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Film review: Terminator Genisys - Schwarzenegger in an alternate 1984

Game of Thrones regular Alan Taylor takes the helm for the summer's latest blockbuster series reboot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 4:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 2015, 1:10pm

"I'm old, not obsolete," says Arnold Schwarzenegger's grey-haired T-800 Terminator. The same could be said for this sci-fi franchise, which began 31 years ago with James Cameron's cult classic The Terminator. Since then, it's been through various iterations — most recently without Schwarzenegger's iconic killing machine, in 2009's disappointing Terminator Salvation and the TV spin-off, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This fifth movie attempts to inject the franchise with some fresh ideas.

Directed by Game of Thrones regular Alan Taylor, the head-spinning plot begins by echoing Cameron's original, as trust soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time from 2029, when the machines rule over humans. Arriving in 1984 Los Angeles, as before, Reese has been sent by resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) to protect his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) from Arnie's relentless robot and safeguard his own birth — with the added twist that it's Reese who fathers him.

Emilia Clarke talks Terminator Genisys

If that was about as complicated as The Terminator got, this latest instalment introduces the notion that we're now in an alternate 1984. Unlike in Cameron's original, Sarah is already up to speed and even has an ageing T-800 (Schwarzenegger) — that she dubs "Pops" — protecting her. Moreover, when Reese arrives, not only is there a second T-800 (the villain in the original film, here a digitalised "young" Schwarzenegger) out for blood but the more advanced T-1000 (South Korea's Lee Byung-hun) also in pursuit.

Confused? You will be, with a dense plot that yo-yos through the years, as the characters set out to change the future. Thankfully, Taylor seasons the loopy narrative with some jaw-dropping 3D action, whether it's demolishing San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge or somersaulting a schoolbus. Particularly impressive are the sequences with Lee, brilliant as the molten-liquid T-1000, in a nod to Robert Patrick in Cameron's 1990 groundbreaking sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Between the many references to the earlier films, the increasingly ludicrous plot and the breathless action, Terminator Genisys doesn't spend a lot of time on character development, but at least Schwarzenegger and Clarke do their best to forge a father-daughter bond. It's a pity that the attempts at humour flop — not least Arnie's rather tiresome battery of new catchphrases ("bite me") plus the perennial "I'll be back".

With recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons on board as a befuddled cop (very much the audience equivalent in this bonkers world), there are hooks to grab onto in a story that will test your patience at times. Just because time travel means you can go anywhere, it doesn't mean you can do anything.

But at least you can't fault Terminator Genisys for a lack of ambition.

Terminator Genisys opens on July 2