Friday, 10 July 2015



Once upon a time, things were so much simpler even in the worlds of using time travel to rewrite history. Back in the 1980s even Doctor Who couldn't go back in time and save a companion from dying in an exploding spaceship and, just as that show has now deteriorated into an incomprehensible morass of multiple and alternate time-strands, so what was once a pretty straightforward time-travel action concept has now become so multi-layered and twisted that it no longer makes any real sense. Oh, they've tried to explain the paradoxes and temporal nexus effects, and at least on the surface it gets by if you haven't seen any of the other films in the series and aren't too bothered about the detail about who that bloke is and where/when that cyborg came from. But that's rather like expecting Saw 6 to stand alone as a comprehensible narrative as well as making sense within the franchise it's busy rewriting as it goes along. It can't and it doesn't.

Terminator: Genisys is the fifth in the increasingly and unnecessarily convoluted franchise descended from James Cameron's thrilling B-movie triumph. We start off in the post-Skynet nuclear devstation again, with the human rebels set to rise up against the machines by smashing the central systems, switching off the mainframe and storming the work camps. As the last roll of its dice, Skynet sends a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, clearly playing Linda Hamilton), mother of the resistance's leader, and end the war before it begins. And, as before, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, not looking remotely like Michael Biehn) leaps back through the time vortex to save her. So far so familiar. But then Sarah Connor turns out not to be the meek waitress he (and we) had expected: instead she's majorly badass and accompanied by a good Terminator which at some point had been sent back to protect her from another Skynet Terminator eleven years previously....

So in 1984 there's the 1984 Terminator and the 1973 Terminator squaring off, plus another liquid metal Terminator (as seen in the 1991 sequel which was set in 1995). Rather than jumping to 1997 to thwart Judgment Day, they go further forward to 2017 to prevent Skynet (hidden within the exciting but appallingly spelled new social connectivity app Genisys) from going online, achieving sentience and wiping out humanity. But then John Connor shows up and (in a shock reveal moment which might have had some impact if it hadn't been included in the trailers) turns out to be an indestructible bad Terminator now out to protect Skynet....

It ends up as the kind of multiple time-jumping mess that later Doctor Who would dismiss as "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff", made more pointed by the presence of Matt Smith as a physical manifestation of Skynet (admittedly the wrong Doctor, but who cares?). Every so often there's a nifty action sequence - a somersaulting school bus on the Golden Gate bridge, a street-level helicopter chase - or a deliberate reference to the original films (Sarah Connor's first words are "Come with me if you want to live"), and there's some easy fun to be had from the visibly older Schwarzenegger not entirely blending in with human society.

Certainly this is nonsensical (when did Skynet send all these different Terminators back to various points in Sarah Connor's past and when did John Connor send back the protector ones in pursuit?), some of the dialogue is terrible, Jai Courtney still isn't an exciting lead and JK Simmons and Matt Smith aren't given very much to do. And while it's great to hear the original Brad Fiedel theme again, the rest of the score is forgettable. But the action sequences and effects are mostly terrific (if, again, needlessly destructive to civilians and bystanders) and, frankly, in the genre of robot apocalypse movies I'd take the Terminators over the Transformers any day. Yes, even the third one (which was basically little more than a cartoon of Arnie and Kristanna Loken repeatedly beating one another up) and the much-derided Salvation which I quite enjoyed on the level of empty-headed kaboom.

So what's it all about, apart from Paramount's bank balance? Well, amidst all the nods to the first two films, you might argue that it's about family. The old 1973 Arnie has a weirdly paternal and disapproving relationship with Sarah Connor (she even calls him Pops), while the twisted Kyle-Sarah-John triangle (as we remember from the first film, Kyle is John's father) can't really be resolved in the same timeline. Or maybe it's just setting up another two hours of stunts and explosions and CGI robogeddon and glowering grey-haired Arnie in two years' time? Compared to some of the other franchise instalments pencilled in for 2017, another one of these movies isn't he worst thing on offer.


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