Terminator Genisys, dir. Alan Taylor, wr. Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier, st. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney
After being passed up by Looper director Rian Johnson and Enemy director Denis Villeneuve (what great films they would have been), the oft-talked about Terminator re-sequel-boot ends up in the lap of Thor: The Dark World helmer Taylor, whose prime directive is to banish Rise and Salvation from our memories, and instead machine a sequel finally worthy of James Cameron's vision. To this end, Genisys begrudgingly succeeds - at least aesthetically - but any true sense of revolution in the franchise is ultimately passed over in a desperate attempt to adhere too close to the tone of the originals. Predictably then, and wearily so, Terminator Genisys rests as a particularly unnecessary upgrade.
The film begins in the moments before Cameron's 1984 film, in which John Connor (Jason Clarke) and his band of not-so-merry resistance fighters storm Skynet in order to utilise their time displacement facility and thus stop the rage against the machines before it happens. Arriving too late, they discover the 1984 T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has already gone through, before Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to pursue. Upon arriving in the past however, Reese discovers Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) isn't the permed waitress we were expecting, but rather a be-leathered ass-kicker, tutored in the ways of Terminator-terminating by a T-800 (also Schwarzenegger) since 1973. Confused? Actually it's very simple: time travel movies create temporal paradoxes that endlessly perplex, Möbius strip-like. This is where artistic creativity as being complicatedly additive instead of economically reductive comes unstuck; weaving timeline through timeline does little to add depth to the already narratively-rich concept. All it does is create an unsightly mess. Watching Terminator Genisys I was reminded of Kirby Ferguson's superlative Everything Is A Remix series of video essays in which he postulates that original ideas are borne from copying, transforming, and combining pre-existing ones. Nominally, this is why George Miller's Mad Max sequel succeeds and many, many other reboots fail. Genisys copies and combines, but fails to transform, and as we've seen before fairly recently, more advanced cyborgs, like bigger dinosaurs, just don't cut it. There's a whisper that Miller's Fury Road Blu-ray will include a black and white version with isolated score that plays better than the theatrical version. What a testament to absolute cinema that is.
There are, however, touches - the lightest whisper of an idea - that still quicken the pulse; an early fight between an original T-800 and Reese breathlessly serves to remind us what a formidable and terrifyingly unstoppable force the Terminator can be, but even this at its heart is still filmmaking that stands on its predecessor's shoulders in the most uninspiring way. And if by the time we get to the T-3000, our reaction is a shrug and a dull blink, you know something important has failed to upload. But for what it's worth, Genisys goes through the motions with beat-perfect regularity, even if its mortally afflicted by a woefully under-powered screenplay and a cast that's forever swimming against the tide. The most lively participant in this four hander though turns out to be Clarke, E, with Courtney exhibiting fewer points of articulation than his inevitable action figure, Schwarzenegger seemingly unsure as to which of the four versions of his T-800 he's supposed to be aiming at, and Clarke, J - so commanding in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - acting as if his memory's been wiped and all his cells have been replaced at a molecular level by nano-technology which is coincidentally exactly what happens to him in the film (a fact the trailer, with mind-boggling stupidity, reveals). To her credit, Emilia Clarke makes for a pretty decent Sarah Connor, neither harnessing Linda Hamilton's po-faced warrior-emotionally-twinned-with-Hull, nor Lena Heady's sinewy mother-figure, but instead forging her own (slightly bratty) version of the character with the same drive and direction she lends to her character of Daenerys for HBO - a kind of Game Of Chrome. Lorne Balfe's score interpolates the dustbin-down-a-lift-shaft percussion of Brad Fiedel's original themes, and Legacy Effects, the successors to Stan Winston Studio are back on-board providing the VFX, all cementing the film's authenticating credentials.
Which leaves us where? Well obviously Genisys doesn't touch Cameron's films. Their lean and muscular stylings are rarely seen in today's multiplexes. But for all its derision, I actually rather liked Terminator Salvation. Even with its scrappy second half, it tries to expand on the established mythology, and its key MacGuffin - a Terminator powered by a real human heart - is a thousand times more tactile an idea than nanotech's abstract and almost supernatural qualities. But there's no getting away from Hollywood's obsession with reiteration. Like the incomprehensible success of E. L. James, the fault lies squarely at our feet, and while the maths works, money is still king above all else. With every utterance, "I'll be back!" is sounding less like a catchphrase and more like an ominous threat.