Review: Franchise runs out of steam with 'Terminator Genisys'

Skynet’s T-800 model is getting rusty after 31 years.
Skynet’s T-800 model is getting rusty after 31 years.
Published Jul. 1, 2015

Don't worry about brushing up on Terminator mythology before seeing the latest sequel. There's a helpful prologue in Terminator Genisys that explains everything that happened since 1984, and a movie after that makes much of it useless.

The players behind Terminator Genisys are resetting the game, having time-traveled themselves into an acute corner, through four movies of declining quality and popularity since James Cameron stopped directing them. Cameron isn't around for this one, either, but he's happy to praise it for TV ads. Not many will.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned, however, after skipping 2009's Terminator Salvation since he was busy running California (some say into the ground). "I'm old, not obsolete" is Ah-nuld's running catchphrase in Terminator Genisys, which sounds more plausible when the movie ends than "I'll be back."

Hitting the reset button allows director Alan Taylor to reschedule Judgment Day from 1997 to 2017, a typically not-too-distant future. Judgment Day is when the Skynet defense system "came alive," and the human race was decimated except for a few insurgents. The rebellion is led by John Connor (Jason Clarke in this universe) and his wingman Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney).

Without spoilers, Clarke's Connor doesn't seem likely after those played by Edward Furlong and Christian Bale. (Genisys, like many moviegoers, forgets that Rise of the Machines exists.) Especially when he's paired with the much younger Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) as his feisty mother, Sarah Connor, as time and logic flies.

Over the Terminator years, exactly who needs to save whom, from whom, in what year and for what reason has become increasingly complicated. In addition, Taylor re-creates scenes from earlier T-movies in slightly different contexts, muddling our memories. The confusion also extends to characters about each other.

For example, Kyle is sent from 2029 to 1984 to protect Sarah, but it turns out the other way around because John doesn't remember her as we all do from the first movie. After time travel, flashbacks and hallucinations, Terminator Genisys has the nerve to declare "the future is not set." Can't we count on anything?

Thanks to a "time displacement device" — no ordinary "machine" for this franchise — Sarah and Kyle leap naked into close calls with a shape-shifting T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee), whose ability to heal his own gaping wounds gets a workout and whose forklift arms do a lot of damage.

Taylor does a capable job of staging bombastic action, all fireballs, sparks, maybe a somersaulting school bus. A helicopter chase through the Los Angeles skyline engages, then you wonder where John got his chopper. Mostly, the fun is run-of-the-thrill gunplay and robo-carnage, to keep that PG-13. The only memorable rumble is Ah-nuld vs. Ah-nuld, as the '84 model of T-800 meets his older, grayer self.

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For his part, Schwarzenegger is game to send up his most famous role, with a toothy, goofy grin programmed into the T-800's system. He still amuses when delivering Aykroyd-style tech-gibberish in that Teutonic monotone. At other times, the Magic Mike XXL bros could use him as a stripper pole.

Someone describes the T-800 as "nothing but a relic from a deleted timeline." Too harsh to lay on Schwarzenegger yet, but certainly, it applies to the Terminator franchise.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.