Thursday, July 9, 2015

Terminator Genisys: Review

What’s worse than a dumb Hollywood summer movie? A dumb Hollywood summer movie that thinks it’s smart. That’s Terminator Genisys for you, the fifth instalment in a series that should have ended, despite promises made to be back, after the note-perfect second film, James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The first film, also directed by Cameron, was about a cyborg assassin—a Terminator—sent back in time by Skynet (a rogue artificial intelligence system that’s destroyed most of humanity) to kill Sarah Connor. She fights him with the help of Kyle Reese, also from the future, who tells her she’ll give birth to the future leader of the resistance. The film made an unexpected star of its villain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, so Terminator 2 had him return as the good guy—or good cyborg—sent from the future to protect Sarah and her son, John.

There was a third, and a fourth, film too, but they’re ignored here, as they should be. But Terminator Genisys is very much in awe of the first two films. In fact, it ties itself in knots trying to pay tribute to them. In the absence of an actual reason for the film existing, Terminator Genisys’ writers have come up with an excessively layered, barely coherent plot. Here’s a brief—and spoiler-containing—summary: John and Kyle are fighting Skynet in the year 2029; Kyle is sent back to protect Sarah in 1984, where he’s saved from the Terminator of the first film by an aged version of the same cyborg (both played by Schwarzenegger); he and Sarah time-travel to 2017, where they find a younger version of John. John is killed by a Terminator; then John turns out to be a Terminator; and then I fell asleep.

I didn’t actually fall asleep. At least I don’t think I did, though hearing Schwarzenegger say “That boy is an alternate timeline version of you” is fairly nightmarish. Why Alan Taylor, who’s directed some of the best episodes of TV in modern times—Baelor from Game Of Thrones; the Mad Men pilot—got involved with something so convoluted and uninspired, I don’t know. But there’s nothing he can do to arrest the downward slide that begins when Schwarzenegger circa 1984 gets into a fist fight with future Schwarzenegger. There’s a lot of timeline trickery, but the film doesn’t have the smarts to pull this off convincingly, or the style to smooth over the silliness and pretension.

Taking over the role of Sarah, Emilia Clarke (Daenerys “Khaleesi” Targaryen from Game Of Thrones) is a fairly convincing replacement for the scrappy Linda Hamilton, who played the role in the first and second films. Australian actor Jai Courtney, who replaces Michael Biehn as Kyle, becomes the answer to a great trivia question (“Who was the second lead in Terminator 5 and Die Hard 5?”). As for Schwarzenegger, he’s still a massive, vowel-extending, slow-moving piece of stunt casting. Why he’s still being force-fed to audiences who don’t know Total Recall from True Lies is beyond me.

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