Terminator Genisys (2015)

The rules have been reset.

In 1984, a cybernetic organism known as the Terminator arrived from the future, thus setting off an enduring and thought-provoking struggle between man and machine. Directed by James Cameron, this breakthrough picture enthralled millions around the world and overnight, transformed its titular character into new cinematic icon. Several years later, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) — again helmed by Cameron — literally reinvented the modern day action/science-fiction tent pole, stunning audiences with its blend of state-of-the-art special effects and high-octane visceral action, launching Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays the Cyberdyne Systems Model T-800, into superstardom — with an almost unpronounceable surname and a thick Austrian accent, who’d have ever believed that a mischievous, quick talking bodybuilder from a small European village would become one of Hollywood’s biggest assets.

He's Back!
He’s Back!

The next two pictures in the franchise, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) really tried to build on the mythos of the overarching narrative, the courageous battle between the heroic humans and the evil Skynet — a self-aware, artificial intelligence system hell-bent on wiping out all life on Earth to defend itself from being destroyed by mankind. Both these films failed to make the lasting impression of their forerunners, as audiences seemed more drawn to — over anything else — the simple emotional story at the center of the originals, with their incredible visuals and heart-pounding suspense grounded in reality. Now, with the Terminator saga ‘more-so’ celebrated for its first two chapters — and the later flicks almost forgotten — Genisys, the fifth picture in the series, attempts to ‘reset’ the story, firmly planting its feet into a new timeline.

With that being said, Terminator Genisys, the latest man-on-machine installment, is not a direct sequel, nor is it a remake or a reboot — it’s really a re-imagining based on Cameron’s provocative source material. Viewers don’t need to be overly familiar with any of the previous outings to gain enjoyment from this actioner, as Genisys is definitely a stand-alone. Though, for fans that do know, and have seen the first bunch of films, there are plenty of winks sprinkled throughout this fifth entry, paying homage to the popular series. Exploiting the inherent nature of time travel, Genisys plays with the possibility of alternate universes and different timelines without ever affecting the original films — those former stories exist and continue to exist — as this newest Terminator venture veers off on a divergent timeline, taking the much loved characters that audiences grew up with in a completely fresh direction, branching the story off on a whole new and unpredictable route.

... going into liquidation!
… going into liquidation!

Terminator Genisys opens in a post-apocalyptic 2029, in the midst of the decisive Los Angeles offensive, an explosive final assault between the remaining human combatants and the cold-blooded Skynet cyborgs; a charge led by the legendary John Connor (Jason Clarke) and soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), in a battle that potentially stands to be the salvation for mankind. As the resistance rallies against the callous A.I. forces, humanity, against all odds, appear to emerge victorious, believing to have, at long last, crushed Skynet for good. However, John Connor immediately learns that the machines had in fact attacked on two fronts — both in the past and present — thereby changing warfare forever, having launched their very own version of a failsafe; the first tactical time displacement weapon, sending a Terminator back in time — to the year 1984 — to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother, before she has a chance to conceive and give birth to the soon-to-be leader of the human resistance. To safeguard the future, John Connor sends Sergeant Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), thus setting off an unexpected chain of events, fracturing the timeline in unforeseeable ways. When Reese arrives in L.A., 1984 — having somehow gained a new set of distorted hazy childhood memories — he finds himself in a disorienting and unfamiliar version of the past. Faced with unlikely allies, including a reprogrammed T-800 — complete with aging human tissue — known as ‘the Guardian’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger), or ‘Pops,’ according to Sarah Connor, dangerous enemies — those familiar and foreign — and an unexpected new mission, Reese attempts to reset the future for humanity before the doomsday timepiece ticks over to Judgement Day.

First and foremost, Genisys does an outstanding job in recreating some of the iconic visuals of prior Terminator pictures, meticulous recreations of the classic sequences which seemingly splinter off into fresh and offbeat directions, while remaining incredibly respectful to the characters Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron created so many years ago. Some such nostalgia glazed moments include Kyle Reese ‘electrifying’ landing in 1984 — where he arrives naked in a dark and grungy downtown Los Angeles alley, only to be greeted by a homeless derelict — to the supremely pumped and buff old-school Schwarzenegger, 31 years younger, who gets locked in a primitive head-to-head confrontation with the current version of himself; a brutal Terminator-on-Terminator fistfight — certainly one of the flick’s more engaging scenes. And while the de-aging gimmick has certainly been done before, it’s never looked this convincing, as audiences truly feel like they’re watching a younger Arnie fight against an older version of himself.

Is that a Stargate?
Is that a Stargate?

