For once a trailer did not lie. The previews for “Terminator Genisys” look like an uninspired mess; the movie itself is an uninspired mess. When it comes to action films, we don’t ask for much: just enough plot to connect the violence will do. “Genisys” has too much plot; tidal waves of plot with gallons of exposition and gaping plot holes that work like black holes to suck the logic and fun out of everything.
Here is the plot as far as I could follow it. Even though I took notes, I still got a little lost. The “Genisys” trailer has already **spoiled** most of the major plot turns. Nothing below will go beyond that.
“Genisys” opens just before James Cameron’s original 1984 film began. The year is 2029 and rebel leader John Connor (a miscast Jason Clarke) is on the verge of defeating The Machines that have enslaved the world. Believing it will win them a war they will otherwise lose, in a last-ditch effort, The Machines send a T-800 model Terminator back in time to to 1984 Los Angeles to murder Connor’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke).
In turn, to protect his mother, John Connor sends Kyle Reese (a terrible Jai Courtney) back to 1984.
From here, director Alan Taylor (who is in way over his head) recreates a number of the iconic opening scenes burned in our memories from “The Terminator.” Unfortunately, because the trailer gives it all away, it is not the exhilarating shock to the system it could have been to discover something has happened to alter timeline of the original film. Unlike Linda Hamilton’s original Sarah Connor, this Sarah Connor is a guerilla grrrl, not some helpless piece of Reagan-era eye candy waiting for a man to save her (so there!).
A T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also in 1984, and has been for years — not the ’84 Terminator, the ’91 Terminator from “Judgment Day.” And now with the 1984 version sent back by The Machines, there are two T-800s in 1984, which obviously means we will suffer through the unconvincing CGI mess of watching ’84 Bad-Arnold Terminator fight ’91 Good-Arnold Terminator.
Oh, and the T-1000 model is there in ’84, as well — the liquid metal Terminator. Only now he’s Asian and nowhere near as menacing as the relentless bird of prey made iconic by Robert Patrick.
Uninspired action scenes and a ton of exposition follow, and then it’s time for Sarah and Kyle to save the world by jumping forward in time to 2017’s San Francisco. It is here they will run into the next major plot turn spoiled by the trailer — The John Connor Terminator.
Other than the plot and the plot holes and the confusion and not a single action sequence worth remembering, the other major problem with “Genisys” is a complete lack of starpower, outside of Schwarzenegger, who is reduced to a Punchline Terminator Programmed To Explain An Inexplicable Plot.
Jason Clarke was superb in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” because that role called for a cerebral actor. Clarke is simply not the stuff of action heroes, and the emo wardrobe he’s saddled with only compounds the problem. As Reese, Courtney is even worse. Biehn owned this role in 1984. He not only looked like a grown up, Biehn’s Reese wordlessly carried with him the tortured soul of man who knows only war.
By contrast, Courtney looks and acts like someone sent back in time from a Southern California high school where he was captain of the Varsity football team.
Without question, J.K. Simmons has set some kind of record for Most Thankless Role After Winning An Academy Award.
“Genisys” is at least an improvement over 2009’s disastrous “Terminator: Salvation,” and if you stick through the end credits, you’ll witness an excuse for a sequel every bit as contrived as the 14th chapter of an eighties horror franchise. Which strikes me as awfully optimistic. No one was clamoring for more Terminator before “Genisys” and I doubt this $170 million mish-mash will change anyone’s attitude.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC