In 2007, The Halcyon Company acquired the rights to the Terminator franchise and in 2009 released the fourth film to bear the prestigious name. With generally poor reviews and badly received by a disappointed public, Terminator Salvation delivered only marginal returns when set against the huge $200 million budget. Halcyon filed for bankruptcy the same year. In 2011, the name was picked up again, this time by Skydance Productions, who two years later announced a new film. This was to be the first in a revamped trilogy that would stand alone from the previous films while still including many of the well-known characters and retaining much of the mythology. That film was to become Terminator Genisys. The plot of this new film has been the cause of great debate and some consternation amongst fans. The initial premise seemed to suggest that the timeline in Genisys would emulate that of James Cameron’s 1984 original classic, The Terminator. In 2029, the human resistance fights bravely against an artificial intelligence known as Skynet, which is hell-bent on wiping them out. One of the fighters, Kyle Reese (this time played by Jai Courtney) is sent back in time to protect an unprepared Sarah Connor from a relentless Terminator dispatched to kill her. Sarah’s destiny, one the machines hope to change, is to bear a son, John, who will lead mankind in the battle against Skynet. In Genisys, this timeline would appear to change dramatically from the moment Reese finds himself back on Earth. This time Sarah Connor is less the naïve victim and more of a well-trained soldier, ready and prepared for these events with an arsenal of weapons stashed away. It also seems that in this new past, so to speak, a reprogrammed T-800 (one of the early Arnold models) raised Sarah when her parents were killed some years before, teaching her everything she would eventually need in order to survive. This unlikely family unit must now evade a straight-off-the-production-line T-1000 on a mission to kill them all, as well as one other Skynet joker card that we’ll get to later. Firstly, though, let’s deal with the changed timeline. When appointed, screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Alexander) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry) knew they faced a challenging problem. Given the regard in which Cameron’s first two films are held, and that in many ways they redefined action cinema, how do you pay respect to the legacy while still reinventing the franchise for a new audience? There was also the thorny issue that the last two films didn’t live up to this almost unachievable standard. The solution would seem to be the new timeline which allows them to pick the best parts from previous films and meld them into a new story that still retains some essential familiarity. It also allowed them the opportunity to bring back the franchise’s most notable player: Schwarzenegger. The former Governor has never made any secret of his desire to play what is surely his most iconic character one more time and adjusting the timeline and on-screen history presented that chance. This brings us to the rest of the casting. Bringing the big man back could prove to be both a risk and a blessing depending on your point of view, but they do seem to have found a way around the unavoidable
effects of the ageing process. Cameron himself claims to have ‘advised’ that although the skeleton and workings of the Terminator are entirely synthetic, the skin itself is organic and would age as normal. Unfortunately, while a big robot still kicking around with more than 30 years of exemplary service under his belt was now feasible, new actors would be required for the other main roles. Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke has stepped into Linda Hamilton’s formidable shoes as Sarah Connor, and early footage seems to show her channelling her predecessor’s Terminator 2 period, working the all black, gun-toting look reminiscent of that film. Jai Courtney, who seems very much at home in franchises (The Divergent Series is ongoing, although it would be reasonable to suspect that A Good Day To Die Hard may have killed off that particular series), steps into Michael Biehn’s stolen Nikes as Kyle Reese (rumour has it the sportswear giant has made some exact replicas specially). This impressive cast is rounded out by Jason Clarke as John Connor, Byung-hun Lee as the T-1000, and former Doctor Who Matt Smith in an as yet unknown but reportedly key role. In the director’s chair is Alan Taylor who, although being most renowned for work on Game Of Thrones, demonstrated the ability to deliver on the biggest scale of all by helming Thor: The Dark World, and is therefore no stranger to pressure from fans and studios alike. All the components would seem to be in place to make Genisys a success then. What appears to have fired up the debate, both positive and negative, is the last trailer. In it, Jason Clarke as John Connor appears in the present, says hi to mom, and then proceeds to try to kill her. The footage then shows Connor as a Terminator himself, a newly manufactured human-cyborg hybrid, or a T-3000 according to the amended cast list. This revelation throws up some unavoidable questions. Firstly, which timeline is the Connorminator (apologies) actually from? If it is the same future that saw Kyle Reese sent back to the present, then why would a Skynet minion be trying to aid the resistance? And more importantly, which future does he originate from? Secondly, and more interestingly, why reveal what is surely the main plot twist in the trailer and then showcase it for over a minute? Does this mean the producers are not entirely convinced by the film’s previews and are showing their hand early in the hope this draws in the audiences? Or do they have something else even more shocking to reveal when the film is released? Whatever the answers may be, and assuming there actually are some, this trailer has had the desired effect of getting people talking about the film. Whether the filmmakers can pull off what now appears to be a complete reboot rather than simply an amended timeline is something that will become clear in the coming weeks. One other thing to consider in all this is that Skydance Productions have set release dates for Terminator 6 and Terminator 7. Although listed as still at the ‘pitch’ stage, May 19th, 2017 and June 29th, 2018 have been provisionally reserved for the new trilogy’s other two films. The interesting footnote to this now common practice of announcing release dates before a script has even been considered is that according to copyright laws in the United States, the rights to the Terminator series will return to their spiritual father James Cameron in 2019, some 35 years after the first film was released. Although clearly a
good business move by Skydance, as the public’s appetite for more Terminator-based properties would surely be waning after three films in four years, it was said by the screenwriters Kalogridis and Lussier that Cameron gave his blessing to the new film, albeit from a safe distance. Given that he is also somewhat preoccupied with Avatar and an abundance of sequels for the foreseeable future, it is extremely unlikely he would ever consider a return to the franchise. Perhaps this is nothing more than a show of confidence from a company used to handling tentpole productions, being behind both the Star Trek and Jack Reacher films. It does make an interesting by-line though. One thing for certain is that Terminator Genisys faces a challenge to establish itself as one of 2015’s big hitters, and also to provide a sound base for those planned sequels. With Furious 7, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road already leading the way at the box office, and Jurassic World still to come before Genisys is released; plus Ant-Man, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Fantastic Four waiting in the wings, the competition is ferocious. Will today’s cinemagoers still turn up for a franchise that began 30 years ago, and has been tarnished by the last two additions? So very many questions to be answered. It is reassuring that from the cast through to the head of Skydance David Ellison, the right people are involved and share the same goal; to recharge a series that had flatlined following 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Who could have foreseen that when Schwarzenegger uttered that famous line in his monotone, slightly awkward English, that he would be delivering it again some 30 years later? Once again, he’s back.
We look forward to the fifth instalment of the TERMINATOR series and try to ignore that ridiculously spelt title...