He promised he’d be back, and it’s good to report that Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned to the Terminator franchise that made him a bona fide box office draw card looking little worse for wear.
Thirty years ago James Cameron gave us an ambitious mix of sci-fi and action in the original Terminator movie about an unstoppable android sent back in time to kill the mother of a future rebel leader. He followed that with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, one of the best action films of the 90s, and a superb example of a sequel that was every bit as good as the original.
And now we’re back with a new Terminator movie that acts as a homage of sorts to the first two films as it plays around with the mythology of the series giving the tired series something of an overhaul. This is a sort of sequel, and an attempt to reboot the old franchise, and it’s almost as if the third film, the fourth film Terminator Salvation, and the television series never existed, which is not such a bad thing, given their reception by hard core fans of the original.
This new film revisits some of the more iconic moments from the first two films, including the shape shifting T1000 from T2 and classic lines like: “If you want to live, come with me now!”, but they play out in an alternative Terminator universe where we see events from a much different perspective. The rules of the Terminator universe have always been a bit fluid, but here again writers Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and former editor Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000) play around with the paradigm of time travel. Eventually all the convoluted time travel stuff and shifting time lines will start to do your head in if you try to put too much logic into it. It’s best to just go along for the ride!
The film opens in the war ravaged post-apocalyptic future world of 2027, when man is fighting a losing battle against the machines. John Connor (played by Australian actor Jason Clarke, from Zero Dark Thirty) leading a raid on the Skynet headquarters. Once inside, he shows his followers the device Skynet used to send a terminator android back in time to try and kill his mother. Kyle Reese (Australian actor Jai Courtney, from A Good Day To Die Hard) volunteers to go back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor. But once he arrives in Los Angeles in 1984 he finds a Sarah (played by Emilia Clarke, best known for playing Daenerys in Game Of Thrones) very much ready for the presence of an assassin from the future. She has been protected and prepared by an old version of the Terminator T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who has been her guardian since the 70s, and has been affectionately nick named “Pops”.
Using a primitive version of Skynet’s time travel device, the three head to 2017, intent on destroying Cybernet, maker of the Genisys computer program of the title, before Skynet can evolve and become self aware and bring about the nuclear holocaust that lays waste to the world. But there are a few complications along the way.
Schwarzenegger is a comfortable fit here, and it’s good to see him back providing a sense of continuity to the series. He is quite good at what he does, and he even brings touches of droll humour to his role as the “old but not yet obsolete” terminator. There is also a cleverly integrated CGI version of Schwarzenegger’s 1984 incarnation and we get a brief smackdown between two Arnies!
I didn’t particularly like what the writers have done with the John Connor character here, and Clarke’s performance makes him a most unlikeable character. Courtney has established himself as a credible action star in Hollywood blockbusters and here he handles the physical action well.
While nowhere near as strong as Linda Hamilton from the original, Clarke is good and gives us a very different Sarah Connor. However, I felt that someone like Ellen Page may have made for a more convincing and tough female protagonist. And J K Simmons (from the superb Whiplash) brings a touch of comedy to liven up proceedings with his role as O’Brien, a detective who thinks he understands all this time travel stuff that is happening around him. Korean action star Lee Byung-hun plays the unstoppable T1000 robot most effectively portrayed by Robert Patrick.
Director Alan Taylor, who made Thor: The Dark World, handles the action sequences proficiently enough, and the clashes with unstoppable robots and massive pile-ups on the Golden Gate Bridge are exciting stuff and robustly staged. He even manages to restage several key scenes from the earlier films. Taylor loves his special effects and the visual effects are also very well done here, but they don’t quite have that sense of freshness and jaw dropping spectacle that Cameron brought to his films, particularly T2 with its state of the art visual effects.
And while some elements of this new film may earn the ire of fans and purists, Terminator Genisys is never boring though. And it sets the scene for yet another film in the series, provided this one does well enough at the box office.
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and J.K. Simmons
Release Date: 1 July 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television