After a six year absence, the Terminator is back, and even though this may be the fifth in the series – many are referring to the new film as Terminator 5 – Terminator Genisys ignores numbers 3 and 4 and picks up after 2. And if that brief description of numbers and where you’re supposed to be in the overall game plan of Terminator storytelling are already somewhat confusing, wait until you see the film.
Terminator Genisys is acting as a retcon film. I had to look it up. Retcon is short for Retroactive Continuity, which means this: Things you’ve already seen and facts you already know are now changed in order for writers – in this case, movie makers – to revise history in order to continue a series in a way that would not have been possible had the story continued on its original course. In other words, go back and change a few things and you can potentially keep the franchise alive for more to come. They did it with the reboot of Star Trek and now they’ve done it with The Terminator.
The year is 2029 and the human resistance, lead by John Connor (this time played by Jason Clarke) is about to lead the final offensive on the killer Skynet robots. Narrative concern raises its confused head early when Connor is told that Skynet will be attacking on two fronts; one in the past, one in the future. Wait a minute. What was that again?
Just at the moment when the resistance is about to destroy Skynet’s time machine – thereby stopping any of those past and future shenanigans and keeping everything in the present – a T-800 robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back to 1984 to kill waitress Sarah Connor (this time played by England’s Emilia Clarke, better known as the heart eating Dragon Lady with blonde hair in HBO’s Game of Thrones) in order to stop her ever giving birth to Skynet’s most important enemy. That part should sound familiar.
The film recreates moments seen before, like a nude and younger looking Arnold turning up in Los Angeles and immediately picking a fight with three 80’s punk rockers. Then fellow resistance fighter, Kyle Reese (this time played by Australian Jai Courtney replacing Michael Biehn) is sent back by John Connor in order to protect waitress Sarah.
So far, so familiar. In fact, the film, this time under director Alan Taylor’s guidance, does an amusing job of revisiting key scenes acted out in Terminators 1 & 2, but here with different players. It’s like viewing life through the prism of a dreamlike parallel universe; characters are familiar but the faces are different. Then it all goes haywire.
Time jumps around from 2029, to 1984, then to 2017, and before you know it, time travel is turned on its head, events that should have happened are now altered, and Arnold’s original T-800 is suddenly described as a relic from a deleted time line. Things you thought you knew have now never happened and a whole new world of confusing time lines has opened up. Ironically, when the computerized Skynet is presented in human form, it’s played by BBC TV’s most famous of time travelers, Dr. Who’s Matt Smith, but that doesn’t help you understand any of the time traveling loop holes any better.
Frankly, it’s a mess. Remember how the second Back To The Future movie seemed a little too busy and confusing with all of its time traveling jumps and how it practically buried the series? Terminator Genisys does the same thing, only it’s messier. As J.K. Simmons as Detective O’Brien states to fellow police officers, “I know that what’s going on might be really, really complicated.” No kidding.
The action is what you would expect; loud, in-you-face, ludicrously over-the-top, and extremely well done, with the exception of the helicopter chase between buildings that looked more like a clip from a video game. The opening where the destructive Judgment Day occurs is briefly reminiscent of 1996’s Independence Day as downtown skyscrapers and monuments explode into fragments followed by mushrooming clouds of all encompassing fire. The chase on the Golden Gate Bridge involving a school bus with Sarah at the wheel while another terminator rips the vehicle apart is undeniably spectacular, plus every one of Arnold’s bone crushing fights are lengthy and well choreographed, but considering most of these battles are fought by robots who slam each other in ways that may be painful to watch but have little to no effect on the robots, any tension or a real feeling of thrills and spills are gone; you know that whatever they do to each other, they’ll just reassemble, stand up and do it again –they’re like cartoon characters; they jump back into action no matter what.
As a fan of the first two Terminators – if the film gets anything right, ignoring parts 3 and 4 is the movie’s best idea – you go in with the hope of being excited, surprised and dazzled in the way the original excited, surprised and dazzled. You want it to be good. But no. Re-launching the franchise by altering past history in order to open up endless possibilities for a planned trilogy feels stale and a shameless way of keeping future box-office tallies ticking over.
Younger movie-goers who never saw parts 1 and 2 on a big screen may be bowled over by sheer volume and the non-stop action of part 5 in lieu of a good story, especially when projected on an IMAX screen with the gimmick of 3D, but older viewers hoping to recreate Terminator thrills of the past and less interested in giant screen, theme-park ride presentations may be disappointed. The action is certainly there, but from explosion to explosion, fight after fight and one spectacular, over-the-top set piece after another, all occurring while characters shout gobbledygook about deleted time lines and other things we’ll never understand, it’s all too much and doesn’t know when to say when. The film can be as loud, as busy and as violent as it likes but when based on such a convoluted forum as it is here, nothing excites. Like many summer blockbusters that try to outdo each other with deathly stunts and a never-ending series of things blowing up, it all becomes nothing more than simply noisy stuff happening yet again. What can you say about a new film where the most interesting scenes are those that recreate moments seen before?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)