Terminator Genisys - Cinema Review

'Arnold Schwarzenegger's return as an aging T-800 is likely to divide the audience, switching between comedy cyborg sidekick and full-on exposition-bot'.

A couple of pieces of advice before watching Terminator Genisys. Firstly, those trailers that it was hoped weren't quite as spoilerific as they looked - well, they are, so avoid those at all costs to get the most out of one specific mid-film twist. Second of all, if you haven't watched The Terminator for a while, or you've never seen James Cameron's sci-fi thriller masterpiece, put that at the top of your "to do" list before giving Genisys a go to feel the full impact of director Alan Taylor's tribute-paying first act.

It's probably worth watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day too (although, honestly, when isn't it?) in order to fully refresh your background knowledge, but you may as well forget the third and fourth instalments. A voiceover delivered by Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in the opening moments establishes unambiguously that, to begin with at least, Genisys is placed within the same timeline as Cameron's films, with early scenes offering the 2029 perspective of the T-800's arrival in 1984 at the start of The Terminator. The opening half an hour or so, in fact, is packed with riffs on and recreations of the original film and its 1991 sequel which are nicely executed and, for the most part, included with reasons behind them. Byung-hun Lee's performance as a welcome blast from the past induces a hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck level of nostalgia that doesn't outstay its welcome.

In terms of Genisys' relationship to the original franchise, this is perhaps closest in tone and execution to J. J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot - with a generous dash of Back To The Future Part II - in its use of elaborate sci-fi logic to establish an alternate timeline. Trying to get your head around every aspect of Genisys' time shifts and their repercussions is neither necessary nor wise, but then paradoxical time travel has always been a Terminator mainstay. That said, whilst Cameron's films felt near-perfect in their impossibility, Taylor ends up playing cinematic KerPlunk with himself - one false move and his confusing web of criss-crossing timelines could come crashing down around him.

Recasting iconic roles as Genisys is required to do is a thankless task, but one which the film handles pleasingly at least in part. Emilia Clarke delivers the strongest and most satisfying performance of the film as Sarah Connor, looking and feeling like the right choice to take on the part from Linda Hamilton's quintessential original. Jason Clarke is also convincing, the actor continuing to carve out a strong niche for himself in prominent franchise roles, and delivering arguably the best John Connor we've seen yet - although his past competition isn't exactly strong. The questionably talented Courtney as Kyle Reese achieves a career high by not being completely terrible here; that said, his performance is still entirely bland and generic. Courtney ultimately feels miscast, never coming anywhere close to Michael Biehn's unforgettable wired and fraught performance in the 1984 film, and failing to convince throughout that any number of other up-and-coming young actors couldn't have taken on the part much more successfully.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's return as an aging T-800, meanwhile, is likely to divide the audience, switching between comedy cyborg sidekick and full-on exposition-bot. It's undoubtedly a performance of two competing approaches: seeing Schwarzenegger raise hell in his career-defining role for the first time in well over a decade evokes some great cinematic memories, but at the same time the level of sentimentality in which the avuncular Terminator is swathed is at times cringe-inducing. Every instance of Sarah referring to Schwarzenegger's character as "Pops" is liable to make long-time Terminator fans wince.

In the end, many of the problems within Genisys are nothing new, having been experienced before by other first instalments of rebooted franchises. The film has one eye firmly on the future instalments that will follow it at least some of the time, which results in a few ideas, such as Genisys itself, not being explored as fully as you would like. The 12A certificate is an inevitability in the modern mainstream industry, but still makes Genisys feel a bit too safe and sanitized at various points for a series with such bleak and brutal origins. In terms of action and innovation, this never comes close to the level of Cameron's original and first sequel, both of which now feel more and more like holy grails of cinematic achievement the older they get. But what Genisys does do is provide a fresh starting point for the Terminator franchise. Taylor's film has unshakeable confidence in its own ideas even when the director's execution doesn't quite hit the mark, whilst setting the rebooted narrative up for its first journey down a previously untravelled road.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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