Alan Taylor helms the cluttered Terminator Genisys, the fifth entry in the franchise that began in 1984 with James Cameron’s The Terminator. This 2015 installment features a screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, but the mythology is jumbled and the picture is over-plotted.
Messing around with timelines is always a little tricky and Terminator Genisys tinkers with the mechanics more than it should. It imagines a universe that is a spiritual successor and a ridiculous addendum, with elements from the previous pictures dumped into a cheap mixer. The results are bewildering, inane and tedious.
The movie opens in 2029, with John Connor (Jason Clarke) preparing a final strike against the artificial intelligence system Skynet. The machines are ahead of the game and have sent a T-800 Terminator back to the mid-1980s to kill John’s mom Sarah (Emilia Clarke). John sends the generic Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect her.
After a series of visions and happenings, Kyle arrives to find Sarah working with a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). There’s also a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun), an improvised time machine and a plan to tackle Skynet before it becomes self-aware. Kyle has other ideas, as a vision about events in 2017 throws a monkey wrench in the machinery.
There’s a lot of farting around in Terminator Genisys and the process can be painful, with all sorts of plot conveniences and shortcuts drilled into the mix. Time travel plots are almost always a little delicate, but Taylor tries to illuminate the wonky screenplay with all sorts of odd directorial decisions.
The action sequences prove the point. Gone are the classic (and spatially profound) large scale pieces of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and even Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, with a shaky school bus flip shot from strange angles and a pile of generic blow-em-up sequences adding little of consequence.
There’s no reason to care. The events of Terminator Genisys pretend at meaning, like when there’s a brazenly basic allusion to the intrusiveness of technology, but everything is so philosophically simplistic that nothing registers. The bulk of the picture is spent “explaining” and reiterating its chaotic time travel schemes.
And because the broad concepts receive only ancillary attention, the experience of watching Terminator Genisys becomes a process of trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Taylor’s flick seems like a project, with all sorts of expository gobbledygook required to fill in the truck-sized holes.
For some, “figuring things out” may be part of the experience. Undeniably, many films gain strength in analysis and examination after the fact. But said examination lacks meaning when it pertains to fastidious particulars like how helicopters and buses move or how the hell Sarah and John survive getting hit by a car when their stark-naked bodies plunk down the middle of a freeway.
It’s tempting to give Schwarzenegger a pass for acting like an elderly computer, but his performance only matters because the rest of the cast is so mediocre. Courtney at least attempts something resembling charisma, but Clarke is dull as the iconic Sarah Connor. And then there’s Clarke, who looks neat because he has a scar.
Terminator Genisys is a wreck. It’s too complicated and manages nothing by way of tension or interest. It takes emotional shortcuts, like having Sarah call Arnie’s character “Pops,” and does little thematic legwork. For a picture that relates to the end of the world at the hands of callous and gaunt machines, there isn’t any sense of consequence to speak of.