“The Terminator.” One of the greatest science-fiction movies of the ’80s, a decade that also saw the release of “Blade Runner” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Standards were high.
“Terminator Genisys.” The most unnecessary movie of the summer of 2015, a season that’s already been marked — make that marred — by “Entourage.”
When Arnold Schwarzenegger intoned “I’ll be back” in 1984, the phrase propelled him to movie superstardom and eventually the governor’s mansion in California. Now, when he says it in “Genisys,” you can only think, “Why did you bother? You’re past your sell-by date, Pops.”
In fact, his Terminator character in “Genisys” is called just that — “Pops” — by Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, the Dragon lady from “Game of Thrones”), a signal that he’s a kinder, gentler killing machine this time around, a kind of a teddy bear Terminator, if you will. And sure enough, the big lug lugs a big fuzzy teddy through one section of the movie. Sweet, yes? Well, no. Desperate is more like it.
After four previous “Terminator” movies, not to mention TV’s short-lived “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier really had to scratch and scrape to find new ways to resuscitate the moribund franchise — and Arnie’s career. The answer: an alternate timeline. In which Sarah is reimagined as the one who repeatedly saves Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), the soldier from the future who is sent back to the 20th century to save her, and by extension her son John (Jason Clarke), and by further extension, humanity from nuclear holocaust and enslavement by the machines of Skynet.
“Pops” is Sarah’s longtime, long-in-the-tooth protector. A machine, with gray hair. The movie has an explanation for that, and a catch phrase: “I’m old, not obsolete.” Repeated several times, as if to convince everybody in the picture, as well as the audience, that old Arnie still has the old moxie.
“Genisys” opens with a shot-by-shot re-enactment of the opening section of the ’84 original. Which only proves that Courtney is no Michael Biehn (too soft) and that it certainly could have used Bill Paxton’s snark in the “give-me-your-clothes” scene.
The picture performs a massive overhaul of the familiar characters, their relationships and motivations. In the words of a minor character, “it’s really, really complicated.” And really, really confusing, with Arnie talking a lot of impenetrable techspeak about “nexus points” and “quantum fields” that sounds pretty funny, coming from him. Plenty of noisy cyborg-on-cyborg CGI violence with lots of clangy metallic head-butt action is part of the mix.
Sound and fury, signifying it’s past time to put this franchise out to pasture.