Tuesday 21 November 2017

Terminator Genisys review - Arnie's back with a bang in winning sequel

Time warp: Emilia Clarke is Sarah Connor in the new 'Terminator'
Time warp: Emilia Clarke is Sarah Connor in the new 'Terminator'

Paul Whitington

It's 31 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger first played the unstoppable killer robot in James Cameron's Terminator, and the intervening decades have been busy ones for the big fellow. He transformed himself from a preening body-builder into one of the world's biggest action stars, became an international businessman, served two terms as California's governor and endured the inevitable sex scandal. Meanwhile, like a meandering river, the sci-fi franchise has puttered ineffectually on.


We all know about T2, the stunning 1991 sequel that almost matched the excellence of the original thanks to its ground-breaking special effects. And while Schwarzenegger might have regretted returning to play T-800 in the lacklustre 2003 film Terminator 3, in 2009, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington proved that there's only one thing worse than a bad Terminator film, and that's a Terminator film without Arnie in it.

Terminator Salvation and its predecessors have messed about with the timeline of the original story so much that you'd need a PhD in astrophysics to make sense of it all, and it might have seemed a humane solution to let the weary franchise crawl off into the forest to die.

But in Hollywood even a half-dead franchise is better than a new idea, and so we have Terminator Genisys, an adventure that plays fast and loose with its preposterous storyline and somehow gets away with it. It's part parody, part giddy thriller, and would surely not be watchable at all were it not for the richness of its brand. But Arnie is the best thing in it, playing with the humourless robot trope he helped create and having a lot of fun in the process.

In 2029, rebel leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) is on the verge of defeating the evil machine empire when he discovers that Skynet has sent back a Terminator to kill his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and change history forever. So Connor sends his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect her. Reece thinks he's arrived in 80s Los Angeles just in time to prevent the original T-800 from going on the rampage, but is perplexed when someone else assassinates the machine right in front of him.

It's Arnie, or rather another T-800 that's been looking after Sarah Connor since she was a child. She's become so attached to the robot that she refers to it as 'Pops', and while Reese doesn't trust the Terminator for a second, he reluctantly joins forces with it and Sarah to try and stop Skynet from wiping out billions of people in the nuclear apocalypse, Judgment Day. To do that (I feel a headache coming on) they must jump forward to 2017, where a new and exceedingly powerful enemy awaits.

The complications and contradictions in Terminator Genisys' plot would test Einstein's patience, and a fruitless afternoon could be spent trying and failing to understand its relation to the earlier films. A much better approach is to ignore all this timeline-shifting nonsense altogether and enjoy the movie for what it is: a gleefully dumb and surprisingly funny shoot-em-up.

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Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke is a good choice to play a young Sarah Connor, and her petite frame provides the perfect counterpoint to Arnie's vastness, just as Linda Hamilton's once did. He is tremendous fun as the ragged but still implacably determined Terminator, who insists that he is "old, not obsolete", one of the film's endearingly half-hearted catchphrases.

Schwarzenegger's comic timing has always been deceptively good, and the forced smile he flashes now and then at Sarah's prompting is hilarious. And while I approached Terminator Genisys with low expectations, I must admit it's a surprisingly entertaining summer blockbuster, provided you don't start examining it too closely.

(12A, 125mins)

Irish Independent

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