Terminator Genisys

July 11, 2015
Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator Genisys' (2015)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator Genisys' (2015)

If Sophie Barthes expects viewers to be already familiar with the story of Madame Bovary, the producers of Terminator Genisys seem to expect audiences to be intimately acquainted with every aspect of a franchise that began as far back as 1984. I’m reliably informed this new film skips the third and fourth sequels, and relates directly to the first two Terminator movies directed by James Cameron. These are the only two I’ve seen, but I was still bamboozled by this latest installment.

It’s awful to speak of films in terms of “franchises”, a word that conjures up thoughts of fast food joints, but this is an apt metaphor for the kind of big-budget movies Hollywood is churning out – all fat and sugar, with no nutrition for the mind or the soul.

Terminator Genisys is typical of the breed: a monumental CGI fest with an appalling script, an incomprehensible plot, and action scenes so implausible that one feels like laughing out loud. The director anointed to helm this enterprise is one Alan Taylor, known for that immortal classic of the silver screen, Thor: The Dark World (2013).

You may recall that the Terminator films posit a future in which the machines have taken over from mankind, with humanity’s only hope lying with the leader of the resistance movement, John Connor. The machines respond by sending a cyborg assassin back in time to eliminate John’s mother, Sarah Connor, ensuring their nemesis will never be born. In the first Terminator that nameless assassin was Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a career defining role. By the time of the sequel he had changed sides, becoming Sarah’s protector.

Terminator Genisys finds Arnie as “Pops”, an “old but not obsolete” T-800 cyborg still protecting Sarah against the machines. The new Sarah is Emilia Clarke, better known for her role as a scantily-clad dragon whisperer in Game of Thrones. Her other protector is Kyle Reese, sent back from the future by John Connor himself. The new Kyle is Aussie actor, Jai Courtney, while the new John is Queensland’s own Jason Clarke, no relation to Emilia.

The wrinkle in the plot is that Kyle, whom John rescued as a child, is also supposed to be John’s father – if you can figure that out. When John himself turns up in an evil altered state, the nuclear family is complete – mum and dad, a son who is much older than they are, and a cyborg grandpa. CGI mayhem ensues as the action leaps from 1984 to 2017, with Kyle, Sarah and Pops attempting to prevent the launch of a world-dominating computer network called Genisys, while John goes in to bat for the other side.

The concept of time travel has given rise to some subtle science fiction scenarios, and a vast collection of idiocies. The new Terminator gets so entangled in temporal paradoxes it could blow a cyborg’s circuits trying to figure it out. Arnie is appointed our guide, gabbing on about “quantum fields” and other bits of pseudo-scientific bunk.

By this stage I was so thoroughly confused I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Arnie was really Kyle’s fairy godmother. The trick, presumably, was to discard any remaining threads of logic and simply enjoy the spectacle of buildings exploding; cars, motorbikes, buses and helicopters crashing; cyborgs zapping each other full of holes, and so on.

When Arnie said “I’ll be back”, before plunging out of a helicopter without a parachute, I can’t have been the only viewer who emitted an involuntary groan.

In the first two Terminator movies the gags actually seemed funny. The theme of “What is a human being? What is a robot?” still had currency, as did the spectre of a world controlled by a centralised computer. Nowadays, as Edward Snowden has shown us, the entire planet may be monitored at the whim of an intelligence agency.

Media organisations have already begun to use software programs to write stories, but nowhere is the victory of the machines more complete than in Hollywood where script writing duties for blockbuster films seem to have been handed over to robots. Lacking human imagination and sensitivity, they stitch together cliches from old B movies, as they seek to reduce viewers to mindless, popcorn munching zombies that need to absorb the same formulas again and again. Judging by the box office receipts, the machines are already in control.

Terminator Genisys
Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Byung-hun Lee
USA, rated M, 125 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 11th July, 2015.