Wednesday 1 July 2015

Terminator Genisys by Alan Taylor - Review

Terminator Genisys is the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the series. Alan Taylor’s summer blockbuster might not have Arnie hiding from judgement day nuclear blasts in a lead-lined fridge, nor is the film plagued by annoyingly cutesy CG prairie dogs and monkeys, but it does have a weary screen icon looking a bit long in the tooth for all this high-octane drama. The question of age and ageing is, like Indy’s maligned fourth outing, made into a subtheme. Schwarzenegger’s monotone reply to the thorny subject – which becomes a comic retort – is: ‘Old but not obsolete.’

Series creator James Cameron might have jumped aboard the promotional bandwagon as head cheerleader for the new film, but it’s abundantly clear from Taylor’s uninspired and occasionally downright goofy direction, that Big Jim should have signed up to get this franchise back on track. The Terminator franchise is in desperate need of a hero to save it from the doldrums.

Cameron was finished with the series after 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which essentially gave the film the best ending possible. But asking Hollywood to leave classic material alone to stand aloft in cinema history is like telling a five-year-old to stay out of the cookie jar. Others have bravely attempted to bat for the series, but only Cameron has hit home runs. Left in the hands of studio whipping boys, none of the subsequent movies have satisfied (The flesh was willing but the talent hackneyed.) Jimbo’s hefty contribution, therefore, has been the missing ingredient all along. The three Cameron-less Terminator flicks have looked like inferior knock-off products, with Arnie stoically manning the fort, waiting in vain for General Cameron to charge in like the cavalry and rescue everybody.

Terminator Genisys’s first act plays out greatest hits medley of iconic scenes, before it settles into a new timeline, disregarding events in the first and second movies. The clock has been altered (again). Getting bogged down in timelines and alternate loops can be annoying and contradictory, but it’s a movie series that can, in effect, hit the reboot button any damn time it wants to. Even Cameron had to tinker with his format and bend the rules to make his a sequel. It’s either an extraordinary creative device or cheat’s ruse that loses meaning and dramatic value with each press of the reset button.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his bro-dad Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to save his mum (Emilia Clarke) in 1984. Only, once he gets there, Reese is greeted by a T-1000, the original T-800, as well as a friendlier T2-like version, sent from an even earlier timeline, who raised Sarah as his own daughter because Skynet also sent back another T-1000 to assassinate her as a kid and killed her real dad. Then it’s time to head off to the year 2017, to stop Skynet from launching the apocalypse in their new guise as Genisys – a truly ‘killer’ app – thus stopping judgement day and resetting the timeline (again).

Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke is very good as Sarah, even if she gets lumbered with a retrograde nude scene offering teens and sleazy dudes a bit of side boob. Sarah Connor is an action icon, a strong woman and we already know Reese has feelings for her. So, seeing Miss Connor objectified, and so blatantly, all to give the horny teenage boy demographic a little thrill, is galling. 

Arnie could never be described as a great actor, even if he has all that genuine charisma and screen presence to compensate. Yet he is burdened with having to deliver reams of sci-fi jargon/nonsense and exposition-heavy dialogue, which is intentionally played for laughs. Kyle Reese, played by charm vacuum Jai Courtney, ends up being the audience’s meta-spokesperson. It’s his role and duty, as a simple soldier, to pipe up about how difficult it is to grasp theories of time travel and quantum physics. It’s played as comic exasperation, on Reese’s part, but it’s the equivalent to saying: ‘Shut up, T-800! Time-travel schmyme-travel. It’s not important, plus thinking is hard, and this is just a dumb action movie. Stop trying to sound intelligent, will ya.’ Journey through – and manipulating – the space-time continuum at this blockbuster level of entertainment is always going to be codswallop, so why get so tied up trying to over-explain it?

Terminator Genisys does have the odd conceptually ace idea to fresh events up, and the second act is engaging and fun, but it mostly continues the franchise’s decline from iconic to mediocre. Directed by a journeyman lumbered with a story that could have (potentially) been gnarly (if there was a stronger director aboard), it’s not a terrible experience, by any stretch, just a middling one with annoying creative flubs. The Terminator movies needed an auteur-visionary every time. Dear Jim, you are missed sorely.


Terminator Genisys. USA 2015. Directed by Alan Taylor, Starring Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney...

Out in the UK on the 2nd of July 15

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