Published on July 7th, 2015 | by Damien Straker
Terminator Genisys (3D) – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on July 7th, 2015
Paramount Pictures presents a film by Alan Taylor
Produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg
Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, based on characters by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd
Starring Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke and J. K. Simmons
Music by Lorne Balfe
Cinematography Kramer Morgenthau
Edited by Roger Barton
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: July 2nd, 2015
Beneath the skin of the Terminator franchise is a complex web of cultural, historical and political ideas. The franchise started in 1984, after director James Cameron had a dream about a robot with knives and developed the first film as a horror movie. It was a major role for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, given the part transcended the limitations of his acting range. Made on a paltry budget of $6 million dollars, the film was about a woman named Sarah Connor who was pursued by the Terminator T-800, a robot from the future determined to kill her and her unborn child John Connor. She was protected by a soldier named Kyle Reese because in the future her son would lead an uprising against Skynet, the corporation responsible for the Terminator machines and enslaving the world. Being made and set in the year 1984 cast Orwellian and Huxley-like paranoia over the film about the over-empowered nature of corporations, like their ability to surveillance, repress and eliminate people through technology.
Like modern blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, the Terminator series has drawn from Christian mythology and Biblical connotations. John Connor (J.C.) was a Christ-like figure, born from Immaculate Conception and the one who will become the saviour of humanity. The first Terminator film, with the issue to murder the unborn child, is also comparable to the Nativity Story but with killer robots. Like the American founders who believed they could control their religious destinies (“Manifest Destiny”), Terminator is about shaping the seemingly inevitable of the future and avoiding the end of the world or Judgment Day, the subtitle of the colossal second feature. A famous line in one of the films is: “No fate but what we make”. The release of the first film in mid-1980 was another milestone for women in action films. Five years after the release of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and consequently Ellen Ripley, the Terminator franchise continued the mark of having females spearhead action films, a contrast to the Ronald Reagan inspired films of Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone. Some have argued the first film’s subtext is about parentage, specifically how much a woman will do to protect her son. Female characters have been an important staple of the series, except perhaps in the dreadful Terminator Salvation.
This fifth feature begins in futuristic LA, overrun by the machines. Fortunately, John Connor (Jason Clarke) is pushing a final surge to overthrow the machines and destroy their time machine. Before they can destroy the device, a Terminator is sent back through the machine to the year 1984, intending to once again kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), a soldier who trained under Connor, offers to travel back to protect her, believing she will be vulnerable. When he arrives he discovers Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) has already paired up with the Guardian Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and they help Kyle escape a T-1000 machine. They hatch a plan to time travel forward to the year 2017 and stop the emergence of a piece of operating system software known as Genisys, which is going to infect the world’s computers and devices. This also ties into the fate of John Connor who Kyle saw being attacked just as he teleported to the past.
The Terminator series has struggled to reach the heights of the two James Cameron features and good directors have been difficult to attach to the projects. McG fluffed the fourth movie and during its extensive development Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) was approached to direct this fifth entry but the deal fell through. Would he have made much of a difference to the outcome of Genysis? Perhaps visually given Alan Taylor, who has directed successful TV shows like Game of Thrones, struggles to make the world aesthetically appealing. The film is gloomily photographed, with no room for colour and the useless 3D mode only increases the amount darkness. Taylor also makes the mistake of trying to explain the time travel aspect of the series. Cameron’s films largely removed themselves from this aspect and streamlined them into chase movies. The fiction about how the timelines fit here is laughably convoluted and frankly not worth the effort of untangling either.
It’s hard to get excited about the rest of the film. It’s functional as an action film or wind-up toy, with the usual assortment of car chases and ridiculous stunts, but minus Cameron’s skill for memorable set pieces. Who knew that Terminators were capable of dive bombing from helicopters? Do they have to practice this? Genisys also has a sense of humour, including painfully obvious nods to the previous films and cringing old jokes about Arnold’s age. A reoccurring joke line is the Guardian referring to himself as “old but not obsolete”. Arnold’s Terminator self-parody characterises him as a wacky sidekick character rather than a powerful enforcer and secondary to the solid work by actors like Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney. Strangely, J.K. Simmons has a walk-in part for a side story, which seems to have been left on the cutting room floor. While not as poor as Salvation and lazily watchable, the film doesn’t offer a lot more than familiar spare parts. Meanwhile, this $150 million dollar monster seems blissfully unaware of the irony of firing shots at the power of over-inflated corporations and their stranglehold on mass culture. It’s a good example of why it’s time to put this once mighty franchise to rest.
Summary: Beneath the skin of the Terminator franchise is a complex web of cultural, historical and political ideas