Stop me if you've heard this story. And please stop any more filmmakers from telling it again. You know how it goes: In a post-apocalyptic future dominated by genocidal Skynet computers, a cyber-assassin is dispatched back to 1984 to terminate one Sarah Connor before she can give birth to pesky John Connor, who has grown up to lead a post-apocalyptic human resistance movement. One of these resisters, John's lieutenant, Kyle Reese, is also dispatched into the past, to protect Sarah and to trigger the story's freaky plot.
This tale, first recounted in The Terminator, was effectively concluded by director James Cameron in his 1991 sequel, Judgment Day. Nevertheless, two non-Cameron sequels followed that one: the dumbed-down Rise of the Machines (2003) and the miserable Terminator Salvation (2009). Now, due mainly to rights-availability, we have Terminator Genisys, a movie that trashes the Terminator world with shameless time-travel mumbo jumbo, finessing one key event as a vague "nexus point," and non-explaining another with the news that "those files have been deleted." The picture also brings original Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger back to the franchise, but please don't get your hopes up.
Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) opens with the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge (yet again) on August 29, 1997—the "Judgment Day" on which the Skynet computers take over. Taylor then leaps back to 1984 to recreate the scene in Cameron's first movie in which Schwarzenegger's original Terminator materialized in a dark alley amid a welter of crackling electricity. This is pretty cool, because when the Terminator once again rises up, we see that he really is the younger Arnold of 31 years ago—or as close as can be achieved with a combination of muscle-builder body double and digital face-mapping. Which is uncannily close.
But then the 67-year-old Arnie of today steps in to do battle with his scowling doppelganger ("I've been waiting for you!"). And then Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke)—once a gentle waitress, now a battle-hardened fighter—wheels in to repurpose a canonical line ("Come with me if you want to live!") while rescuing Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), who's also newly arrived.
If it need be said, this is an alternative 1984 in which we now find ourselves—a year in which, as we soon see, almost anything goes. For example, Schwarzenegger's nice-guy Terminator ("I'm old, not obsolete") has been guarding Sarah since she was a little girl—forget all that stuff with Edward Furlong in T2. Also, Judgment Day has been postponed (to 2017—set your watches). And then there's the heroic John Connor (Jason Clarke), currently resident in the year 2029—he's a very different guy. (I won't spoil the big reveal; Paramount already did that for you in the movie's second trailer—fast-forward to 1:20 if you want.)
The movie suffers from a lack of star power. Schwarzenegger, playing a diminished version of his original character, no longer has the iconic heft that might have centered the film. Courtney (Divergent) and Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) are bland in different ways. And Emilia Clarke (Daenerys on Game of Thrones), although appealing in a pixie-ish Ellen Page manner, is insufficiently kickass. (Her GoT costar Lena Headey was more memorable in the role in the old Fox TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.)
Given this charisma deficit, the movie's rampant CGI takes over. As it progresses, the picture sinks ever-deeper into extended chase scenes, endless fights (with characters still firing away at Terminators as if unaware that bullets can't kill them), and thunderous destruction. Working with a $170-million budget, director Taylor executes this stuff at a high technical level; but there's only so long you can care about it, and after a while the movie becomes a deadening mess. It's kind of sad. Naturally, a sequel is in the works.