Film Review | Terminator: Genysis

There's no ghosts in this machine as yet another Terminator reboot slouches towards the silver screen to be born.

Reloaded: Emilia Clarke leaves her dragons in day care for a trip back to the future
Reloaded: Emilia Clarke leaves her dragons in day care for a trip back to the future

What does ‘Genysis’ mean? It’s certainly a reference to ‘Genesis’, but the spelling suggests it’s a slight variation on that theme. Certainly, adding ‘y’ to any sentence, particularly in a science fiction context – and remember, we’re dealing with the iconic Terminator franchise; sci-fi as they come – is particularly germane: think of ‘cyber’ and the like. ‘Jenny, Sis’ (a heartwarming movie about long-lost sisters bonding), ‘Genn-ISIS’ (an inter-linguistic pun on highly topical issues)?

Alas, no. In this umpteenth attempt to resurrect the Terminator juggernaut (something its last clutch of sequels failed to do), this fifth installment in the staggered time-travelling cyborg series is all about ‘the ultimate killer app’.

Yes, the titular Genysis is actually a deceptive multi-platform app that will pave the way to unleashing Skynet – the evil AI organisation at the core of the Terminator series – onto an unsuspecting (nay, stupidly welcoming) world.

Insofar as it actually grabs onto a topical anxiety – pervasive social media use and ancillary concerns over surveillance – this is an element that at least stands out from director Alan Taylor’s workmanlike-at-best production.

Because all that’s otherwise left is a glorified piece of fan-fiction: devoid of any vim or originality, ‘Genysis’ is yet another economic unit masquerading as a film.

How do you reset the future? Well, it just about looks as complicated as it sounds, as is only apt when considering the acrobatic timeline of the Terminator movie franchise.

This time around, human resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), believing this to be the key to keep our future safe.


But instead of it being a neat snatch-and-grab job, a complication involving a spy (Matt Smith) causes a fracture in the timeline. Now stranded in an unfamiliar past, Kyle has to face a torrent of new enemies while managing a new kink in his mission. But all is not lost, as friendly cyborg guardian ‘Pops’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is on hand to help…

The worst thing about this whole project isn’t the fact that it’s yet another desperate retread over a tired pop culture saga whose integrity moviegoers have stopped believing in years ago.

It’s not even so bad that casual moviegoers aren’t likely to be thrilled by this by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller, and that – unlike the culti-like heft of James Cameron’s original Terminator duo – they are likely to forget about it all as soon as they exit the cinema. If anything, ‘Genysis’ trots along comfortably – its action beats are in the right places, and its CGI work isn’t as depressingly rote and bland as the stuff that Marvel Studios have been churning out of late.

No, what’s really bad, what’s truly insulting, is that Taylor – a seasoned hack responsible for a clutch of TV episodes and the equally uninspiring Thor: The Dark World – and his team of writers (Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier), can’t even be bothered to craft a consistent fantasy world.

Granted, the time travel stuff that’s part and parcel of the Terminator universe isn’t handled too badly, considering, though one reason it’s not terribly confusing despite the franchise’s history is also down to corporate cynicism: time-hopping conundrums allow the studio to use this as the jumping-off point to market the Terminator brand for a new generation… much in the same way as JJ Abrams approached the new Star Trek franchise.

But everything else that happens in the film is guided purely by lazy plot contrivance and an insistence on inserting Terminator fan-service. Rest assured that, either to get our heroes out of a pickle or pull them deeper into one, the filmmakers will remember a technological innovation or temporal wizardry that will do the trick. It’s the kind of thing a 12-year-old would write.

The kind of basic but strong character dynamic that the original Terminators prided in is also absent. Khaleesi herself Emilia Clarke may have been a logical-enough choice to step into Linda Hamilton’s shoes as perennial badass Sarah Connor.

But the story expects her to fall in love with Kyle Reece, who is unfortunately embodied by charisma-vacuum Jai Courtney. A jock-shaped blunt instrument lending his mediocre skills to mediocre fare like Live Free or Die Hard and Jack Reacher, Courtney fails to break the mold this time, giving us a hero who’s as flat as they come.

And while ‘Genysis’ may have a miniscule edge over its immediate predecessor – ‘Salvation’ – by dint of the fact that they actually got Arnie to show up this time around… the fact remains that the franchise’s most recognizable through-line is now reduced to loyal guard dog status.

We, all of us, deserve so much better than this.

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