Terminator Genisys: how to kill a franchise

Christian Butler

Topics Culture

Both 1984’s The Terminator and its 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, spent the entirety of their respective run-times following a clear narrative: a terminator is sent to the past to kill someone, a good guy is sent back to protect that person, and action ensues. By contrast, the baffling fifth entry in the series, Terminator Genisys, is mired in endless processions of terminators, overlapping timelines and action sequences devoid of suspense and common sense.

The film seemingly starts off as a remake of the original Terminator. In a dystopian future, John Connor (played, this time around, by Jason Clarke) leads the human resistance against the machines. When the evil Skynet sends a terminator into the past to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah, thus preventing him from being born, he sends his fellow soldier Kyle Reese (an obnoxiously whiny Jai Courtney) back in time to protect her.

When Reese arrives in 1984, however, he finds out that a friendly terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course) was sent to protect Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) back in 1973. As opposed to the scared waitress Reese discovers in the original film, Clarke’s Connor is already a seasoned warrior by the time he shows up.

In this alternate Terminator timeline, the events of James Cameron’s first two films have never happened. Strangely enough, Terminator Genisys still somehow shares the same future of the original films, in which the murderous robots have taken over the world. The warped time-travel plotlines seem so nonsensical that when Matt Smith shows up, playing yet another terminator, you could think you were watching one of Steven Moffat’s suspension-of-disbelief-abusing Doctor Who episodes.

This film is an insult to the original series, not just because it butchers the original plot, but also because of the pathetic cameos from past terminators, who are recreated here as shadows of their former, scary selves. Arnie’s original, thirtysomething terminator makes an appearance at the beginning, with help from CGI, only to be defeated within a few minutes. The terrifying T-1000 from Terminator 2 also turns up at one point, but he’s also disposed of rather swiftly.

Fans of the original series might have wondered how the screenwriters would explain Schwarzenegger’s older appearance in this film – terminators, after all, aren’t supposed to age. Luckily, there’s a half-arsed explanation for that. Apparently, after first being sent back to protect Sarah Connor in 1973, the human skin attached to his endoskeleton has aged. Yes, we all wanted to see Arnie reclaim the role, but who wants to see the near-indestructible killing machine as an old man? Attempts to make a joke out of it all also fall flat; Sarah Connor nicknames him ‘pops’, and at one point he gets stuck in traffic.

Terminator isn’t the only franchise that has suffered a botched reboot of late, but it’s hard to think of a recent franchise cash-in that has managed to both pillage and disgrace its source material with such gusto. Instead of making a clean break with the past, or celebrating its history, Terminator Genisys is a mess of alternate timelines, lame winks and nods, and awful catchphrases. A masterclass in how to kill a franchise.

Christian Butler is a writer and musician based in London.

Watch the trailer for Terminator Genisys:

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Topics Culture


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