I've long come to the conclusion that no-one can do these movies as well as James Cameron in his prime. Accepting this is key to having a slightly easier viewing experience, and this is what I tried to do when watching Terminator: Genysis. Despite (unavoidably) mentally comparing the characters played by new actors with their classic incarnations, I tried my best to give it a shot with expectations dialled down to near zero after mostly unfavourable reviews. Never mind, I still wanted to give it a chance. After all, some films survive negative internet rumblings and end being actually really rather good (World War Z a recent example). In addition to the negative buzz, Genysis also had an absolutely disastrous marketing campaign which seemed hellbent on ruining any surprises that the movie might have had in store.
Accounting for the aforementioned factors, if one is being very generous, the outcome is very much an extremely uneven one (to put it mildly). There are some parts of the movie that I liked but the lingering feeling is sadly one of mediocrity and disappointment. There's no hiding from the fact that sanitising the R-rated(ness) out of Terminator really hurts the film - akin to making an Evil Dead without the blood or flying eyeball. Compared to Terminator: Rise of The Machines - which was essentially a re-tread/parody of the first and second Terminator films - it could be argued that Genysis attempts to aim a little higher, but in the quest to be more ambitious, it ends up with a unnecessarily convoluted narrative to the point where I wasn't completely sure what was unfolding onscreen (maybe that's just me though?). Never mind, I'm not averse to overlooking some lapses in plot logic so long as the movie as a whole is entertaining (heck, I managed to enjoy Prometheus even though I didn't know what was going on half the time).
Unfortunately, the only part of Genysis that really fulfilled the criteria of enjoyment was the 1984 "Back to the Future II" style chapter, and even that is not without it's horribly cringeworthy moments - Sarah Conner re-invented with the personality of a Californian valley girl and referring to The Guardian T-800 as "pops" most notably. Aside from that, there is a lot to enjoy during this part of the film. Some may regard it as sacrilege, but I actually had a lot of fun with all the references to the original classic such as T-800's arrival and the 'alternative' encounter with the street punks, Kyle Reese's entrance, the department store break-in and stealing the Nike trainers, "come with me if you want to live!" etc. etc. The computer generated "1984" Arnie is awesome - quite possibly the best example to date of work in this field of visual effects - and the T-800 vs T-800 smack-down left a Cheshire Cat-like expression on my face. There is a welcome return for the T-1000 in the guise of Korean star Lee Byung Hun - the current "go to" guy for Asian baddies, which is a waste of his talent - even if his powers are now somewhat diminished in the grand scheme of things. And that, sadly, is where the good stuff ends. A sandwich with a nice filling but stale bread.
The first act of Genysis begins promisingly enough, continuing from the events that unfolded at the end of Rise of the Machines, and building up the living legend of John Conner from Kyle Reese's perspective. The great difficulty I have with the future setting of Genysis is that it is too far removed from the dystopian future war scenes of Cameron's Terminator universe. Gone is the grittiness and stark "worn in" aesthetics, replaced with a glossiness and sheen that just doesn't sit quite right. Visually it's less Blade Runner and closer to the gleaming shininess of the Fifth Element or Star Wars prequels - It's too clean looking. The CGI effects for the machine HKs are very impressive, although I do really miss the old school model work. The 3rd act is where the film really unravels and becomes a huge blurry mess of uninspired action set pieces, unsubtle CGI effects undermining the good work of the first two acts - implausibly ridiculous helicopter aerial battle sequence, I'm talking to you - and the big reveal that was unceremoniously ruined in the marketing campaign.
After the impressive visual style of Thor: The Dark World, and armed with an excellent pedigree in television, Alan Taylor appeared to be a good choice to direct a Terminator movie. However - maybe in the attempt to capture the essence of Cameron's films - Taylor is unable to leave his own imprint on the movie; instead emitting a generic, by the numbers flavour. The Terminator and T-2 are known for their very strong scores, but this is an area that is also sorely lacking in Genysis. On the acting front, Jason Clarke is a decent enough actor but he's so not a good fit for John Conner. Emilia Clarke has a decent stab at portraying a feisty "alternative" Sarah Conner and acquits herself competently in the action scenes. Jai Courtney is no Michael Biehn but neither is he the charisma vacuum that was suggested in the trailers. I did enjoy the interplay of initial antagonism turning to grudging respect between the former and Schwarzenegger's character respectively. And what of the Austrian Oak himself? Old but not obsolete. A line that is repeatedly used to describe Schwarzenegger's aged T-800 "Guardian" in Terminator: Genysis but it could also be a direct reference to the former Governator. Arnold has not enjoyed the same level of success with his movies - he was already arguably in decline with the likes of The Sixth Day and Collateral Damage - since returning from politics but he's clearly having fun in his signature role, and the glue that holds Genysis together. But is it enough to make another one? The future is not set (although it is firmly in the hands of the studio bean counters).