Surprisingly good. I say surprisingly as I don’t think anyone seriously believed this was going to be anything other than terrible, in part due to the continual decline of the franchise beginning with ‘Terminator 3’ in 2003 but also thanks to an atrocious trailer for this instalment, one which did have the boon of lowering expectations but also critically blows several key moments in the film so I would strongly advise against viewing it if possible, though this may indeed be difficult given its appearance on multitudes of high profile websites right now. It should have been the easiest thing in the world to create an exciting teaser for what is not only the return of one of the most famous franchises of all time but also a film that reunites it with its principal star – Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s face made a digital appearance in ‘Terminator : Salvation’ (09) but who was otherwise absent from the film which he himself describes with: ‘It sucked!’. An accurate, if somewhat succinct, critique.
It’s very apparent here that director Alan Taylor (‘Thor : The Dark World‘) and writers Laeta Kalogridis (‘Shutter Island’ 10, ‘Night Watch’ 04) and Patrick Lussier (long term horror editor, on the ‘Scream’ franchise amongst others) have a lot of reverence for ‘The Terminator’ (84) and ‘Terminator 2 : Judgement Day’ (91) and I think fans of those two pretty fantastic films are going to appreciate the constant one eye kept on the roots of the story. Indeed, hopes were raised for Genisys by none other than the series founder and director of the first two films – James Cameron, who enjoyed this interpretation and has said he regards it as good enough to stand as the legitimate next part in the story following on from T2 (and thus annihilating everything between then and now, presumably including the TV series ‘The Sarah Conner Chronicles’ 08-09).
The story … actually, I shan’t say anything about the story as most of it is meant to be a surprise and I assume everyone knows the basic premise from the others, wherein machines take over in the near future (originally in 1997) and nuke the Earth (despite being great films, in terms of sci-fi there are obvious weaknesses – they take out humans and then … what? The machines have no real purpose when you think about it, they can produce more of themselves but with no discernible emotions or pleasurable senses or threats of any kind by that point, including that of ageing, why bother?), but humanity persists and both sides send warriors back in time to variously slay/protect the mother of the future resistance leader and perhaps prevent him from ever being born.
The core concept doesn’t exactly speak very highly of humanity given it seems people are not only stupid enough to let the world’s first AI play around with nuclear toys but there too only exists one mortal capable of adequately fighting back, never mind the multi-faceted space-time conflicts which immediately arise, but none of that gets in the way of a fun story and, following in the modern blockbuster tradition, this is very much the focus here. Indeed, you can well imagine the writers thinking ‘hmm, does that make sense? What about this, and that, and … O let’s just get on with it. Actually, let’s throw this in as well, why not’.
In this central aspect the film is a hit and, although there are probably a few too many one-liners, the cast, comprised of Arnie, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney and J.K. Simmons, all carry the film really well – in particular Emilia Clarke who is nothing short of fantastic as Sarah Conner (possibly getting tips from her ‘Game of Thrones’ co-star Lena Headey who played Sarah in the TV series). This focus on the ride, though, does mean opportunities for more atmospheric tension and scenes with a heavier sense of build-up have been missed and it is a shame a blend of the two approaches wasn’t attempted. However, given the dreary duds that fans have been greeted with over the last twenty years this is a deserving shot in the arm for the series – there’s a brief post credits scene too after the iconic music, from composer Brad Fiedel, finishes playing.
Some of the better marketing for the film at Madame Tussauds …