In An Alternate Reality, ‘Terminator Genisys’ Would Be Fun

Terminator Genisys
One and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity, brief strong language)
126 minutes
You’re probably wondering why “Genisys” is spelled like the name of some boy band. It makes a little more sense after you’ve seen the movie, but it’s still kind of dumb.

“I’m old, not obsolete.”

That’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new catchphrase in “Terminator Genisys.”

The same cannot be said of the film, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that considering many of you didn’t bother to see it. This resulted in the worst box office debut for the franchise in 30 years.

“Terminator Genisys” is the sixth installment of the now classic sci-fi property introduced by James Cameron in 1984, if you count “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV series.

By my count, the franchise has been rebooted twice before. In 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” Nick Stahl replaced Edward Furlong as John Connor, alongside Claire Danes as Connor’s future wife. In 2009, “Terminator Salvation” — directed by McG of all people — starred Christian Bale as Connor and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese.

Neither of these films were outright flops, but they weren’t exactly celebrated either. We’ve been told the same story over and over again: evil cyber villain Skynet becomes self aware and wipes out most of the Earth’s population, only to be beaten at its own game by a scrappy human resistance group. Hooray!

It was amazing the first couple of times, you know, back when Linda Hamilton was still around, but really … does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore?

Not that “Terminator Genisys” works very hard to make us care.

Writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier basically take familiar elements and iconic characters from past episodes in the franchise, chop them up and put them in a blender. It’s a similar approach to this summer’s earlier reboot, “Jurassic World,” but at least that Tyrannosaurus-sized hit was fun.

“Genisys” was directed by Alan Taylor, who also somehow managed to turn Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” into a murky, monotonous slog. What he fails to deliver now is even one new thing, one original, inventive element to renew our excitement in the universe of the Terminator.

In a franchise built on time travel paradoxes and alternate realities, “Terminator Genisys” concocts yet another confusing ripple/loophole to expound upon sci-fi’s most epic one-night stand: the romance between Sarah Connor, mother of future resistance hero John, and the time traveling Kyle Reese, who also happens to be future John’s dad.

“Genisys” presents us with a seasoned, battle-scarred John Connor (Jason Clarke) on the verge of reversing the cataclysmic event known as Judgement Day and restoring Earth to the few remaining survivors of Skynet’s human holocaust.

Connor’s first concern, though, is to stop Skynet from sending Schwarzenegger’s Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), thus nipping the human resistance in the bud.

Unfortunately, John and his soldiers break through Skynet’s security just moments too late, so John’s BFF and righthand man, Kyle (Jai Courtney), volunteers to hijack Skynet’s time travel device and follow the Terminator back to 1984 to stop the machine from offing Sarah.

The reason Kyle’s so keen to perform this mission? He’s got a little crush on John’s mom, even though he’s only ever seen one photograph of her.

Is your brain hurting? I know mine is.

Here’s the bad news: That’s only the first couple scenes of this ridiculously convoluted plot.

Upon arriving in 1984 Los Angeles — where Kalogridis and Lussier throw in some amusing homages to Cameron’s “Terminator” — Reese discovers Sarah isn’t the terrified, uninitiated damsel in distress he’s come to save. In fact, she’s been prepping for his arrival for more than a decade with the help of a very unlikely and formidable ally.

While the meeting of two of sci-fi’s most famous star-crossed lovers should crackle with sexy urgency, there isn’t a spark to be found between Emilia Clarke and Courtney. This isn’t the fault of the actors. With a script that favors pages of dull, unnecessarily complicated exposition over the building of three-dimensional relationships, they’re given little to work with.

Instead of introducing us to a victorious John Connor and vividly illustrating his skills and strategy on the battlefield, “Genisys” is content to assign Jason Clarke several long, tedious speeches. Instead of seeing the band-of-brothers bond between John and Kyle, we get to listen to Clarke and Courtney yammer on about how great their friendship is.

Emilia Clarke is marvelous on “Game of Thrones” as imperious yet lovable “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys, but she struggles to tap into Hamilton’s awesome brand of slightly crazed ruggedness and resiliency. Even lugging around huge automatic weapons, she’s mostly just cute.

While we’re all pretty sick of Schwarzenegger’s cinematic attempts to prove he’s not an action has-been, it is surprisingly the former governor of California who injects some life into the movie with his deadpan line delivery in a variety of computer-generated incarnations.

The special effects in “Genisys” are top-notch. The requisite spectacular set pieces unfold, including one in which a bus goes flying, end over end, on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

There are many different types of Terminators featured, from the metallic, beady-eyed T-600s, to the deceptively humanoid T-1000s, to a new human-machine crossbreed that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Thing is, these dudes were genuinely terrifying in 1991, but in a world where cellphones can be worn on the wrist and an Internet search engine knows every detail of a person’s existence, we’re in need of new monsters to embody our technological anxieties.

You won’t find those monsters here.

 

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