Terminator Genisys just about overcomes its poor story thanks to relentless pacing and a welcome touch of humour.
As iconic franchises go, The Terminator has something of a rocky track-record. Prior to Genisys, there had been just as many acclaimed instalments as there had been critically derided ones. It’s hard to pin down exactly what went wrong as there’s no singular answer. Suffice it to say, somewhere down the line the series ran out of steam.
Enter Terminator Genisys, a Star Trek-esque reboot which aims to revamp the franchise with time travel plotting, recasting all of the old favourites and rewriting the continuity of the films in the process.
To be frank, the plot is a bit of a jumble, so a coherent synopsis is quite difficult to provide. Anyway here it goes. In the future John Connor (Jason Clarke), humanity’s prophet and last hope for survival in the war against the machines, sends his most trusted friend Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) backwards in time, in order to protect his mother from a time travelling robot assassin. So, the set-up remains much the same as in the 1984 original. Then things begin to diverge from what we already know, as it is revealed that Reese has landed in an alternative timeline, in which John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), is already the badass that she was in T2. Not only that, but in this timeline she has been raised since childhood by another terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whom she refers to as “Pops”. Believe me, things only get more mental and convoluted from there.
If Genisys has a problem (and it has a few) then it’s fundamentally tied down to its plot. There are several jaw-droppingly bad twists and inept reveals, and more than a few questions are left unanswered by the time the credits role. Moreover, in fiddling around with the history of the series, the film decides to trade in the perfectly good parts of the pre-existing continuity for utter nonsense. When X-Men: Days of Future Past tried to do the same thing, it did so with the view to fixing what was broken, rather than adding to the mess.
Still, director Alan Taylor makes the most of a bad story. For a start there are several well judged references to the earlier films, and even some smart explanations that clear up their plot-holes. Additionally, the comedic element of the film works surprisingly well, particularly on Schwarzenegger’s part.
On that note the ageing action star is the best he has been in a while. No, really. Whilst in recent years he’s devolved into cringe-worthy self parody, at least in this film he does it rather well. And much like Chris Pratt’s relationship with the raptors in Jurassic World, what seemed like the stupidest part of the film on paper, is perhaps the most emotionally resonant, in that Pop’s relationship with Sarah is actually legitimately moving.
The rest of the cast do a decent job too. For a start Jason Clarke does the best he can with what he’s given. If through some kind of witchcraft you’ve managed to avoid the gargantuan spoiler given in the trailers about his character, then far be it from me to give it away. Regardless of that marketing blunder, Clarke sells the strange character arc he undergoes as well as anyone could. Emilia Clarke meanwhile elevates every scene that she’s in, and emerges from things as the most convincing of the new additions. Even Jai Courtney is passable.
Still, Star Trek this is not. Nor is it even close to being T2. A couple of good moments and some wise blending of CGI and practical effects aside, this is neither a colossal disaster, nor the return to form that it could have been.
Terminator Genisys (2015), directed by Alan Taylor, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 12a.