The Terminator franchise never seems to be able to catch a break. After creating an icon with the 1984 original and guaranteeing it a place in popular culture with the 1991 sequel, the series has suffered without its creator James Cameron at the helm. The third film had a bold ending but was forgettable, and the fourth hardly made an impression. However, as the extended universe craze takes hold, the franchise gets a fresh look with 'Terminator Genisys', both a reboot of the series and the intended first chapter in a new trilogy. There’s still no Cameron to take control, but there were hopes this might give the series the kick it needed.
Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have the kernel of a good idea, returning to the events of the original as the jumping point for an alternate universe, but the storytelling is surprisingly convoluted. We find Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) sent back to 1984 by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to save his mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from a Skynet assassin, but Reese finds Sarah far more prepared for his arrival and protected by an ageing terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the three of them set out to stop the birth of Skynet through a new operating system launching in 2017 called Genisys.
These are all good ideas, but leaping back and forth through timelines, convoluted backstories and inconsistent messing-around with canon makes ‘Genisys’ a really hard film to follow. There were many points where I was pretty unclear about what was going on, and this isn’t a problem I’ve ever had before. It’s also stylistically inconsistent - it tries to marry the gritty immediacy of the first film with the sentimentality of the second, but without a voice as assured as Cameron’s at the helm, it never seems to work. Director Alan Taylor, one of the better directors working in television, certainly tries his best with the material, fashioning a very handsome-looking film, but the screenplay holds it back. Everything about ‘Genisys’ smells of a film created by committee.
It’s an even greater pity when the film has such a great cast, trying to do some great work. Courtney and Emilia Clarke have good chemistry and heaps of natural charisma, but they suffer most from the confusion of the screenplay. Jason Clarke fairs much better as John, whose character is twisted from hero to villain very quickly, and Schwarzenegger is always at his best in this part, but J. K. Simmons and Matt Smith seem totally wasted in their supporting roles. With this level of talent involved, it suggested there was some hope for the film, hope that turned out to be unfounded.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that ‘Terminator Genisys’ is clearly a trilogy opener, setting up a whole series of story threads it intends to pursue. The problem with this is, we don’t know where the story is going, so instead the film feels insubstantial and convoluted. It also didn’t help that the trailers to the film revealed the big surprise about John being the villain, something that might have given the film an extra kick. Perhaps this is a franchise that just doesn’t have the legs to keep itself going, or needs a serious shake-up that cuts its ties with the originals and comes up with something fresh and new and surprising. Until then, we have this mildly entertaining oddity of a film, neither the continuation the series deserved or the rousing opener a new trilogy needed.
With this level of talent involved, it suggested there was some hope for the film, hope that turned out to be unfounded.
PICTURE & SOUND
For all the faults of the film, it’s hard to fault Paramount’s Blu-ray release of it. The film is presented in a pristine 1080p 2.39:1 transfer, steely and slick with sharp detail throughout. At the very least it shows off the excellent visuals, something that ends up lifting the film from being a total disaster. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track (which is ATMOS-compatible) is a ripper, especially when the film is basically action septettes following one another. It has great bass and bombast, but still keeps dialogue clear and balanced with the sound design. You couldn’t ask for a better presentation of a recent blockbuster.
There’s a surprisingly strong collection of features on offer, beginning on the first disc with three lengthy featurettes. ‘Family Dynamics’ looks at the casting and characters, ‘Infiltration and Termination’ covers the evolution of the story from the rest of the series and ‘Upgrades: VFX of Terminator Genisys’ looks at the visual effects work required on the film. The bulk of the extras though come on the second disc, the highlight of which is ‘Reset the Future: Constructing Terminator Genisys’, an hour-and-a-half documentary that covers the development and making of the film. It’s well-made material featuring everyone involved, and ends up being a lot more engaging (and easier to follow) than the film itself. There’s also a multi-angle scene breakdown of one of the key action sequences in the film.