Precision-tooled yet lacking even the smallest glint of red-eyed emotion or coherence, this fifth 'Terminator' film will make your head hurt. But who can blame a studio for trying? The durable premise, perfect for sequels, concerns an unstoppable killing machine. Arnold Schwarzenegger is willing to play no fewer than three different versions of his iconic villain turned protector, so no problem there. And when we think of this series, we’re really remembering 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991), a sequel for the ages.
But 'Terminator Genisys' is missing something major - it might be as simple as series creator James Cameron. At first, the new chapter feels like a straight-up reboot, sending future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, dull enough to make you miss Michael Biehn) back to a cheapo 1984 Los Angeles to protect mother-of-the-revolution Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, no Linda Hamilton). Just as director Alan Taylor starts skimping on Cameron’s original horror beats, he shifts to the metallic ooze stuff, not as shocking as it was in the ’90s.
The main problem, though, has to do with moving the goal line too many times. If Arnold’s ancient T-800, here affectionately called Pops, is already a good guy, if Sarah is already a buff warrior, if her son might not even figure in humankind’s salvation and if the nuclear fire of 'Judgment Day' is, we’re now told, triggered by a fancy computer operating system that gets launched in 2017’s Silicon Valley (back to the time machine!), where do we hang our interest? That’s never made clear. Helicopters explode, mercury skin bristles, and the Golden Gate Bridge clears for a competent yet weightless chase scene, but there’s a distinct lack of emotional stakes.
Fans hoping to watch Schwarzenegger growl his catchphrases with a slight edge of shtick are underestimating the patience involved in sitting through a two-hour slog. As for those who want a little apocalyptic tension or (dare to dream) romance, this new model is not for you. It’s the Skynet cut.