Ever since 1991’s Terminator 2 the Terminator franchise has struggled to make a significant impact and return to its glory years. The third film, Rise of the Machines almost completely rehashed the plot of the second, whilst Terminator Salvation went forward into the world of tomorrow and showed us a planet enslaved by the machines. It also, oddly enough, featured director McG’s obsession with showing closeups of seemingly hundreds of red Terminator eyes slowly fading to black. It didn’t help that both of those films were mostly terrible. The less said about the CGI Arnold in Terminator Salvation, the better.
And that still applies here, because while Game of Thrones stalwart director Alan Taylor demonstrates a solid hand for action sequences and special effects in Terminator Genisys (don’t even get me started on that title), the script’s attempt to combine all the disparate elements of the previous films leaves an incredibly confusing and muddled mess, revisiting past glories and trying to pay homage to some of the series’ most iconic moments. Even the “Synthespian” version of Arnie isn’t as horrific as you might expect, although it’s still clear that CGI hasn’t yet conquered the Uncanny Valley issue.
You’d be best ignoring the plot or trying to figure out the time travel machinations that influence everything, as you’ll end up twisting yourself into a knot and likely give yourself a migraine. To put it simply, Kyle Reese is sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, only to find that the timeline has changed and she’s ready for him. Everything that happens in this 1980s setting looks the part and serves some narrative purpose, but the presence of a T-1000 in 1984 isn’t explained, nor is it explained adequately why Arnie’s T-800 is sent back to the 1970’s to protect a young Sarah. It just falls back on that old favourite trope of Skynet wanting to kill her. The plot unravels and makes even less sense as it goes on, with character decisions making no sense at all, and Skynet proving itself to be so incredibly incompetent it makes you wonder how it ever rose to power in the first place.
Then there is the matter of a major plot twist being given away in all of the trailers. I won’t go into detail on it here just in case there are a few people left who have mercifully avoided the trailer and the film, but it does ruin what would have otherwise been a surprise to the audience. With that said, it doesn’t make all that much difference in the grand scheme of things. By giving it away in the trailer it almost saves you having to sit through the film.
But there are a couple of, admittedly minor, positives. Emilia Clarke is a gutsy Sarah Connor, more T2 Linda Hamilton than T1. Jai Courtnay is decent as Kyle Reese, although the character will always have Michael Biehn’s face in my opinion. Jason Clarke meanwhile is a solid John Connor, perhaps more so than any of the other actors that have preceded him in the role.
And of course there’s Arnold himself as the Terminator, bringing an amount of pathos to a character who was originally nothing more than a mindless killing machine. His human skin might have aged and his robot model might be old, but he’s certainly not obsolete. His aspect of the story is the one that works the best, in particular the father/daughter relationship he has with Sarah, but it’s mostly lost amongst big explosions and action sequence after action sequence.
The biggest tragedy is that Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith pops up in a brief cameo and isn’t used particularly well, and that JK Simmons is given the role of a drunken, conspiracy theorist crackpot cop but falls out of the story before the big finale. At least he still has Whiplash.