‘Terminator Genisys’ review (contains spoilers): A confused lump of a movie

Posted Filed under

The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are two of cinema’s seminal blockbusters.

The two further sequels were of a lesser calibre; serviceable, throwaway action/sci-fi films, but the first two genuinely changed cinema, creating iconic characters and memorable lines, and boasting revolutionary action sequences and game-changing special effects.

Over thirty years after the original film, now comes Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys, a film that reminds you just how good those first two entries were by slapping you square in the face with their soiled legacy.

The plot of Terminator Genisys is… well, you know what? It doesn’t matter.

We see some embattled future rebels sending Kyle Reese back in time to stop The Terminator, except something goes wrong during the time-travel, and from this point on, it’s just utter gibberish.

It becomes so wearying attempting to figure any of it out, that’s it’s just impossible to care about anything that’s happening. The film continues the Star Trek trend of treading the line between sequel and reboot/remake, but with all the different splinter timelines and alternate pasts/futures flying about; are any of these even the characters we know?

It’s not just the audience who are confused – the characters themselves seem to spend most of the film trying to figure out who they are, whether everyone is who they’re supposed to be, and what exactly is going on. Precisely none of which results in compelling character work.

As Kyle Reese, the much maligned Jai Courtney is not as terrible as you might fear, but he’s still a largely nothing figure. With Emilia Clarke stepping into Sarah Connor’s boots, there was high promise, but she turns out to have been sadly miscast.

While perfect for her role in Game of Thrones, here she struggles to convince. She lacks the ferocity of attitude and the sinuous muscularity that define the role, and she just looks awkward whenever required to be tough, feeling ill-suited to the requirements of a heavily action-orientated role.

Of course, the film’s big selling point is the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his most iconic role, and while he’s by far the most entertaining thing in the movie, even here the writers seem determined to ruin a good thing, forcing him into a series of cringe-inducing “comic moments”.

Arnie’s still an imposing presence, though, and when used, the de-aging effects are solid, allowing a more aged and contemporary Arnie to fight his younger self from the first movie.

As for the other Terminators, Lee Byung-Hun only has one line, but makes for a great screen presence as a new T-1000 – the liquid silver model that Robert Patrick debuted in T2. The classic SFX is still brilliantly effective, and he’s a genuinely intimidating figure… none of which is true of the film’s actual Big Bad, John Connor.

Or, rather, a be-Terminated John Connor, who has been turned into a machine, because that’s something Skynet can do now apparently. Rather than liquid silver, he’s apparently made of some sort of nano-tech, which makes him look like he was once bitten by some radioactive iron filings. Between that and Jason Clarke’s performance, he’s a uniquely unintimidating figure.

Terminator Genisys Matt Smith

As a human/machine embodiment of Skynet itself, former Doctor Who star Matt Smith – now Matthew Smith – is well cast, but has barely five minutes of screen time. As a result, his presence feels superfluous, and it renders all the secrecy around his role before release absurdly redundant.

Worst of all, the film casts J.K. Simmons in a role that’s potentially the most interesting of all, and then completely wastes him, playing a man who encounters the characters in the ‘80s and then again many years later as an older man, obsessing about the time-travellers he once met.

He’s about the only character with a very clear A-to-B trajectory through the film, but the screenplay is more interested in rehashing and warping the duller characters with the more familiar names than exploring someone new and interesting.

In the film’s defence – and we’re having to really try here – there are a few good ideas knocking about. The commentary on our reliance on technology and obsession with connectedness is heavy handed, but prescient. The less-than-subtle satire of Apple also raises a wry smile (turns out Skynet started life as a new iPad).

Terminator Genisys Arnold Schwarzenegger

And the one potential positive point from all the time-travel nonsense is the notion that Sarah Connor is trapped in a life that she HAS to lead. She has to fulfil certain mandates or her son will never save the human race in the future. To even ensure the saviour is born, she HAS to bump uglies with Kyle Reese.

She’s trapped living a life that bears such responsibility that it no longer feels like it’s hers to lead.

That’s a genuinely fascinating position to put the character (and a mildly creepy one – imagine having to sleep with Jai Courtney in particular to save the whole human race?), but the film is less interested in exploring these interesting temporal predicaments than it is presenting repeated shots of robots being ineffectually shot at.

The action rarely raises the pulses, and the film’s flagrant disregard for even the most basic of physics is just laughable. (That is NOT how helicopters work, Alan Taylor.)

It doesn’t help that presenting the lead pair as a love that’s destined to happen, in all the timelines, is laughable given the anti-chemistry that Courtney and Clarke have. You’ll wonder if they’ve ever met in our timeline, let alone the myriad ones depicted in the film.

It’s a film that bludgeons you repeatedly over the head with tedious, repetitive action sequences, as people you don’t care about attempt to achieve goals you don’t understand for reasons you can’t comprehend.

Full of awkward, misplaced comedy (whoever thought calling Arnie’s elder Terminator ‘Pops’ needs a severe talking to) and half-baked, poorly delivered one-liners, Terminator Genisys is a dull, confusing and confused lump of a movie.


Released in UK cinemas on Thursday 2 July 2015.

> Buy Terminator Genisys on DVD on Amazon.

What did you think of Terminator Genisys? Let us know below…

> Follow Alex Mullane on Twitter.