Another big sci-fi action franchise gets a reboot… kind of. The thing about the Terminator franchise in regards to its continuity is that, since changing history, alternate timelines and such are in the core concept of the series, it’s free to make a shake up like this. If the question of “The Sarah Connor Chronicles contradicts Terminator 3, which actually happened” comes up, it’s easy to say “both; multiverse theory”. That freedom can be a double edged sword, as while it can free filmmakers to take new directions, it can also lessen the impact they have, it means little that happens can truly be permanent. Then there’s what Terminator: Genisys does, a very misguided attempt to get the franchise back to its roots, but instead not only bulldozes over the best films, but emerges as perhaps the worst film of the lot…
2029: The war with the machines has ended, Skynet has been shut down. But before then, a Terminator infiltration unit has been sent back in time to assassinate resistance leader John Connor’s (Jason Clarke) mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke). Connor’s second in command Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back to protect her… only, on arriving, to be saved from a far more advanced Terminator (Byung-hun Lee) by Sarah. Seems that history has already been changed greatly, as not only is Sarah already aware of the Terminators, she has one protecting her (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and they have a plan to stop Skynet. Thing is, Skynet’s origins have also greatly changed…
One has to wonder if the presence of Matt Smith in the cast is an elaborate comment on the timey-wimey convoluted plotting. The basic idea, having Kyle Reece fight alongside Sarah more as she was in Terminator 2, sounds appealing, but the backstory and plotting are utterly tied in knots to make it work. It’s for naught though, because it really doesn’t work on a level of performances. If it was Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton again, absolutely, because of how they made them come alive, but we have Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke instead. Clarke comes off badly mainly down to the terrible characterisation the script gives her, making her come off as a petulant teen rather than someone who’s trained her whole life for the fight for the future. Courtney though is utterly awful as Reece, he has no charisma, none of the world weariness that Biehn bought so naturally, he has all the charm of a piece of wet toast. When most of your film’s robot characters have way more personality (Arnold is one of the few visibly having fun here) than your human leads, you’ve got big problems.
All the cast come off badly, but that’s mainly down to the awful script they’re working with. This is one of the most glaring idiot plots (a story that only makes sense if every character’s shoe size exceeds their IQ) in a modern blockbuster in quite a while. Skynet and its cronies let the heroes slip through their fingers multiple times for no real reason, despite having perfect shots. It also hasn’t learned its lesson from Salvation in making full on supervillain monologues (yes, it actively talks to and taunts the heroes at various points). Our leads are no better; with access to a time machine, they actively use it to undo the main advantage time travel gives them, going forward to give them less than a day to save the world rather than the thirty years or so they would have had. One of them even reveals that they had a golden opportunity to resolve things, but basically didn’t take it for the only reason that if they did, the film would be over quicker (PLEASE!). The whole thing is a mess of these contradictions, blatant sequel hooks and silly action scenes so often it’s like they thought that the audience would fall into a narcoleptic coma if something didn’t blow up every five minutes. Plus it shows the usual sign of creative desperation in these; when in doubt, throw in a new model Terminator. This one’s basically a T1000, but with nanites, and not nearly as cool (made worse by having a T1000 earlier show off how much more awesome it is).
By far the worst thing about this whole thing is how it treats the legacy of the franchise. The first two films are some of the smartest action/sci-fi/horror (the original is like a hi-tech slasher) hybrids ever made, with very smart storylines that are deep and as logical as Skynet is. This one not only rewrites it so they never happened (and the moments from them that are restaged here are made utterly bland), but it actively sabotages the main points behind them. Sarah Connor and her journey was the core of those stories, so to see her sidelined so much by Kyle Reece, who by himself is a far less interesting character, is so disappointing. The original Terminators’ actions as infiltration units were entirely logical, smart and utterly inhuman, so to see them make dumb, blunt instrument moves and being one step away from moustache twirling villains is insulting. It makes so many nods to the originals, but in ways that mangle their meaning and importance, and while the plot goes “the originals don’t count anymore”, all it can do to replace them is… pretty much exactly the same thing. T2: Judgement Day didn’t happen, so what happens instead? A trip to Cyberdyne to destroy Skynet… again. It even nicks one major moment from the TV series’ pilot.
Now the film is competently made… mostly, bar some awful CGI at points (how come the T1000 effects look worse than the ones in 1991?). But the storyline, performances, pacing, and disrespect to the originals disguised as fan bait make this an even worse quasi-reboot than the new Star Trek (which it shares more than a few similarities with). There’s plenty of action and 12A rated violence sure, but there are better places to get that and a good story (there are still a few screens showing Fury Road you know). It will leave both Terminator fans and newbies feeling as lost and confused as the cast seem to be at points. This film has Terminated the whole franchise. It’s even managed to top Rise of the Machines’ “talk to the hand” with the stupidest moment in the whole franchise. Avoid.
Oh, and what’s with the franchise constantly giving away plot twists in the trailers?