TERMINATOR: GENISYS (2015)
Dir: Alan Taylor
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney
Rating: * ½
I’ve never seen a movie sequel as convoluted as Terminator Genisys – and I’ve seen Jaws: The Revenge, the one where a Great White shark follows Chief Brody’s widow from Amity all the way down to the Bahamas, because, you know, revenge. One of the film’s many, many problems, other than complete redundancy, is that it doesn’t just attempt to engineer a new timeline along which to string further franchise instalments; it retroactively destroys the significance and potency of James Cameron’s peerless first two films. If Judgment Day can be infinitely deferred or displaced, and the one key element of the Terminator narrative, i.e. the conception of future resistance leader John Connor, tossed aside, you haven’t rebooted your franchise, you’ve shut it down. Hasta la vista, baby.
For what it’s worth, then, Genisys (that spelling!) arms itself with shout-outs and call backs to both The Terminator and T2, carefully recreating key moments – Ah-nuld’s showdown with punks at the Griffin Observatory, Kyle Reese’s time-travel alleyway touchdown – to subvert them. And so Arnie’s grizzled T-800 gets to beat on his younger digitally rendered self; and Reese’s supposed mission to protect a naïve, vulnerable Sarah Connor, ends up with gun-toting suvivalist Sarah saving Reese from a liquid metal T-1000 (a cameo from Korean star Lee Byung-hun). Initially this is cute and diverting. Then, as characters take it in turns to spout exposition about why everything is different, the hoops they and the audience are brusquely shoved through become progressively self-defeating. When we get to a late plot twist – itself signalled out of desperation in the trailers – all bets and stakes are off: fodder for the machines. The irony of a story about the machines triumphing over humans, in a film where all true emotion and humanity is ruthlessly crushed by the industry demands appears to be lost on everyone here, including, bizarrely, James Cameron himself (see below): from Genisys to zero revelation.
It’s compounded when the big reveal of Skynet’s new plans for world domination, is basically Google +, with added war games. So halfhearted is this gambit that not even the film believes in it; it’s still too busy running its mouth over why characters keep jumping timelines and sharks in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of game they’ve already rigged, yet still lost. For all the competence of the action set pieces and multi-million dollar effects, there’s not a single memorable image or scene to take your breath away. For the record, then, the new mis-cast members go through the motions, Emilia Clarke just about getting by, but the deeply uncharismatic male leads, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke, almost seem to be there to make Arnie look good by comparison. Given that both this year’s new Terminator and Jurassic efforts flag, even flagellate themselves, as questioning their own existence, it’s interesting that the dinosaurs have been given much more of a free pass than the cyborgs. Perhaps we’re more forgiving of genetic mutations in other species than our own. For when Ah-nuld’s “old not obsolete” T-800 gives us a thumbs up and toothy smile that’s actually a rictus grin, supposedly showing us his awkward assimilation and simulation of real human feelings, it’s not just a lazy gag – it neatly sums up this franchise’s wholly predictable artificial unintelligence.