“Time travel makes my head hurt,” so says Jai Courtney’s perpetually out-of-his-death Kyle Reese in a weary tone that perfectly captures the mood of this turgid and unimaginative excuse for a reboot.
Attempting to explain the mechanics of time travel in movies is a notoriously treacherous business and Terminator Genisys is a prime example of why it’s such a terrible idea.
The plot of this movie is such an unintelligible mess of timey-wimey nonsense that even the presence of 11th Doctor Matt Smith in a small but pivotal role can’t help make sense of it. It’s tangled web of alternate timelines, paradoxes and nexus points require so much momentum-sapping explanation that the action inevitably becomes dull and repetitive – two things a Terminator movie should never be.
The confusing storyline opens in a familiar way, with Jason Clarke’s John Connor leading yet another assault on a Skynet facility in a bid to end the war with the machines. After failing to prevent a Terminator from being sent back in time to kill his mother, Connor despatches right-hand man Reese to 1984 to save her.
The twist this time is that, instead of a scared waitress, Reese arrives to find Sarah Connor (Clarke) as a skilled fighter protected by an ageing guardian T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Trapped in this alternate timeline and pursued by multiple Terminators, Reese teams up with the unlikely duo and sets out on a mission to reset the future.
Throughout, Genisys tries to score fan points with the audience by referencing iconic moments from the first two movies, but these crowd-pleasing callbacks only serve to emphasise just how inferior this film is by comparison.
Back in 1984, James Cameron’s bold take on time travel and androids was fresh and inventive with the creation of liquid metal AIs in particular leaving fans agape in wonder. Now, though, stories warning about the risks of intelligent technology are a-dime-a-dozen on both the big and small screen, and Genisys has nothing new to add beyond simply reminding us that we’re far too engrossed in our gadgets to see the danger coming.
This lack of imagination is particularly evident during the film’s lacklustre action sequences. There’s nothing here to rival the dazzling spectacle of Cameron’s movies with most of the action beats involving the usual barrage of twisted metal and city-smashing carnage that has become standard box office fare.
Even the creation of a new Terminator that’s part human, part nanotech feels like a rehash of the shapeshifting robot seen in Judgement Day and the unique effect of seeing it blasted into shards of metal only to reassemble and morph back into human form is relentlessly overused to the point where it’s lost what little ‘wow’ factor it had by the time we reach the second act.
The only area where Genisys can claim to have improved upon the original films is in its development of its human characters. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese are more intriguing characters here as the alternate timeline allows them to question whether they want to follow the potential future that’s been laid out for them. This question of fate versus free-will makes Emilia Clarke’s smart, resourceful Sarah a more conflicted, and therefore more compelling, hero and adds tension to a budding romance with Courtney’s Reese that only occasionally strays into mushy rom-com territory.
Any goodwill generated by this strong characterisation is simultaneously eroded by the treatment of Schwarzenegger’s T-800. Once the ice cool, taciturn anti-hero of the franchise, Genisys does its best to desecrate Arnie’s iconic character by cracking weak jokes about his inability to blend in with humanity and wastefully using him as the fount of all exposition. Schwarzenegger deserves far better than this substandard material.
The original Terminator films thundered their way into the cinematic zeitgeist via a blend of blazing action, imaginative visuals and economic storytelling that saw the first film likened to a streamlined Dirty Harry.
Terminator Genisys is the antithesis of these ideals, lumbering itself with needlessly complex plotting and rote action sequences that should see the franchise finally self-terminate. This time, please, don’t be back.
Runtime: 126mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Action; Released: 2 July 2015;
Director: Alan Taylor; Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier;
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke
Click here to watch the trailer for Terminator Genisys