"ELEGANT" may not be the first word that springs to mind when it comes to heavily armed Austrian cyborgs, but in the case of 1984's The Terminator, it fits. Even some 30 years down the pipe, James Cameron's nitro-burning B-movie remains a witty marvel of construction, smuggling some surprisingly resonant themes amid its carnage and—possibly most impressively—delivering the necessary exposition in quick bursts while the protagonists are on the move. Any sci-fi elements that don't expressly serve the narrative are dealt with by an annoyed character stating that he doesn't know tech stuff.
Terminator Genisys, in contrast, is all tech stuff, adding wormholes, temporal burps, and other Bill & Ted shenanigans to a framework that has always functioned best when built for speed. While it's always entertaining to see Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Major Appliance, this fifth installment comes off as serviceable at best and officially sanctioned fan wankery at worst. In trying to freshen up the ingredients for a new generation, it just clunks up the batter.
The story begins on familiar turf, with the future savior of humanity, John Connor (Jason Clarke), sending soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to the past to protect his mother-to-be, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from evil robots. Once Terminator Genisys skips back to '84, however, things rapidly jump the track, with a bevy of alternate timelines, characters who know more than they should, and a gaggle of differently aged Arnolds. While trying to get their bearings, the good guys find themselves facing a rapidly evolving, cloud-based iteration of AI, as well as an upgraded model of pursuing Terminator tricked out with a rather ill-defined power set.
Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) initially has fun recreating the iconic scenes from Cameron's source material, particularly during a fight scene at the Griffith Observatory that registers as a genuine anything-can-happen moment. (The actor done up to resemble Bill Paxton qualifies as the movie's most disturbing special effect.) Once the movie begins to blaze its own narrative trail, however, things begin to clank and thud, devolving into a series of indifferently staged PG-13 set pieces, brief appeals to the international market (courtesy of I Saw The Devil's Lee Byung-hun), and heavy doses of foreshadowing for the already announced sequels. (Is there a mid-credit teaser, you ask? Yes, of course there's a mid-credit teaser.) The momentum is further stymied by actors who seem vaguely grouchy and out-of-sorts. Equaling Linda Hamilton is no easy task, but Emilia Clarke, who's terrific on Game of Thrones, comes across here as a cosplayer on the last day of a convention.
Arnold remains Arnold, of course (nobody is better at nonchalantly reloading a grenade launcher), and it's possible that audiences still riding the Jurassic World nostalgia wave may take to the chance to revisit what once blew them through the back wall of the theater. The longer Genisys runs, however, the more disposable and unnecessary it seems, adding distracting racing stripes and tailfins to something that already vroomed along perfectly well. By monkeying around with Cameron's ingenious engine, it somehow sums up everything irksome about modern Hollywood. Blockbusters are no longer allowed to be perfect circles.