who reprises his iconic cyborg role (at various ages), the characters have all been recast with mostly unknowns, with the exception of the Linda Hamilton role that has been filled by Emilia Clarke (Kahleesi from Game of Thrones). And overall, the casting proves to be surprisingly intelligent and intuitive. The actors have been carefully selected for reasons more subtle than mere physical similarities – in essence, less lookalikes and more ‘feel-alikees’.

This, the fifth entry in the series, has been lumbered with the unenviable task of making sense of all that has gone before whilst bringing new audiences up to speed. It means there is little time left for the aforementioned ‘pure nightmare’ with which Cameron first captured our imagination, and instead much of the dialogue is packed with endless exposition.

Although the opening scenes lovingly recreate iconic moments from the franchise (“Your clothes, give them to me – now”), raising the possibility that it might play with the narrative of the first two films – in much the same way that Back to the Future Part II ingeniously fed off the events of the first – as things progress, that promise soon gives way to disappointment, and eventually boredom.

You’re terminated new mucker!
Terminator Genisys cannot be faulted for its craft or enthusiasm in paying tribute to Cameron’s original vision. The franchise has earned much admiration, even legendary Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky included the first film in his list of favourites (albeit with an acknowledgment of the film’s ‘crudeness’) and there is of course a core fan-base that devours each new instalment, be it film, television (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) or comic book with equal relish.

On the other hand, if the name Kyle Reese means nothing to you, and a T-800 might well be a vacuum cleaner, you’d be better off catching up on the first two. This new entry, despite being the first to earn an endorsement from Cameron himself, is something that can only be recommended to core fans – as a muddied curiosity.

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