Terminator Genisys came with a lot of hope. A stellar cast, endorsement by James Cameron and the return of the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet, it kind of falls flat.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the best actor out there. However, he is an icon. Especially in his role as the Terminator, known as the T-800 in-universe, he is one of the greatest phenomena that Hollywood has ever brought forth. Many have tried to be as awesome as he is, tried to be more of all that makes Arnie Arnie, but they all failed.
So when it was announced that in Terminator Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger would return as the charming yet stoic and cold killer robot from the future that made him an unshakeable icon in cinema history back in 1984’s Terminator and its incredible sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, fans and people who didn’t know were fans were psyched.
Soon after, more cast members were announced. Emilia Clarke, who rose to fame as Danaerys Targaryen on HBO’s Game of Thrones, would take over as Sarah Connor, mother to John Connor who in the future would defend humanity against the machines. Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame was cast as a character named Alex. And more names sounded good. Jason Clarke as John Connor, Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Jai Courtney of Divergent fame, et cetera. This movie could not be bad.
Then: Opening Day.
It got quiet. Reviewers were quiet, fans were quiet, the world seemed to ignore this movie. Even the ill-fated predecessor to Genisys, 2009’s Terminator Salvation starring Christian Bale got more conversation. Was it so bad? Really? Could Arnie’s triumphant return have bombed?
So in time for the Zurich Film Festival that’s currently going on and sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as its biggest star guest, we risked having our childhood memories destroyed and sat down. We watched Terminator Genisys.
The plot is as convoluted and implausible as we’re used to at first. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to the past to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from a killer machine sent from the future as she is to father John Connor (Jason Clarke, no relation) who will be the leader of the human resistance in 2029.
However, upon arrival in the past, a lot of weird things happen. Not only are there suddenly two killer robots from the future, but one of them is a good guy. In addition to that, the past of 1984 sees a T-1000 – a killer robot made of liquid metal that viewers first encountered in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That’s wrong. The differences don’t stop there, though. Sarah Connor is not a helpless waitress anymore, but has been training to fight machines for years. Kyle Reese is not needed as a protector as Sarah is working with an older model of the T-800 she named Pops.
Luckily, John has picked up memories during his travels back to the past and Sarah has built a time machine in 1984. The reason why he picked up memories is that he apparently hit some kind of Nexus point in time where timelines intersect. There, he learned that the real danger is not in the 1990s but in the year 2017 when a new mobile phone operating system named Genisys is to be released. Manufactured by Cyberdyne Systems, Genisys will be the ultimate personal assistant… and give birth to Skynet, the evil computer intelligence that rules all machines in 2029.
So they travel to 2017.
Less Timey-Wimey, More Shooty Guns
Up until this point, the movie is something between cringe-worthy and unbearable. It doesn’t sound like a Terminator movie, but like some kind of parody that just features a lot of names that we’re used to from other Terminator movies. This is also in part due to the fact that while Emilia Clarke might share some similarities with the legendary Linda Hamilton who played Sarah Connor in the first two movies of the franchise, she’s just not up to snuff. She’s a good actress, she’s up to the action, but she’s missing a few key ingredients that make Sarah Connor the iconic character that rivals Schwarzenegger’s stoic robot.
The defining looks of Sarah Connor are her slender figure, her being relatively tall, and her muscles. In the second Terminator movie, she looked less like a desirable sexy woman that Hollywood likes so much, but like a hungry, somewhat crazed animal. Combined with her husky voice, she seemed equal parts insane and intimidating.
At 10cm less, soft spoken and decidedly less toned Emilia Clarke just doesn’t compare. I’m even willing to say that even if Emilia Clarke would have hit the gym to look more like Linda Hamilton’s version, she would still not compare. Because even Lena Heady who is rougher and sounds huskier and looks more wiry didn’t compare in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
This odd effect of the actors just not measuring up is something that can be seen across the cast. No bad actors, but all just don’t compare. Jason Clarke does a good job. But he’s no Edward Furlong or even Christian Bale. Matt Smith, as barely present as he is, does his best to be menacing, but fails.
There is one exception. One big exception. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s as good as ever. He’s stoic, has an insanely dry sense of deadpan humour and even manages to convey the emotion of caring even though he shouldn’t be able to due to being a machine. Every time Arnie is on screen, he steals the show. He handles guns mechanically, moves weirdly and inhumanly and wows us all. He is the T-800. Nobody else will ever be as glorious as he is in this role.
Skip to the Finale
Luckily, the movie picks up in the last half hour. Upon arrival in 2017 – the T-800 having prepared for this day for thirty years while Sarah and Kyle time travelled – the action begins. The robotified and mysteriously also temporally displaced John Connor tries to kill the human resistance fighters, while they’re not going down without a fight.
The highlight are the fight scenes between Schwarzenegger and John Connor. In the typically blunt, slow and devastatingly choreographed fight scenes, they’re taking each other apart as best as they can.
Does that manage to save the movie? No, but it does make for a very good final few scenes. And, for fans, there’s a number of scenes where we get our Terminator back. When he divebombs a helicopter or manufactures magnetic brass knuckles or fights to his very last. Because he is Arnold Schwarzenegger and he’s a legend.