Saturday, 11 July 2015

Terminator Genisys

In an attempt to kick-off a new string of sequels Terminator Genisys takes the series back to zero, showing us the exact moment John Connor won the Battle of Armageddon by driving up to Skynet's front door hidden in the back of a truck. The Terminator posited a desperate future conflict in which mankind was reduced to the level of vermin. Conversely, Alan Taylor's smudged photostat is full of protein shook bruisers confident enough to charge directly at abstract art shapes armed with laser cannons.

To broker the handover, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as broadly the same T-800 seen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Christened Pops by his bratty VIP, Schwarzenegger gets to play old and malfunctioning, a decrepit cyborg used to punching his motorised bones back into shape. Although his voice chip is stuck blurting out a couple of default phrases, Schwarzenegger is easily the best thing about the film, the impassive father figure taken to an absurd, indestructible conclusion.

Given that she's spent a decade in the company of a killing machine, you might expect Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor to be steel. She's not. Instead, this deliberately cute, diminutive Sarah is a strange combination of T2's punk John Connor and the pressing need to please little boys grappling with the idea that girls are no longer icky.

Clarke's performance is Linda Hamilton's Virgin Mary reconfigured as something from the worrying end of the anime spectrum, a woman who is simultaneously infantilised and sexualised. The latter reading made explicit by a time travel episode that's treated like a skinny dip and the longing looks fired Connors way by a pre-teen Kyle Reese (Bryant Prince). As if to hammer home the idea that all of this is written in the stars, Young Kyle is practically dribbling any time Sarah is in his eyeline.

For his second attempt at burying a beloved 1980s film series, Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese as an impatient prom date. It's a bold choice. James Cameron and Michael Biehn elected to portray a man who'd grown up in radioactive ruins as twitchy and feral, a bestial presence that didn't so much move as slink. Looking for a fresh hook, T5's screenwriters have lasered in on that moment in The Terminator were Reese clumsily reveals his virginity, elevating this sweaty desire to his sole, motivating characteristic.

Basically, Reese doesn't have anything else to do but look beefy and complain. He's surplus to requirement. Reese has fell through the decades to arrive at a point were he's no longer calamity's messenger. Sarah already knows more than he does and has a Terminator Guardian to boot. Perhaps recognising that their leading man is a spare, Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier's screenplay gives Reese the framing monologue and a mutation that allows him to glimpse memories from alternative, concurrent timelines.

Most depressingly of all, Terminator Genisys is a case study in how sequel inflation can numb the experience. T5's Terminators aren't death rendered in metal, they're end of level bosses. Excluding the drone-like Endos that buzz around Skynet's time travel compound, T5 has no less than seven distinct infiltrators going about their business. The singular threat of a Panzer tank sheathed in flesh is gone, replaced with a succession of computer-generated goons that are each dispatched in flat, unconvincing ways.

Lee Byung-hun's T-1000 signs off in a particularly ignominious fashion. A terrible shame since Lee is the only actor who appears to have given any thought to the interior life of something invincible. Instead of just standing there like stone absorbing damage, Lee undulates around sustained fire. It's a movement decision that suggests a creature that finds being shot irritating rather than ruinous.

T5 quickly loses interest in its mercury man, trading in Robert Patrick's Vulcanian demise for a sequence in which the chromed metal monster is transformed into drowning dirt. It doesn't help that the broad idea behind the termination is straight out of a T2 tie-in comic published by Malibu in the mid-90s. It wasn't convincing then and it isn't convincing now.

Kalogridis and Lussier's screenplay demonstrates evidence of a deep dive into ancillary Terminator mythology and little else. The future war opener is a garbled lift from Randall Frakes' novelization of the second film (itself based on early drafts of James Cameron and William Wisher's screenplay), while the battle between two digitally augmented Arnolds is straight out of Cameron's rejected T2 pitch bin. Terminator Genisys is a work mired in brand and its perceived importance, content to cram the screen with loaned out moments shorn of context, excitement and threat.

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