Terminator Genisys review: Nuclear war is the least of its disasters
Genisys crams every key trope into the mix; Schwarzenegger’s older, cuddlier Terminator adds the corn
Film Title: Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Running Time: 125 min
Oh, you are awful!
Yes, the Terminator sequence reaches its fifth episode with a film that aspires to the condition of The Dick Emery Show. Now remembered with more dread than affection, the long-running sketch series (whose last episode was broadcast a year before The Terminator emerged) found the middle-aged comic adopting a number of broad personae, each constructed around the repetition of a catchphrase. Hello, honky tonks! I think I got it wrong again. I’ll be back. Those sorts of things.
Throwing all canonical logic to the tides, the preposterously named Terminator Genisys works frantically at cramming every key trope into the mix. We get a youngish Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing nakedly in Reagan’s America. The Terminator that goes all melty turns up almost immediately and transforms his hands into skewers. Christian Bale is there to bellow rudely at a lighting technician.
No, of course he’s not. I’m making a joke to stop myself from sinking into post-Genisys despair. It’s as if part three (which got off lightly) and part four (which was slightly less terrible than suggested) never troubled the multiplex. This baffling film comes across as a splatter painting composed by firing gobbets of the opening sections at the canvas and covering them in a veneer of three-dimensional digital murk.
Where to begin?
We begin with a sort of prologue to The Terminator that leads on to a retelling along a different timeline (it would be an achievement to pull spoilers from these incoherent temporal spasms). It is the future and, following Skynet’s nuclear hissy fit, a few humans remain alive to combat the machines’ continuing tyranny. John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the resistance, but – still on the old timeline – faces an existential threat when young Arnie’s Terminator is sent back to kill his mum Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). John’s comrade Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent down the same wormhole to fight the robots.
You know all this. As Kyle arrives in 1984, the story begins to spin away from its roots. When he eventually encounters Sarah, he finds her in the company of a kindly, middle-aged Terminator who, somewhat uncomfortably, she refers to as “Pops”. The older robot has already had a violent fight with that younger, meaner model. We learn that the organic material on the outside of the robots ages naturally, but receive no explanation as to why a Terminator would seek plastic surgery.
The new film repeats all the literal and visual catchphrases, but it totally fails to grasp the spirit of James Cameron’s clever, blackly humorous original. The initial USP was not the time-travel scenario or the notion of man against the machines; it was the Teutonic otherness that Schwarzenegger brought to his portrayal of a thinking automaton.
Judgement Day offered Arnie a gentler, kinder robot, but the uncanny valley was still in place. Pops is so softened as to be virtually indistinguishable from a character in one of Arnie’s high-concept comedies. Now, he’s helping a young lady save the planet. Next week, he’ll be pregnant or married to a camel.
If you’re going to turn the Terminator into a human being, you lose the rationale for casting this famously limited actor.
About Emilia Clarke we should say as little as is decently possible. The slight Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones only gains physical menace through her association with dragons. The actor is not nearly Hamiltonian enough or (to use a phrase current this summer) Theronian enough to convince as any version of the famously kick-ass Sarah Connor.
Jason Clarke is tolerable. Jai Courtney is so low on charisma he fails to cast a shadow. Matt Smith is barely in it.
Is the film a complete disaster? Not quite. JK Simmons has a funny cameo that lightens the mood whenever he appears. A mildly clever bit of plotting blames our eventual downfall on contemporary addiction to connected digital devices. But Genisys seems destined to underwhelm fanatics and baffle those few cinemagoers unfamiliar with the preceding mythology.
Sixty per cent of the Terminator franchise is now certified useless.