This, the latest in Arnold Schwarzenneger’s career as robotic killer lacks the shock impact of the first in the Terminator franchise, when a young and innocent Kyle Rees (Michael Biehn) first took Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) hand and spoke the immortal words: “Come with me if you want to live”. It is, nonetheless, a worthy successor: not quite up there with Terminator and Terminator 2 (Judgment day): but light years ahead of Terminator 3 (Rise of the machines) and 4 (Salvation).
Rather than continue the familiar narrative, Genisys extends it by introducing an alternate timeline in which Judgment Day – that moment in 1997 when Skynet became self-aware, and destroyed much of humankind – never happened. Instead, courtesy of some vague quantum event, time itself split at the very moment that Kyle (now played by Jai Courtney) set off from 2029 to save the young but naive Sarah (now Emilia Clarke).
He is not best pleased to discover a sassy, competent young woman who is perfectly capable of polishing off the first T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenneger) by herself and then, saving HIM from the T-1000 (Byung-Hun Lee) which now turns up in 1984 and not, as previously, 1994. As Kyle puts it: “This is all wrong! John sent me here to save you!”
Nor is he impressed to find Sarah is in cahoots with a Terminator (yep: Schwarzenneger again), nicknamed “Pops”, and acting as surrogate parent to her ever since saving her from yet another Terminator attack back in 1973. Be warned: the narrative is complicated and if you want to make sense of the second half of this film, you need to listen carefully as the plot unrolls. Because otherwise, by the time it gets really complicated, you will not have a clue what is going on.
New future? Getting weirder
Having polished off all opposition in 1984, its a quick jump forward to 2017 for Kyle and Sarah, courtesy of a time machine that Pops just happened to have knocked up. Meanwhile, Arnie, damaged in his earlier encounter with the T-1000 must take time to heal up, and so elects to take “the long way round” (therefore conveniently explaining why he looks a lot older than he did in 1984, as well as saving a small fortune on make-up).
2017, in case you are wondering, is the new date for Skynet’s moment of self-actualisation: a piece of information imparted to Kyle by, er, Kyle, who now meets himself, aged 12, in this alternate timeline. It is also the date to which Kyle and Sarah’s child, John Connor has retreated. This is problematic: the child is now twice the age of his parents; and besides, as the result of one night’s passion back in 1984, which now did not happen, he cannot possibly have been born. And besides, he was last seen dying in 2029.
No doubt Dr Who might be able to explain all this wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. But look closely and you might just notice that John’s assassin is none other than penultimate Dr Who – and ultimate time travel in-joke – Matt Smith.
Confused? You will be. Or maybe will have been. Though mostly that does not matter.
The film has heart and a sense of humour, while still clocking off its quota of dramatic chases, pyrotechnics and good old-fashioned Terminator to Terminator fisticuffs. Pretty much every catchphrase there’s ever been in a Terminator film is recycled and subverted . Meanwhile, the relationship between Kyle and “Pops” gently spoofs every plot that’s ever relied on the testosterone-loaded tension between parent and young suitor. Though even this is tinged with ambiguity since, to preserve the old time line, Kyle and Sarah need to procreate or, as increasingly human Pops puts it: “have you mated yet?”
In the end, director Alan Taylor brings a fresh eye and new vision to a decades old narrative.
The most irritating features of Genisys are the twisting, turning alternate timeline plotting – and the fact, with several characters able to morph to look like anyone else, you are never too sure who is who? Or to put it another way, nothing is permanent, and you can “trust no-one”. Personally, i prefer my films a little more nailed down.
But overall, this is valiant effort and one that should please geeks and action fans alike.
Health warning: don’t take any friend, relative or small child with a track record of interrupting every five minutes with questions about plot details. You will not survive!