A curiously lumpen yet assaultive adventure, Terminator: Genisys is a collection of climactic moments laid end to end, in the feverish hope that they will add up to something.
They do not.
It’s a very loud movie, with nearly every, wearingly familiar action sequence crying out for attention as though it were something special. Alan Taylor, who directed several dozen episodes of often acclaimed television shows before making his feature debut with Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World in 2012, helms the movie as though it were a double-length, “very special” episode of Game of Thrones (one of the shows he directed), the historical fantasy tropes replaced with time travel obfuscation.
Emilia Clarke, another hardy Game of Thrones veteran, looks splendid in her many action poses as Sarah Connor, a redoubtable heroine whose characterization here falls somewhere in the cracks between the first two movies in the franchise, in that distant era before sequels were viewed more as stepping stones to additional installments in a never-ending series. Clarke, however, is stuck for much of the movie between Jai Courtney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former a good-looking, well-muscled, rather empty cypher as Sarah’s would-be savior/lover Kyle Reese, and the latter an older but no less sturdy and lethal Terminator who is programmed to protect Sarah at all costs.
The screenplay, credited to Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry), struggles mightily to devise a new scenario in which the key franchise properties may co-exist, and decides to toss out the third and fourth installments, which is no great loss. The story begins in 2037, with the defeat of the planet-wide network of self-aware, intelligent machines known as Skynet. The battle has been led by John Conner (Jason Clarke), but at the moment of triumph, he realizes that Skynet has used its trump card, a time-travel device that sends a Terminator back to 1984 so it can kill John’s mother, Sarah. John has served as mentor to Kyle Reese, and so Kyle is chosen to chase through time after the Terminator and protect Sarah.
Obeisance is paid to James Cameron’s original film as well as the first sequel, in the person of a very dedicated T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), before the plot begins to diverge and new, overlapping strands emerge, taking convenient advantage of time-travel loopholes and character twists to push the film forward.
Watching Terminator Genisys is an exhausting experience. The rat-a-tat action sequences have no rhyme or reason to them, and they are framed and edited in the outdated modern style, in which motion is prized over coherence. The desperate attempt to recast Schwarzenegger’s Terminator as an even more sympathetic machine — Sarah calls him “Pops,” just because — becomes more cloying as the narrative fizzles out, especially due to the absence of chemistry between Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney. Jason Clarke is stuck with a thankless role; J.K. Simmons shows up as a cop, for reasons that are never apparent.
Emilia Clarke probably fares best out of the whole mess, constantly giving hope that the movie will rise above its routine intentions, while Schwarzenegger does exactly what’s expected of him: act like a machine, move well, and crisply deliver his lines. The movie as a whole delivers a similar, minimum load of interest and excitement.
The film will have advance preview screenings at select theaters this evening before opening wide across Dallas on Wednesday, July 1.