Misconceived, miscast, and mismanaged from day one, it comes as no surprise that that the fifth film in the series is a complete shambles. Even the die-hard franchise fans among us expected the worst, although deep down we all probably hoped the film would surprise us at the final hour. It doesn’t.
It starts off quite impressive: a powerful prologue, leading into a strong first act, before segueing into a fairly effective two-pronged terminator incursion in 1984. After the dust settles however, the unconvincing cast, forced dialogue and absurdly convoluted story take over; kick-starting a downward spiral from which the film rarely recovers. Central to the narrative problems are the main antagonist: a betrayal of an important character, Terminator lore and mythology, and the very concepts that made franchise what it is. Despite a few cool moments later on, it becomes a tension-free exercise in going through the action motions towards a predictable climax and a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion.
Arnie isn't bad in it: his 'smiles' were the only moments when the audience laughed in my screening (all other humour moments went down like lead balloons), and he gave the film its emotional heart. Sort of. Jai Courtney isn't as bad as all that; but he isn't Kyle Reese- with none of the focus, intensity, nobility or sadness that Michael Biehn brought to the role. Emilia Clarke, as always, looks simply edible. But she's no Sarah Connor either; with none of the damaged, cynical hardness or vulnerability of Linda Hamilton. And her relationship with Reese follows the tried and tested formula of 'liking each other in a hating each other kind of way' that doesn't convince. Lee Byung hun makes an impression as the T-1000; he's the film's 'Darth Maul'; silent, cool, lethal, and you wish there was more of him.
The special effects are also very good here. Put the CGI backlash on hold for a minute; and lets acknowledge that these guys have done a fine job especially in the recreation of 1980s Arnie. It's not 100% convincing of course, but way better than most previous attempts at fully CG humans, and there were a couple of brief moments when I was almost fooled. The action effects are also top of the line, although nothing in the film is any more impressive than the first time we saw the T-1000 back in 1991. Genisys' version is more polished slightly, but isn't half as effective as the time when, say, the T-1000 morphs through a helicopter windshield, or walks through iron bars. Even now, T2 is still the daddy.
Another thing to note is that, while the action scenes are good, they are way too scattered and frequent to be memorable. T2 had real set pieces- ones that can be remembered and revered with awe. Even more importantly, this film's antagonist provided no moments of genuine peril or fear- just not scary or menacing like the nemeses of T1 and T2. Or even as sexy-cool as the 'fembot-fatale' that was the T-X from film three. It's just a generic, CGI'd thingy to run away from. Every time the action kicked in, I kind of hoped it would be the T-1000 again instead.
Terminator Genisys is not necessarily the worst film in the series; that honour for me still goes to the horribly turgid Terminator Salvation (which now feels like the odd one out of the series). Convoluted and silly as Genisys is, it at least looks like a terminator film (albeit in the same superficial sense that The Phantom Menace 'looked' like a Star Wars film). It just doesn't feel like one, and seems so far removed from the first movie that they may as well be in different universes. In terms of its content and imagery, the movie plays like a Terminator ‘greatest hits’ compilation- with all the old favourites present and correct: future war, bad Arnie, good Arnie, endoskeletons, T-1000, all the tried and tested one liners, and a bunch of time-travel shenanigans designed to mess with the earlier films (and your head) Back to the Future II-style. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have the CPU capacity to pull it off and it feels ultra contrived- and therefore redundant (although ‘obsolete’ is more apt).
What we have then is badly thought out story full of 'familiar' characters that feel nothing like the ones we knew and loved from the early films; told via a wishy washy script, scattershot action and uninspired narrative. I wont go so far as to say its a franchise-terminator (it might be better than Salvation at least), but it's definitely a saga running low on batteries.