The “Terminator” franchise, like so many of its blockbuster counterparts revived over the past decade-plus, should have quit while it was ahead. That means after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” in 1991.
But it didn’t and here we are, three films later, left to grapple with erstwhile cutting-edge material reduced to a routine allotment of greatest hits one-liners and action cues, an endless recycling of the same story without much more than the occasional hint of a fresh touch.
“Terminator: Genisys” finds another timeline imposed on the now-cliched tale of mother and son Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) standing against the machines that have taken over the world and enslaved humanity.
The launching point is a precise replica of the 1984 original, with Connor sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to that halcyon time to protect Sarah from the original T-800 (a painstakingly CGI-manufactured period vision of Arnold Schwarzenegger). The future is, once again, altered: Reese finds Sarah fully armed and aware of the impending apocalypse, with an elderly terminator in tow, conveniently deemed “Pops” (Schwarzenegger).
The picture, directed by “Thor 2” vet Alan Taylor, is driven by exposition instead of character moments, though Schwarzenegger has a good deal of fun returning to his defining role and J.K. Simmons brings a welcome dose of comic relief.
The action scenes range from serviceable to thrilling — a scramble off a bus as it teeters over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge stands as a highlight and the filmmaker does a fine job of constructing them to keep the individuals involved as the paramount focus, rather than sheer spectacle.
Not that Taylor’s attention to detail especially matters. The most human character in this movie is Schwarzenegger’s robot; everyone else is utterly expendable.
The movie marks a transition for the “Terminator” franchise: the ingenuity is long gone, but there isn’t even enough left in the most basic sense to tell a story that is anything but a shallow imitation of its predecessors, down to repeating scenes and lines of dialogue. It’s passable in the most basic sense, but creatively bankrupt.