film review: terminator genisys
The Terminator franchise is one that both proves and disproves the rule that sequels are never as good as the original. There’s Evil Dead, Alien and Terminator in this rather particular category. The further this franchise lurches on, the more the cynics of the world are vindicated; sequels are a cash grab, nothing more. Given this, and the fact that the ownership of the film rights for Terminator Genisys has been a game of hot potato between film distribution companies since 2010, it is disappointing but totally unsurprising that Genisys was no Judgment Day.
It’s a familiar story – Judgment Day has come, the machines have risen and humanity has been enslaved. The human resistance is led by John Connor (Jason Clarke), the savior of humanity. Connor sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from an evil cyborg out to kill Sarah before John is born. However, Genisys is not just a nostalgic trip through the films of our childhood. Time travel has given the screenwriters many and varied loopholes to choose from – thus fans of the original Terminator are treated to an irritatingly similar story, with minor tweaks that make it ultimately inferior. Recreating the exact same scene and dialogue is not an homage: it’s lazy film making.
The release of Terminator Genisys did not change the fact that there are still only two Terminator films that combine taught, claustrophobic action as well as compelling characters. After the disappointment of the fourth film, Terminator Salvation, it would be logical for the creators to say “you know what, let’s not chuck a George Lucas and continue to tamper with a beloved creation.” But no! After spending years in production limbo, the genius creators of the latest film decided to not only make another unnecessary sequel but to write a story that negates the original two i.e. the only Terminator films anyone gives a shit about.
And why? What Genisys was trying to clumsily communicate was done so perfectly in the first two. Clarke and Courtney are talented actors but they didn’t come anywhere near to replicating the passionate, gotta-have-you-now love that Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn executed flawlessly in the first film. Likewise, the beautiful relationship between Edward Furlong and Schwarznegger’s cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgement Day completely dwarfs the paternal weirdness that is going on between the Sarah Connor and the elderly ‘Pops’ Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) of Genisys.
An entire thesis could be (and probably has been) written about the character evolution of Sarah Connor. Even in the first film at her most vulnerable she was not a passive, uninteresting character. Nor did Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese treat her as such. The audience watched Hamilton’s Sarah Connor go from unsure and innocent in the first film to driven by her maternal instinct and conviction to protect her son in the series’ second instalment. Genisys dumped the audience smack bang in the middle of a story showing Sarah Connor as a supposed bad- ass, without the benefit of watching her get there. Simply put, in this film Sarah Connor is no longer a compelling character.
All the reasons the first two a near perfect films – the feminism, the awesome action, the romance, – is missing from this one. Genisys is merely an exercise in spot the similarities between this and the first two. Sequels can’t just be exercises in nostalgia; they need to be fully formed and self-contained.