At best, Terminator Genisys is mildly entertaining. At worst, this fifth installment of the Terminator franchise feels like its titular protagonist; “old and obsolete.” Schwarzenegger provides a few bright spots in his return to the iconic role, but he’s woefully underused. Instead, director Alan Taylor gets lost in a mythology that was never important to begin with. Despite some top-notch special effects and nostalgic callbacks, there’s a serious lack of fun and adventure. It seems that fate has finally caught up to this dilapidated franchise.
“Wait a minute… what?!?”
That’s a question you’ll be asking yourself a lot during this ill-conceived actioner. Rather than focusing on the franchise’s delightfully-elegant premise—methodical robots track plucky humans through time and then destroy a bunch of stuff—Terminator Genisys focuses on the more complicated (and far less enjoyable) time travel elements. Playing fast and loose with the space/time continuum is one thing, but destroying the internal logic of the entire Terminator universe is quite another.
Since the trailer for Terminator Genisys conveniently gives away its big twist, it should come as no shock that John Connor is now… wait for it… a Terminator. Though the details of his transformation shall remain a mystery in this review, the central premise of turning John Connor (Jason Clarke) into a soulless cyborg reeks of desperation. In fact, this film is nothing but a desperate ploy to wring every last dollar from this twitching corpse of a franchise. We get the perfunctory taglines (don’t we know by now that Arnold will, indeed, be back?), the same action set pieces (Terminators love jumping onto speeding cars!), and the same themes about fate and free will. Terminator Genisys is more a celebration of past creative triumphs than an attempt to forge new ground.
Of course, there are a few original ideas sprinkled throughout director Alan Taylor’s creation. The new conception of Skynet is creepily satisfying, as is the paternal spin on Schwarzenegger’s dogged protector. The overall story, however, lacks the juice to engage you. In the end, all of the callbacks and tortured attempts to connect the mythologies make you crave the quaint pleasures of the original Terminator even more.
We see the events that preceded James Cameron’s 1984 opus, with Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) getting buck naked and beaming back in time to save John Connor’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke). Once he arrives in 1984, however, the story goes bonkers. Reese is practically greeted by a Terminator convention, with models of all shapes and metal compositions fighting it out. He, Sarah, and Pops (the now-geriatric Terminator who raised Sarah from the age of 9) must journey to the year 2017 and stop the launch of an interactive computer application that will eventually become Skynet. Reese and Sarah hop into a convenient time machine, while Pops is forced to hang out and wait for them… for the next 33 years! It may sound simple, but the physics of this plotline would make Stephen Hawking blink, “WTF???”
To explain the co-existence of multiple Terminators and fractured timelines, co-writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier spend a lot of time explaining things. In fact, they could sell quantum-babble by the word and recoup this film’s budget. Instead of characters learning about each other or making new discoveries to move the plot forward, we get pages and pages of expository dialogue. It may be a sublime treat to hear Arnie spouting nonsense about temporal rifts or magnetic disincorporation, but that luxury doesn’t extend to his young co-stars.
In fact, the entire supporting cast, including the normally-reliable Jason Clarke, struggle to find a rhythm with this material. Emilia Clarke is completely adrift, seemingly incapable of interpreting the angst, resentment, and determination that make Sarah Connor such an interesting character. Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons provides some much needed energy as an alcoholic cop who wants to believe in Terminators, but his presence is almost distracting when compared to the monotone deliveries of his co-stars.
The real star of Terminator Genisys, of course, is Schwarzenegger. He’s terrific here, softening the edges of his earlier Terminator persona to resemble a disapproving father figure. Not surprisingly, he gets the best one-liners, including a crusher about his employment status during his extended stay in California. Perhaps he doesn’t pack the charismatic wallop of his earlier days, but you still feel like something interesting might happen whenever Schwarzenegger is on the screen. That he is used so sparingly effectively kills any chance that Genisys might succeed. The “humans” drive this convoluted story straight into a brick wall of boredom.
Like nearly all special-effects blockbusters, Terminator Genisys looks good. Computer-generated graphics blend seamlessly with practical effects to create convincing explosions and collateral carnage. Nowadays, you don’t get any cookies for that. You need a good story with interesting characters and imaginative set pieces. Sadly, Genisys has none of these things. It has a comforting sense of nostalgia that generates a few laughs, but it’s mostly a pointless mess. Much like Jurassic World, this is just the same tired story rendered with the latest computer software. Honestly, it would have been more fun to hang out with Pops from 1984 to 2017. Perhaps he dabbled in politics?