Not even the most ardent Terminator fan wanted another sequel. Not after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, with its lazily re-hashed storyline and absurd villain who could control machines with her mind. Not after the bloated robot-opera Terminator Salvation, which even Christian Bale couldn’t make palatable. And that TV series… Oh God.
But here we are. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the franchise doesn’t even pretend to be anything more than a nostalgic trip down a memory lane strewn with human skulls and severed robotic hands.
Kyle Reese, a soldier from a post-apocalyptic future, is once again sent back in time to save the world. No matter how many times John Connor, the leader of the resistance against the machines, sends his best mate back in time to have sex with his mother, something always happens to make him do it again. It’s almost like he’s enjoying it.
Reese first travels to 1984 and director Alan Taylor has fun recreating scenes from the first movie: Reese stealing pants off a hobo, running from the cops, nicking a pair of Nikes. He also recreates the scene in which a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger – gloriously transformed to his physical peak through the wonder of CGI – tries to steal clothes from a bunch of punks. Only something’s wrong – an ageing Arnie shows up and starts beating the hell out of the young one. Shortly after, the liquid-metal robot from Terminator 2 shows up. Someone has messed with the timelines! It’s a nice conceit, recalling the best elements of the franchise: it’s just a shame the writers then try to explain it, leading to a narrative that’s frustratingly complex without ever threatening to be clever – more like untangling a ball of wires than solving a Rubix cube.
There is, of course, an effort to ground the film in contemporary anxieties. The point in time in which Reese must defeat the murderous A.I. known as Skynet is the year 2017. Skynet is now a thinly-veiled Google/Apple analogue, and is about to launch Genisys, an operating system that promises to link all of your devices, from your tablet to your car. It’s basically like iCloud, if it decided it wanted to kill you. FEAR THE FUTURE.
Only the future just isn’t as frightening as it used to be. The new super-sophisticated super-baddie isn’t a patch on the simple, cold, impassive killing machine of yesteryear. The latest batch of actors are shadows of their former selves, especially the new Sarah Connor, played by Emilia Clarke, who lacks both the physique and attitude of Sarah Hamilton’s take on the character. Only Arnie remains constant, with his po-faced one-liners and increasingly improbable girth. At 67, he’s still just about strong enough to carry the movie. It feels like a last stand, though: this franchise is clawing its way dispassionately, inexorably towards the scrap-heap
First published in City A.M.