The future... and John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) help lead a successful rebellion against the machines that left the world a chrome-coated apocalypse after 1997's 'Judgement Day'. With his late mother's foreknowledge of the events that were to come, John has helped steer humanity's success but now has one last solem duty to perform... he must complete that fateful circle and send Kyle Reese back in time to save the younger Sarah Connor.
But when Kyle arrives in the past he's immediately attacked by a newer brand of shape-shifting Terminator and Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), the young, naive woman whom he's supposed to convince about future events already has a good idea of his mission... and oh, has a Terminator of her own that she calls 'Pops' andwho has already taken care of a similar model that landed near Griffiths Park Observatory.
The timeline has somehow already been rewritten, rather than predetermined... and now SkyNet's agenda has merely been delayed, not destroyed. Kyle has conflicting visions of his past and future, but will another time-jump help their new mission?
And when things couldn't get any more confusing, the adult John Connor appears, claiming to have time-shifted as well. In a new continuity where even events that have already happened can't be confirmed, who can anyone trust?
A line, oft-repeated throughout Terminator: Genisys, about 'moving forward in a straight line and never looking back' turns out to be a deep-set metetextual irony given as it is the exact opposite of the strategy employed for much of this film's running time...
Where the original Terminator was a cold-hearted heat-seeking guided missile of movie, one that fixed on its singular target and never let up, this latest chapter is more of a scattershot grenade, taking random aim at everything in sight and causing huge swathes of nostalgic shrapnel to hit anyone in the immediate vicinity. It's like someone took that famous Doctor Who speech ("People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff...) and decided that was the rather useful bible on which to base an entire film... and, given that the good Doctor actually turns up in the film (albeit a different vintage), the irony continues.
Time-travel productions often result in a necessary sky-high suspension of disbelief and a mild brainfart... it's all good fun but madness awaits if you examine it all too closely or seriously. Try too hard to dovetail all the contradictory dynamics and even the beloved Back to the Future tends to get overwraughtly complex. Even the smartest (see the vastly under-rated Predestination) can sometime put those smarts before the sheer entertainment factor and the moebius-strip collapses under its own weight.
The main problem with Terminator: Genisys is actually obvious and two fold. Firstly, it's as lazy as it is glossy and secondly it can't really decide its remit. Is it a remake, a re-imagining, a sequel, a prequel, an attempt to untie a four-dimensional ball of cause and effect string-theory or just a summer cash-cow? Even capable diector Alan Taylor is caught between the demands and produces a film that gets so dizzy it never gets the chance to push any boundaries. The actual result starts well, going through 'the mirror darkly' to show the other side of the events that led to Reese being sent back before the original Terminator... but then falls down 'the rabbit-hole madly' as its house of cards falls apart. It cannibalises its own source code and becomes little more than a handful of big-budget retroactive set-pieces stitched together in a form that's more of 'Dear John (Connor)...'missive than a true love letter to the past. It valiantly swims against the tide of franchise contradictions as if wanting to iron them out but then realises its a lost cause and gives up the ghost about halfway through... to a point where most of the characters make no apologies for on-screen shrugs and overtly agreeing, yes, it makes no sense.
There's nothing 'wrong' with the film except that it feels opportunistic and generic, with the pacing of a knock-off video-game - even to the point of grabbing convenient weaponry/upgrades and power-ups after each obstacle is overcome at the end of set 'levels'. In a film about techno-dominance, it all feels like machine-code more than screenplay....a fan-made patchwork ona Hollywood budget. There was a real chance for the powers-that-be, if if they'd so wanted, to craft a parable for our interconnected, CPU-dominated lives... the story of a world that delayed an overt 'launch-the-missiles' Judgement Day only to willingly fallen victim to a subversive mastermind who knew that 'LOLz' and ill-researched kitten memes were the true way to conquer humanity from within. And somewhere, buried deep beneath the rubble of subtlety that IS indeed the maguffin - playing Siri-cadenced lip-service to that notion of how easily SkyNet 'has an app for that'. But that's all back-story and is never allowed to get in the way of the 'blowing shit up' imperative that marks the modern summer blockbuster's style of punctuation.
Arnold, the one constant in an otherwise shifting sea of recasting, is a Terminator who argues he's 'old, but not obsolete', but it's left to a CGI-performance capture creation to pull the heavy duty. Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke swaps dragons for bazookas and has enough screen presence to prove she's the best Sarah Connor since Linda Hamilton. Jai Courtney, often saddled with identikit roles does everythign the script asks, but that meely involves looking confused, bruised and battling. Planet of the Apes'/The Chicago Code's Jason Clarke's role as John Connor is pretty thankless beyond the early introduction and any sense of mystery about him has largely been dispelled by a publicity campaign that played its hand way to early. There's cameos from the likes of J K Simmons and Matt Smith in there for good measure.
In the end, Terminator: Genisys is summer fluff, an inoffensive and vividly hued band-aid on a groundbreaking franchise that was actually desperately need of a finer scapel, rather than another layer of baffling timey-whimey 'wtf'?
Go watch ANY fifteen minutes of T2 to see how it should be done.
Terminator Genisys is out now.
Many thanks to Vue @ The Light, Leeds.