In attempting to re-write the Terminator ‘story,’ Genisys forges its own principal roadblock, as the film is riddled with a handful of narrative related problems. Written by Laeta Kalogridis, Shutter Island (2010) and Patrick Lussier, Drive Angry (2011), this Terminator rebuild endeavors to rejuvenate the franchise — think Star Trek (2009) re-vamp — albeit, the outcome winds up feeling more like an over complicated and convoluted exercise in filmmaking over anything else. With everything audiences ‘know and understand’ now turned on its head, Genisys is smothered with an overabundance of nonsensical exposition soaked dialogue as Schwarzenegger, working against his strengths, is given the arduous task of simplifying quantum physics, whilst other information is continually repeated time-and-time-again — and for no real reason — leaving viewers dumbfounded as they attempt to navigate through a jumbled chronology, bringing about notions of doubt more than feelings of awe. Nevertheless, the breakneck pace and the movie’s action beats do filter out some of the senseless chitchat, but the emotional crux of the story gets lost in amongst the film’s untidy plotting, scattered amid the second-guessing and head scratching moments. Shortcomings aside, even in its labyrinthine layout and structure, the picture’s threat is always eminent and the stakes relatively clear. Then there’s the big character twist/reveal — which was stupidly shown in the trailer campaign — hindering the picture’s chief surprise and undermining any sort of anticipation or shock element filmmakers were clearly going for. And while the narrative does find clever junctures to drop in a couple of playful musical choices and a handful of tongue-in-cheek gags, not all the comedic punches work, as unwarranted humor has somehow made its way into a franchise that was essentially ‘joke’ free.

With director Alan Taylor, Thor: The Dark World (2013), literally throwing everything at Genisys, it astonishes me that they almost fail miss the mark. And while yes, the action is certainly thrilling for the most part, the softer PG-13 rating makes the wagers and risks feel far less impactful — sort of like watered down versions of events we’ve seen before — with staged, diluted rehashes feeling obligatory and empty, whereas the initial three Terminator titles benefited from their adult content and were more instinctive, innate and a whole lot more logical.

Rooting for the Apocalypse!
Rooting for the Apocalypse!

Fortunately, it’s not all bad. Being the largest scale Terminator movie ever assembled, Genisys does feature some solid filmic feats of illusion as the visual effects — headed by VFX Producer Shari Hanson, Transformers (2007) — and practical efforts are no doubt rather impressive. The famous T-800 endoskeleton makes a welcome appearance in a few short-lived action scenes — it’s astoundingly difficult to tell the difference between the CGI version and its animatronic equivalent, so credit must be given to the whiz-kid effects team for their seamless work here — whereas a massive scale sequence concluding with a bus toppling end over end, then dangling off the landmark Golden Gate Bridge, with the characters inside clinging for dear life, must have surely been a complex set-piece to stage and photograph. Then there’s the return of the infamous and sleek T-1000 — last seen in T2: Judgement Day — the mimetic polyalloy shape-shifting assassin, this time around played by veteran Korean action star Byung-hun Lee, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013). What about the new robots one might ask? Well, the latest terminator on the scene is the hybrid nano-technological human-cyborg, the T-3000, equipped with particle transformation and regeneration skills, this highly intellectual automaton makes for a formidable foe, and brings about some of the flick’s more noteworthy bits.

Schwarzenegger’s triumphant long-awaited return to his signature role is surely the main attraction here, as the big man himself — often referred to as ‘The Governator’ whilst serving his tenure as Governor of California — is by far the movie’s greatest weapon. Schwarzenegger spends the duration of the flick marching around like a champ, throwing hard-hitting blows and delivering on-the-mark one-liners, as the film literally rests upon his human-size shoulders. While Arnie thrives as the genetic android, the cast of franchise newcomer’s don’t fare up nearly as well. Certainly looking the part, Emilia Clarke, from televisions Game of Thrones (2011), assumes the role of Sarah Connor — played a generation ago by Linda Hamilton — and while Clarke does exhibit some of the characters enthusiasm and feistiness, the heroine lacks any real dimension. Australian born Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), delivers a very flat, one-note rendering of John Connor, a complex character whose scope ranges from messianic to madman, requiring more depth than what’s offered up on screen. Another Aussie, Jai Courtney, Divergent (2014), portrays Kyle Reese with a wide-eyed sense of skepticism, though again is devoid of intensity, as his best scenes involve squabbling with the ‘father-like’ T-800, both fighting for Sarah’s affection. And that leaves us with J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (2014), to save the day as Detective O’Brien, a curious bit-player who doesn’t amount to much, though could have been assigned more screen time.

One Bad Ass Mother!
One Bad Ass Mother!

‘I’m old … not obsolete,’ states Schwarzenegger’s T-800, in an attempt to inform worldwide moviegoers that the series is not yet done and dusted. As composer Lorne Balfe, Penguins of Madagascar (2014), does his best rendition of Brad Fiedel’s Terminator theme, one can’t help but get a sense of wistful reminiscence, being whisked back to the former glory of the once-mighty franchise, but kudos to filmmakers for trying to mix up the worn-out formula. Never quite reaching the heights of Cameron’s breakthrough entries, Terminator Genisys — the fifth Terminator to hit screens — is more ambitious than its recent predecessors and generally works as an entertaining popcorn flick, though still stands as a footnote in the saga’s legacy. One thing’s for certain, when the big fella said, ‘I’ll be back,’ he sure wasn’t kidding!

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

Terminator Genisys is released through Paramount Pictures Australia