Alan Taylor’s attempt to introduce the Terminator franchise to a new generation is missing the grimy, violent edge of James Cameron’s original. Despite its slick appearance, this reboot ends up being a disappointing, watered-down mess devoid of its own identity. The self-awareness and knowing humour is still present, but it’s distracting instead of endearing.
Terminator Genisys was never going to live up to The Terminator, but its writers’ decision to re-tread both that film and Judgement Day gets it off to a tangled and tedious start. Cameron’s sequel was the bigger, flashier version that it needed to be, and took us on a thrilling journey with the young John Connor.
It was a brutal coming-of-ager featuring a pumped up-mother figure played by Linda Hamilton who would do anything to protect her son. This was the mother-son relationship like you’d never seen it before, but it also delivered sweet, touching father-son bonding moments too.
The writers decide to play around with both of these films, setting up an alternate reality that has the T-800 playing a father figure to Sarah Connor, with Kyle Reese sent back from the future to 1984 to also protect her, but then they have to go to San Francisco in 2017, because Reese has future memories.
If all that hasn’t exhausted you, John Connor also heads to 2017 to further add to the madness. It’s not confusing, per se, but the long build-up is bogged down by smugly delivered exposition and what are essentially re-hashes the original films with different actors. There’s no growing menace, and little character building thanks to the screenwriters’ preoccupation with the past.
Emilia Clarke is cast as leading lady Sarah Connor, but from the very moment she makes her grand entrance and utters “Come with me if you want to live” it’s clear she isn’t the right woman for the job, such is the wooden nature of her delivery.
Cast alongside the uncharismatic Jai Courtney, who as Kyle Reese is the man she is supposed to fall in love with, and you have quite the dull pairing. There’s no fizzing, sexual chemistry; Sarah refers to the T-800 as “Pops”, and just like in T2 he’s a good cyborg. He’s been protecting her since she was little, and she’s been teaching him how to smile. Once again, we’ve seen this all before, but done far better.
And just in case you weren’t already well versed in time displacement and the way parallel universes work, Arnie is used as a device who spouts clunky exposition and rules.
The set pieces include a school bus being toppled over on the Golden Gate Bridge and a crashing helicopter whirring towards the screen – which again, we’ve seen so many times before. This sense of Déjà vu is a major problem throughout the entire film.
There are a few positives among the negatives. JK Simmons makes an appearance, adding a glimmer of hope as he delivers silly one-liners, but fades into the background far too quickly. And the father-daughter relationship between Sarah and the T-800 is sweet at times, but incredibly cheesy.
Arnie’s new catchphrase of “Old, but not obsolete” refers to his obvious ageing, which is cheekily played with via make-up and CGI. But it is also a way to nod to old technology, such as cassette tape players and the fact that the filmmakers are aware that their film will never better the original.
The thing is, it was too late to go back once they realised it would be a disaster.