Set your personal Wayback machine to 1984. The Austrian Oak (that was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nickname back in his bodybuilding days, in case you didn’t know) is starring in a science-fiction thriller film about a cyborg assassin sent from the future to kill a young woman named Sarah Connor in an attempt to alter future events. THE TERMINATOR was launched without much fanfare because its distributor didn’t expect it to last more than a week in the cinemas. But the film quickly rose to the top of the box office, making the then inexperienced director-screenwriter James Cameron a household name and solidifying Schwarzenegger’s place as a bona fide Hollywood action star.
Arnie promised us that he’d be back, and thirty-one real years, three sequels and two TV seasons later, he returns as the Terminator T-800 Cyberdyne Systems Model 101. TERMINATOR: GENISYS is not a sequel though. It’s a reboot of the original story. Thanks to new CGI technology and the emergence of ubiquitous tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, none of which were around in 1984, the story of Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese and Skynet has been given a cyber-update to make it more relevant to audiences that have never known not having a mobile device at their fingertips. If you’re old enough to remember the original story, forget it. T:G completely trashes everything we knew about Sarah and company.
The plot device in T:G is time travel, and everyone seems to be doing it. Arnie’s good guy Terminator, we’re told, was sent back to 1984 when Sarah was just nine years old to protect her after her parents were killed by other time travelling bots. Arnie’s bad guy Terminator (the original version, thanks to some nifty CGI and body double Brett Azar) comes back in 1997 to kill Sarah (Emilia Clarke, TV’s GAME OF THRONES), and both Arnies engage in some heavyweight knock-down-drag-’em-out action. (The good Terminator has aged some but don’t worry about that. As he says to Kyle, he’s old, not obsolete.) Meanwhile, Kyle (Australian actor Jai Courtney) has to deal with the liquid metal T-1000 terminator (now played by Korean actor Byung-hun Lee) who has also come from the future to kill him.
In this rebooted version, Sarah has been waiting for Kyle to arrive for 13 years. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to be her stud horse. Remember in the first film that Sarah is weak and scared, and she and Kyle have a one-nighter leading to baby John? Yeah, forget that. This time around, Sarah is already the strong and resourceful rebel. Kyle, we learn, has been in love with Sarah ever since adult John stuck a photo of Sarah in his pocket years before… or is it years after? It’s all so confusing… and that’s part of the problem with this film. It condenses three films into one and throws away anything that doesn’t fit into this new narrative.
While in 1997, Kyle starts experiencing childhood memories that couldn’t possibly be correct. Papa (that’s what Sarah calls her T-800 protector) tells them that due to a “nexus point”, Kyle is seeing an alternate life where Skynet (aka Genisys) is about to go online. Kyle then convinces Sarah that they need to time travel together to 2017 to stop Judgement Day from happening. Papa, meanwhile, will take the slow route and spend the next 20 years preparing for their arrival. Much to their surprise, John – or should I say Future John (Australian actor Jason Clarke — no relation to Emilia) – is there waiting for them as well. He’s taken a ride in the time machine too. Oh, and they also meet Present John who is just a boy in 2017. If your head is starting to spin, join the club.
When I recall to the first two TERMINATOR films, I remember the tension. Think back to the final scene in T1 where Arnie’s T-800 is stripped down to its endoskeleton and he’s chasing Sarah through the factory. Exciting and scary! T2 started off with a bang with the T-1000 chasing young John and the good T-800. We had never seen CGI like that before. Unfortunately, T:G is like a wet mop. It completely lacks tension. The special effects are not so special either. In the past 31 years, we’ve seen so many car chases and other disasters on the Golden Gate Bridge that we’re bored with this one. There’s not a lot of emotional chemistry between Sarah and Kyle either. The T:G Kyle is a bit of a smart ass and he lacks the sensitivity that the T1 Kyle (played by Michael Biehn) had. It’s hard for us to understand why Sarah would be attracted to him… except that she has to be for the story to continue.
Paramount has already announced that T:G is the first of a new trilogy of TERMINATOR films. The other two are slated to be released before 2019, which is when James Cameron’s rights to the franchise end. As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to say “hasta la vista, baby” and kill it off now.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 30:20.)
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