Friday, 20 May 2016

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

"The best Terminator since T2", the DVD cover trumpets, which is rather damning with faint praise, if you ask me.  "Better than T3 or Salvation" is an extremely low bar to clear.  It's a shame really because I think Genisys, while far from perfect, deserves better.  "Finally: a worthy successor to T2!" might be overselling things a little, but this is advertising-speak we're talking about so overselling is kind of the name of the game.

Genisys kicks off in 2029 as John Connor leads the final assault on Skynet in humanity's war with the machines.  He's victorious of course, but (equally of course) Skynet uses a time machine to dispatch a lethal T-800 cyborg back to 1984 in an attempt to assassinate Connor's mother Sarah and end the resistance before it even begins.  For their own part, Connor's people get the time machine working and send one of his soldiers - Kyle Reese - back in time to protect Sarah.

So far, so recapping the backstory of the first Terminator film.  And indeed the familiar riffs keep coming as we see recreations of the arrival of the T-800 (featuring more of the 'young Schwarzenegger' CGI magic of the last film), and of Reese, in 1984 Los Angeles.

But then things take a turn for the unexpected.  A hidden terminator attacks Connor as Reese goes through the time portal.  The T-800 is met in 1984 by another (visibly older) Arnold-model terminator: but this one is clearly not on Skynet's side.  And Reese is attacked by one of the 'liquid metal' T-1000 series machines from the second film.

As for Sarah Connor herself, she proves to be far from the naive young woman Reese has been told to expect.  She's been raised from childhood by "Pops", the older terminator mentioned above, and knows more about the future timeline than the man who's lived through it.

Genisys was clearly made with a mandate to retcon much of the now-convoluted timeline of the franchise and move events chronologically so that SkyNet's rise occurs at a later date than 1997 (which naturally looks a bit odd in a film made nearly 20 years after that date).  It does a pretty good job on that front.  It was also given a mandate to be the start of a new trilogy, but it proves to be nicely 'complete' in and of itself (as long as you don't sit through the credits, at least).  This is a good thing given its relatively poor return on investment has put further films in doubt.

This is not a flawless film.  I think it gets off to a bit of a slow start and I'm not all that thrilled by the casting of either Kyle Reese or John Connor, for instance.  As for Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor - I think she delivers the chutzpah the role needs but when it comes to physicality, she is no T2-era Linda Hamilton.  On the other hand, things definitely pick up once Schwarzenegger turns up, there are plenty of good action sequences, and at pretty much two-hours-even, it does not overstay its welcome.

Worth a look if you're hankering for some cyborg-fighting action.  If you haven't seen the first two films in the franchise though, I recommend checking them out first: some of the scenes in this one would definitely not work as well without that context.

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