What it’s about
Heroic revolutionaries saving the post-apocalyptic world from menacing cyborgs isn’t enough to elevate “Terminator Genisys,” so they pull the plot strings in different directions and pile on explosions for a 3-D visual effects extravaganza.
The intriguing “Terminator” origin story hinges on time travel, a daring but dicey sci-fi plot device 31 years ago that worked well enough to spawn a series. In order to save the world from evil Skynet’s machines, the fifth installment hops back and forth through time significantly, and messes too much with our perceptions.
Time travel movies make my head hurt, and this reboot can be confusing. You either accept the revision or you become extremely annoyed, depending how much you remember about the five films: “The Terminator” (1984), “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and “Terminator Salvation” (2009).
Arnold Schwarzenegger, seen here in three different versions of his T-800 android character, satisfies fans with his signature line: “I’ll be back.” Although I don’t think “Bite me” will be the next “Hasta la vista, Baby!,” Arnold has well-placed moments of humor and a new catch phrase for senior citizens: “I’m old, not obsolete.”
Despite multiple movie flops after serving as governor of California, Schwarzenegger, 67, is the marquee name among a crop of rising action stars. This time, he’s a gray-haired Guardian that Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) refers to as Pops, as she zips around in 1984 and 2017.
Her son, John Connor (Jason Clarke), is now the Messiah of a revolution in 2029, leading the Resistance to squash Skynet’s takeover of the human race. He sends his trusty lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to make sure his mother isn’t killed and he can be born. He doesn’t let Kyle know he figures into the story as his father.
That detail will surface soon enough, but first they need to stay one step ahead of a T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), a metal assassin with lethal blades as arms.
Then John arrives from the future, in a time-travel snafu that isn’t fully explained. The family reunion has its complications.
Ultimately, the battle comes down to this: Will we be saved from our smartphones?
Schwarzenegger carries the film. The android, from scary to protector, is his most famous role, and he knows how to own it. Even with his advanced years, which they acknowledge, he still is an imposing figure. And he doesn’t mind being the joke, either. He’s the reason to buy a ticket.
The younger stars are likable, but nondescript. Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Linda Hamilton, the original Sarah. While she’s tough and independent in her portrayal, she isn’t as fierce.
Jason Clarke (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) is adequate as the smart leader who will be suspect once the timelines are messed with, and Jai Courtney (“Jack Reacher”) has a noble quality as the Everyman called into service.
The reliable J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) is seen briefly as a police detective keen to put the puzzle together. We could have used more of him and fewer puddles of silver goo shape-shifting back into the sinister robots.
The 3-D provides some thrills, especially swirling sharp objects and a car pile-up on the Golden Gate Bridge, the go-to landmark for blockbuster action movies these days. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau has recreated some of the first movie’s shots and scenes, if you are a fan. The iconic score adds to the film’s familiarity.
What doesn’t work
Director Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”) has focused more on monotonous fight scenes, and the film suffers from the repetition. Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier play too much with the chronology.
Where do we go from here? This reboot is planned to continue as a trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how they spin the results of “Genisys.” For those who want to spend time with “The Terminator” characters, this offers some pleasure, but isn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
It might work better as a standalone than as a piece in a revered series. Nevertheless, it is better than the last misguided dark and dank “Salvation” but doesn’t surpass “Judgment Day.”
2 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Byung-hun Lee, J.K. Simmons
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language.