The original The Terminator was the first R-rated movie I have ever seen, making it a very important part of my childhood. I remember begging my dad to let me watch one of his violent movies; he finally relented and showed me the original 1984 The Terminator. That was also my first exposure to Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the great icons of cinema. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand half of it, but I was thoroughly entertained by it, marvelling at the brutality and sheer presence of Schwarzenegger and soaking up the classic dialogue that everyone loves to repeat in their best Schwarzenegger impressions. The sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, built upon its predecessor by expanding on the universe, switching Schwarzenegger from villain to hero and turning Sarah Connor into a true female badass. Unfortunately, like most franchises, each subsequent Terminator film decreased in quality. Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines felt like a bland copy of the second installment, devoid of any originality, and the less said about the atrocious fourth movie, Terminator Salvation, the better. But now here we are, thirty-one years after the original, with the fifth installment in the franchise, once again featuring Schwarzenegger as the mighty T-800.
The movie opens up in the year 2029, an apocalyptic future in which the machines have taken over, and humanity is being decimated. We are then introduced to John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) as they lead a massive attack on the machine’s base in an action scene that would have easily been the best part of Terminator Salvation had that film actually decided to take advantage of its future setting. After that, events unfold as they did in the beginning of the original film as Reese is sent back in time to stop a T-800 from killing John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke), thus preventing John from being born and leading the human resistance. However, as Kyle quickly realises, the past is not exactly what he expected it would be as he, himself, is the one who is saved by Sarah. She has been trained her whole life by a friendly T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who was sent back in time to Sarah’s childhood to prepare her for this very day. With the timeline now altered, Sarah, Kyle and “Pops” (as Sarah lovingly calls her cyborg father figure) must find a way to stop Judgement Day before it happens by going on a cross-time journey that will have them fighting a very dangerous and unexpected foe.
Terminator Genisys is essentially two different movies: The first half of the film plays as a fun, surprising attempt at toying around with the original film’s story, while the second half is a mundane action filled sci-fi flick with a completely unnecessary twist and nonsensical climax. The reason the first half is so much better than the second is that it connects to that part of you that loves the first two movies and gives you everything you could want from a Terminator film. You get to see Schwarzenegger beat up a younger version of himself, you get an extended chase scene involving the T-1000 in all his liquid metal glory and you get some really funny banter between Sarah Connor and her terminator guardian. All those things are all but absent from the second half, which was so different from the first, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were written by two different people. The big second half twist (which is spoiled in the trailers) is ridiculous and exists only for shock value, while the final climax felt uninspired and even a little boring. The whole movie is essentially a downwards slope of quality that never goes back up.
Time travel is a tricky subject to tackle in storytelling. You can throw all logic to the wind and have fun with it or you can devise a strict set of rules that involved big complicated words. Terminator Genisys wants you to think it’s the latter, but it’s really the former. Terminator Genisys’ biggest sin is that it makes things just too damn complicated. I really tried to make sense of what was happening, doing mental gymnastics in my brain to try and calculate what all the time traveling meant. My efforts were fruitless and about half way through the film, I stopped trying and just accepted any reasoning the film decided to give me for why it made sense. The movie is practically begging you to not think too much and just enjoy watching Schwarzenegger kick cyborg ass.
The film throws everything that is Terminator at you, as within the first 10 minutes they show pretty much every iconic aspect of the franchise, from the dialogue to pretty much ever different type of Terminator that has appeared in the franchise to date. Schwarzenegger may be old, but he still holds up as a great action star. Every fight scene he’s in brings you back to the 80s when he was the biggest action hero in the world. There’s something really satisfying about seeing nearly indestructible cyborgs pummel each other while destroying the environment around them and director Alan Taylor knows exactly how to film the chaos as it unfolds. If I had any complaints about the action, it’s the fact that this is a PG-13 movie, which softens the hard-edged brutality that made the old movies so enjoyable. It’s so much fun to see Schwarzenegger participating in these machine on machine fights that it makes both human characters seem superfluous to the whole proceedings. In fact, at some points, the movie seems to forget that Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese aren’t cyborgs themselves because they survive crashes, explosions and other dangerous situation that no human being could ever walk away from alive.
The thing that kept my attention all the way through was Schwarzenegger, he really is the shining star of the whole movie and reminds you why he was such a major figure of 80s action cinema. His presence is unmistakable and every word that comes out of his mouth perfectly fits the robotic character he’s playing. It’s one of the only cases where an actor’s lack of range or emotion is to the movie’s benefit. As for the rest of the cast, Emilia Clarke does good work playing the female badass, although it was slightly jarring to see such a physically diminutive actress wield huge weapons without any problems. But hey, that’s far from being the most unbelievable part of the movie. As for Jai Courtney, I feel really bad for him because, though he’s not exactly giving the most charismatic of performances, his role is by far the most underwritten. He’s completely different from the rugged and battle hardened Kyle Reese that Michael Biehn played in the original Terminator and is essentially relegated to being a sarcastic pretty boy wielding a gun. The movie also wastes two very good actors, with JK Simmons serving as a sporadically used bit of comedic relief, and Matt Smith who A) isn’t using his native English accent and B) has less than 10 lines in the whole film, playing a role Î won’t spoil because he only comes in at the film’s end.
After Terminator Salvation, literally any other Terminator movie would have been an improvement, and that’s the case with Genisys. It’s far from perfect and much too convoluted for its own good, but it gives us back the most important part of the franchise, and that’s enough to, at least, wash out the bad taste left by its predecessor. Schwarzenegger’s stoic presence and deadpan comedy make him a character to root for and seeing him once again as an action star is worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately, the film wastes all its good ideas in the first half, leaving a second half that’s fraught with incomprehensible techno babble, a lame twist and a boring climax. If you have never seen or aren’t a fan of this franchise then this movie is to avoid. If you are a fan, then the first half should give you enough of what you want to get you through what doesn’t work, of which there is a lot. Based on the film’s poor box office performance, I doubt we will be seeing another Terminator film anytime soon, which may not be a bad thing because I doubt we will ever see one that matches the quality of the first two.
Note: Stay for the credits, there’s a scene in the middle of them.
Final Grade: 5.5/10