Terminator Genisys

(2015) * Pg-13
125 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Alan Taylor. Cast: Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke.


Dear America...Won't you join me in sticking a fork in the Terminator franchise? If, as James Cameron's The Terminator claims, "The future is not set," and as his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day claims, there is "No fate but what we make," perhaps it's not too late to save the world from the Terminator Genisys sequels scheduled for May 19, 2017 and June 29, 2018. Come with me if you want to live.

Playing your part is easy: just don't see Terminator Genysis, a cynical franchise reboot that once again flips the hourglass and sends cyborgs and humans ricocheting around the timeline in an endless series of chases by which our heroes hope to preclude and bad robots hope to ensure an apocalyptic "war with the machines." This time around, screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry 3D) serve director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) with a headache-inducing plot that enables Arnold Schwarzenegger to "be back" in variations on his characters from earlier Terminator films.

Essentially, Terminator Genysis depicts how more meddling by human-hating artificial intelligence Skynet and John Connor (Jason Clarke)'s human resistance creates an alternate-timeline tangle in which time-traveler Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, again proving his negative charisma) encounters Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke, out of her depth) and a T-800 model Terminator or two (Schwarzenegger) under circumstances radically altered from those depicted in the original 1984 film. Bouncing to 2017 San Francisco, Kyle, Sarah, and a benign T-800 attempt to head-off a rejiggered Skynet launch, called "Genisys," that exploits our smart-device obsession. The re-plotting—along with body doubles, digital doubles, and CGI scrubbing—enables Schwarzenegger to appear in the likenesses of his 1984, 1991, and modern-day selves.

But the actor's main role here is spouting stupefying exposition, with dashes of lame comic relief (Sarah calls this T-800 "Pops") that turn a wan running gag of the cyborg's forced smile into a metaphor for the attempt to sell us on another disspiritingly pointless Terminator sequel. Most franchise fans are likely to find all this as welcome as a heart attack, a PG-13 heart attack that shrinks from the sight of blood and at one point earns unintentional laughs by trying to turn us on with a nude silhouette on a brick wall. The action ranges from overly familiar (bodies punching through walls) to appalling, as in a helicopter escape that defies the laws of physics, and the film's best actors (J.K. Simmons and Courtney B. Vance) find themselves relegated to window dressing.

In short, Terminator Genisys completely upends the core narrative of the franchise in an attempt to pave a new road to sequels. What is definitive at this point: any senses of suspenseful stakes or human-scale relationships have turned weightless, leaving us with crashing and bashing, running and gunning, and a whole lot of head-scratching. The experience is utterly numbing, and for a premium, you can get it all in IMAX 3D, where it feels like the plot holes are right in your face.

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