2015 / Director. Alan Taylor.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Contains plot details that may be considered as mild spoilers.
Within the first five minutes of TERMINATOR GENISYS all of my concerns had been dislodged. From promotional footage I had seen, as well as second-hand stories I had heard (not to mention a seemingly uninspired title) I feared that the film would be too schmick for its own good. You can imagine my relief when the story not only placed us back with the events of James Cameron's 1984 classic but also maintained the same grudgey quality that made that film so seminal.
The events of TERMINATOR 3 and 4 have been ignored in favour of a story, which serves as a direct sequel to Cameron's story (that's not to say that those lacklustre sequels never happened). Kyle Reese is sent back to 1984, as depicted in the original film and he arrives to discover that his mission has suddenly altered when the woman he was assigned to protect (Sarah Connor) shows up to save his ass. The natural timeline has been broken and an alternative narrative is set into motion. With Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 robot in tow, the three must then travel forward in time to 2017 to bring down the Skynet corporation before it launches a virus into the cyber world that will be marked in history as “Judgement Day”.
The storyline is quite convoluted, however, director Alan Taylor has told it in a way that is easy to follow and continues the original story brilliantly. By recapturing the 1980's textures and offering the audience an explanation (albeit simplistically) to the T-800's aged appearance, he has put in a lot of groundwork to earn the audience's trust. The characters we know and love from the original are back on the big screen and it really does feel like a genuine, respectable and careful sequel.
The casting is great for the most part. Having Arnie back on screen in his most iconic role is a wonderful thing. He steps back into the leathers as though it were yesterday when he first uttered the words “I'll be back”. He is depicted in three stages of age; 1984, 1997 and 2017 - all of which lend the film a huge amount of conviction. To see him as his younger self, speaking new lines and performing new actions was amazing and if you walked into this film during these scenes you would be forgiven for mistaking it for Cameron's original film. Casting Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor was a stoke of genius too because she embodies the character. At times she bares an uncanny resemblance to Linda Hamilton and its easy to accept her in the role. As for Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese... that's where I struggled. There is absolutely NO resemblance to Michael Biehn and I found his presence in the familiar setting quite distracting. Biehn had presented Reese as a soldier of small physical stature who looked dishevelled and gaunt. He was an unlikely hero from the outset. Whereas Courtney's portrayal sees him as a buff, macho and steely clichéd hero. A more appropriate actor could have been chosen, but alas these are the cards we were dealt and there's no use letting it spoil what is an otherwise great action movie. With the characteristics of Reese set aside, Courtney still commands the screen and delivers a solid turn.
There are two action sequences in the film that push the excessiveness to ridiculous heights. A bus scene (featured in the trailer) and a helicopter chase almost sully the film's conviction. They feel out of place and reek of studio interference. Thankfully both moments are executed swiftly and don't linger on screen for too long. Working with a multiple timeline story also opens it up to conjecture. I'm sure that nerds all over the world will be combing the film's science to debunk its time travel implausibilities and contradictions. These, of course, are the same idiots who have an inability to suspend their disbelief. From my perspective the film is smart, respectful and shrewd. It understands the mistakes made in the last two ill-fated sequels and brings the franchise back on track. It is the sequel fans have been waiting for and with the promise of two more instalments, the bar has been lifted. We can only hope they push forward without feeling compelled to dish out style over substance.