“Terminator Genisys” is one of the most confusing movies I’ve seen in a long time, or at least since “Interstellar.” If I assigned pushpins to the events of this movie, put those pins on a bulletin board, and tried connecting them with string in order to follow them, I would wind up with a spherical ball of string. This is a movie that features time travel, multiple timelines, and lots of changes to the past that make for even more changes in the future.
The movie requires knowledge of the first “Terminator” film from 1984. In that film, an evil robot army sent a Terminator robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor, whose son John would grow up to be the leader of the human resistance. The humans, in turn, sent back a man named Kyle Reese, who not only saved Sarah Connor but ended up fathering John.
The short version of the plot of this movie is that Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is still sent back in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to 1984 to save Sarah (Emilia Clarke, no relation to Jason), but it turns out that she’s already being protected by a good Terminator robot she calls “Pops” (Arnold again, there’s some hooey about robot skin aging the same way as human skin to explain the actor’s aging) who saved her from an assassination attempt when she was a child. The three fight off some evil Terminators and use some leftover pieces to build a time machine of their own. Kyle and Sarah travel to 2017 (Pops takes “the long way”) where they can stop the robots from rising up in the first place. A grown John Connor is there to meet them, but the happy family reunion is short-lived.
I’m sure that summary didn’t make much sense, but trust me, the movie doesn’t spell it out any better. At around the halfway mark, the movie thankfully gets to a point where you probably still won’t understand the time travel business, but at least you can afford to forget about it. Here’s all you need to know to follow the second half of this movie: an evil Terminator wants to start the robot uprising in 2017 and it’s up to the humans and Pops to stop it.
So how does the film fare as an action movie, convoluted plot aside? Not well, I’m afraid. The action consists mostly of toothless chasing, fighting, and explosions in underwhelming CGI. We see a lot of guns, but the PG-13 rating tells us that the impactful shooting is going to be kept to a minimum, as is the potential for flavorful creative violence. I know it seems insensitive to complain about a movie not being violent enough, but one expects a certain level of intensity from a movie called “Terminator.”
Nor does the film do well with the franchise’s trademark humor. It isn’t as self-important as 2009’s “Terminator: Salvation,” it just goes for a lot of laughs and misses. The characters are constantly pointing out the ridiculousness of their situations, which is supposed to play as self-aware meta-humor, but just comes off as whiny. There are also, as always, jokes about the Arnold robot not quite fitting in socially, but they’re as forced as the awkward smile he flashes whenever the movie wants a cheap laugh.
There’s not much to like about “Terminator Genisys.” The movie is bland when it’s not confusing, which to reiterate, is often. Its sole appeal is based on seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger revisit his most famous role, but that attraction can only carry the movie so far, like the length of a trailer. And even then I’m only talking about the film’s tempting first trailer, not the infamous second trailer that is overflowing with spoilers that makes the full-length feature even more useless.
“Terminator Genisys” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. Its running time is 126 minutes.