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Time is (not) on your side Terminator Genisys'

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New installment is part sequel, part reboot and a total misfire

The Hollywood of 2015 is enamored of sequels, reboots and remakes expanding or rehashing an existing property is a much easier way to justify massive budgets in today's box office climate.

However, the makers of the latest installment in the 'Terminator' franchise aren't content to do any of those things. Why make a sequel or a reboot or a remake when you can basically try to do all three at once? What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

'Terminator Genisys' is an attempt to reenergize the franchise by reconnecting it with its roots specifically 'Terminator' and 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (the filmmakers much like the rest of us have decided to pretend the second two films didn't happen). In essence, it's a sort-of sequel that reboots the franchise by way of time travel shenanigans while also trying some revisionist history on the events of the first two films.

Got all that? Because it doesn't appear that the filmmakers did.

In the year 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes') is once more the primary hope for mankind against the scourge of the machines, led by the malevolent self-aware AI known as Skynet. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, 'Unbroken') is once again Connor's right-hand man, the one soldier in this war that Connor trusts implicitly. When Skynet is on the verge of defeat, it enacts its contingency plan, which is stop me if you've heard this one - sending killer robots back in time to kill John's mother so that he is never born.

And so Kyle Reese is sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor. Only when he gets there, it's not at all the 1984 he or we expected. This Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, TV's 'Game of Thrones') is not a weak, confused waitress. Rather, she's a warrior who has spent half of her life being raised to meet her destiny by a repurposed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'Maggie') that is programmed to protect her at all costs.

Just like that, everything we thought we knew about the 'Terminator' timeline is now expendable canon fodder, if you will. What follows is a complicated jumping around in time a world where Judgment Day is actually in 2017 as opposed to 1997 and there's actually a chance to hit some sort of reset button and make sure the machine-ruled future simply never happens. Meanwhile, different robots from different periods are all converging in an effort to defeat Reese and Connor and ensure an ultimate victory for Skynet including a few threats from some unexpected sources.

Playing fast and loose with plot is never the best idea; doing it in a movie universe already riddled with time-travel-related holes and assorted paradoxes is even more questionable. Unsurprisingly, 'Terminator Genisys' fails to tie up any loose ends through its paradigm shift. Indeed, if anything, there's just a bigger mess than before.

(Also there's a twist that is being pitched pretty hard. The truth is that said twist has already been pretty thoroughly spoiled by the film's own promotion, but I still won't be that guy.)

It's too bad, because it's actually a decent cast. But the by-committee script doesn't give Courtney or either Clarke much to work with. They're trapped in service to a story that doesn't make a whole lot of sense and doesn't much care. In general, they do their best, but much of their work falls a bit flat.

(One of the best parts of the film comes by way of J.K. Simmons ('Whiplash') in a supporting role. He's a police officer in 2017 who was a witness to the film's 1984 events and has been obsessed with them ever since. Maybe the best time-travel-adjacent bit in the movie.)

What soul the film does have springs from a surprising source. Schwarzenegger has always been at home playing the Terminator, but what he does here is lend a degree of nuance that speaks to depths of talent that have heretofore gone largely unplumbed. He finds ways to humanize the character without ever venturing outside the strict parameters set by the character's nature/programming. It's subtle, but no less engaging because of it.

As a summer action spectacle, 'Terminator Genisys' is fine there are some pretty solid sequences and the effects are decent. However, as an attempt at reinvigorating the franchise, it's lackluster at best. Ultimately, it's a disappointing effort.

[2 out of 5]

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