The sci-fi epic returns with a new episode that borrows pieces of the old episodes to create a time-travel adventure that’s mostly a waste of two hours
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Running time: 125 minutes
By Jay Stone
Well, he said he’d be back.
And indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned as the world’s favourite time-travelling robot assassin: a little greyer now — he’s known as Pops — a lot older (“but not obsolete,” he keeps reminding people) and still speaking with that never-explained Austrian accent that has marked Schwarzenegger’s career as both an unlikely movie star and an even less likely politician.
He’s part of the nostalgia trip called Terminator Genysis, the fifth movie in an over-muscled movie franchise that started as an ingenious action noir about time travel and has now become a vehicle for explosions and old body-builders. Genysis is itself an exercise in time travel, a trip back to pick up some bits and pieces of the previous movies and throw them together with a lot of special effects to make a new story that’s just like the old ones except, you know, crappier.
Schwarzenegger — the fearsome Terminator in the first film, the heroic guardian in the second — has become a supporting character. He is a bit of comic relief who variously battles other robots, smiles with a patently false grin designed to parody his non-human coldness (not to mention Schwarzenegger’s acting range), and to ask the heroine if she’s ready to mate with the leading man, a question that is key to the logic of the Terminator saga. The accent is just a bonus.
Genysis is Terminator redux for much of its two-hour running time. The story has become as familiar as a fairy tale: a computer program called Skynet has taken over the world and machines have almost conquered mankind. But human rebels, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) fight back and use a time machine to send John’s trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese — which sounds like “calories” in Schwarzenegger’s reading — back to sabotage Skynet before it can get started.
Reese, played by Aussie hunk Jai Courtney, is the real star of Terminator Genysis. He lands in 1984 Los Angeles and teams up with John’s mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, who doesn’t hold a candle to the original Sarah, Linda Hamilton.) Together with Schwarzenegger, they fight through time and a lot of memories to save the world.
Terminator Genysis is littered with references to the earlier Terminator movies, including that policeman made of liquid metal who can reconstitute himself from a silver puddle, an effect that was a lot cooler when we were surprised by it. There’s even a computer-generated figure of a younger Schwarzenegger who arrives, with all his Mr. Universe muscles intact, just in time to have his block knocked off by the older, fully dressed version.
Like much of this summer’s menu of big-budget films, Terminator Genysis is to a large extent a salute to the past, as well as a way of cannibalizing a proven idea for another box office bonanza. It walks familiar ground, and its few surprises come at the expense of the time-travel logic that made the first two movies — the James Cameron ones — sci-fi classics. People go back and forth at random, while Schwarzenegger’s character drones on amusingly about “a nexus in the time flow,” or something. At one point, Kyle Reese talks about who John Conner was, or is, or will be: his confusion is woven into the screenplay to cover up the narrative carelessness.
When all else fails, someone grabs a giant firearm and blows a hole in one someone else, although it doesn’t mean much because all the robots can heal themselves, at least until they can’t. It’s presented with a giant wink, represented by the character actor J.K. Simmons — last seen to much more useful effect in Whiplash — as a cop whose rants about time-travelling robot assassins have made him the laughing stock of the police department. Wait until they get a load of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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THE EX-PRESS, July 1, 2015