Time travel is not – under any circumstances – to be messed with. Characters in sci-fi novels, movies, and TV shows have been learning this the hard way since the 1950s but screenwriters and directors ought to have that saying tattooed on their foreheads. Damned if that isn’t the time slip trap into which director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) and screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry) haven’t fallen with Terminator Genisys. It’s the fifth in the franchise series that reached its zenith in 1991 with James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and hasn’t risen to anywhere near that level since. Genisys is packed with criss-crossing timelines, flashbacks, and memory sequences that are so complicated that the screenwriters have one of the characters observe, “Time travel makes my head hurt.” We feel his pain.
A talky, exposition-heavy, assembly line cash-in that only occasionally functions as a delivery system for fun, Terminator Genisys is a reset, if not a wholesale data dump of most of the salient elements of previous Terminator mythology. (That’s a good thing when it comes to the events of Rise of the Machines.) Anyway, Genisys sort of kicks into high gear in 2009 when thinking machines are busy subjugating all humankind and the rebels are doggedly fighting in a battle royal. When it becomes apparent that the powerful Skynet has shipped a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, heavily CGI’d) back to 1984 to slaughter Sarah (Emilia Clarke), the mother of John Connor (Jason Clarke), Conner sends his wingman Kyle Reese (a charisma-challenged Jai Courtney) back to try and save his moms.
Instead of finding the workaday waitress played by Linda Hamilton in Cameron’s 1984 original, though, Reese runs into a kickass warrior raised to do battle by her T-800 “Pops,” (the real Schwarzenegger, whose aged appearance the screenwriters cover with a few merry lines of utter BS). Ah-nuld, droning quippy dialogue that tells us “I’m old, not obsolete,” is authoritative, cool, and droll. He seems so down to parody himself that he actually livens things up whenever he’s on screen and best of all, there’s an old Schwarzenegger vs. young Schwarzenegger battle scene that ought to have fans cheering.
He’s just not enough to send the movie into the stratosphere, though, especially when the special effects and action sequences seem like uninspired retreads of things done decades ago and when, during the whole second stretch of the flick, Sarah and Reese, thanks to a “time displacement machine,” scramble through San Francisco trying to prevent the information-grabbing app Genisys from accessing the world’s private data. Cue the truck accident scenes and the clichéd helicopter shots we’ve seen so many times in dozens of other movies, they might as well be stock footage. By the time inevitably Schwarzenegger belches his signature, “I’ll be back,” we found ourselves belching right back, “Take your time.”