It’s a problem that has plagued more than one studio in the past 24 years: how to continue the Terminator franchise after James Cameron’s brace of sci-fi landmarks. So far, every attempt has, to some degree, been a failure – two films, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) were rejected by critics and public alike, while TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles‘ cult status could not save it from cancellation after two seasons.
Memories of the past still linger, however, and original star Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in the first of an intended new trilogy, Terminator Genisys (2015). Jai Courtney takes on the role of Kyle Reese, loyal soldier of John Connor (Jason Clarke) sent back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from the titular Terminator (Schwarzenegger). What he finds on arrival is a very different situation- a tougher Sarah Connor, raised by a Terminator sent back further in time to prepare her for a new, more powerful threat to the future.
Director Alan Taylor seems well aware of the task ahead of him, and visually takes confident strides into this new territory. An elaborate action scene is never far away, with technology having caught up with the scale such a movie demands. But the film’s true weaknesses lie in the story, not the special effects. Playing on our affection for the original films (certain scenes from The Terminator are recreated) only highlights the tangled mess the plot gets itself in, with numerous twists and rewriting of history making the film unnecessarily convoluted and soulless. Commentary about society’s reliance on mobile devices ring hollow, and even the main conceit of history being constantly rewritten begs the question: why should anyone care what happens if the slate will be wiped clean in the next instalment? The failings of the film may not entirely be their fault, however the cast do suffer by comparison to their predecessors, most of all Emilia Clarke.
Neither the resourceful target of the first film or the haunted warrior of the second, her Sarah Connor is wrapped in sarcasm and tedious back-and-forth comedy with her ‘pops’. Main attraction Schwarzenegger assures Courtney (sincere but befuddled in a benign lead role) that he is “old, not obsolete.” The plot continually undermines that statement, with the ageing actor downgraded to a supporting role – there to add a quip or to save his co-stars from disaster, but little more than ‘muscle’ for the good guys. Even a post-Oscar J.K. Simmons is underused as a character that has little effect on anything. Terminator Genisys‘ ambition overrides sense and depth in the pursuit of a new direction, and then unwittingly proves how little life there is left in this franchise. When the highest compliment that can be paid is that it doesn’t plumb the same depths as Rise of The Machines, it’s clear that this new mission has failed.
James Luxford | @JLFilm