There is a line in Terminator Genisys in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator says he is “old, but not obsolete”. This is the most memorable line from the movie, not because you are working through the concept of a T-800 aging (though you are), but because it pretty much sums up the state of the Terminator franchise.
To recap, the original tapped the early 1980s zeitgeist concern about robots replacing people to create a taut, atmospheric horror movie. The sequel expertly blended a solid character-driven story with pioneering computer effects – which still matches those on screen 24 years later – to deliver an action movie so polished it shines like a liquid T-1000. The next two movies were a shadow of the first two, but with the fifth the franchise is really beginning to feel old.
Genisys opens by literally retracing the Terminator’s steps to try to recapture the early franchise magic, but ends by wheezing through looking ready for retirement. A poorly explained timeline twist reunites warrior-from-the-future Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) with a reprogrammed T-800 à la Terminator 2 and a Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that splices 1984 and 1991 versions of the character.
I am a fan of strong female characters in movies and they don’t come much tougher than the 1991 Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton superbly played a waitress turned mother teaching her son to become a “great military leader”. She was so tough she looked like she was carved from pink granite. Emilia Clarke may be khaleesi in Game of Thrones but in Genisys she comes across as the waitress pretending to be the tough Sarah Connor. And when she calls the T-800 “Pops” all pretense is lost and the movie begins to slip away.
We proceed through the usual shootouts and chase scenes expected of a Terminator movie, but they feel run-of-the-mill, lacking the terror of the original or the heft of the second. Genisys becomes infected with the modern Hollywood disease of replacing story, drama and tension with crash, bang and pixel wallop. Ironically, given the central premise of the Terminator movies, I came away feeling that if more energy had been directed away from the computers and into human storytelling, this franchise could have a future.
Terminator Genisys feels old, but I won’t write the concept off as obsolete just yet.