Terminator Genisys begins with a recap of the history of the movies’ fictional universe. On August 29, 1997, the artificial intelligence Skynet becomes self-aware and triggers a nuclear holocaust, instantly killing over 3 billion people. The survivors, who forever after are hunted by Skynet’s robotic soldiers, name the event “Judgment Day”. Eventually a savior arises among the humans, a man named John Connor, and under him the human resistance is able to destroy Skynet after decades of fighting. But they were too late to prevent Skynet from sending a Terminator back through time, with the mission of killing John’s mother Sarah and ending the war before it begins. John selects his best soldier, Kyle Reese, to travel back in time to protect Sarah.
This is all familiar fans of the franchise, but here it diverges. When Reese emerges in 1984, he finds Sarah already a hardened soldier, who inverts the situation by saving him. The T1000 Terminator model (the liquid metal one from Terminator 2) is already there, and most strangely Sarah is being guided by an older Terminator who’s already been with her for years. Discovering that the future isn’t what it used to be anymore, Reese and Sarah go on a new time-traveling adventure to stop the new incarnation of Skynet before it can bring about Judgement Day.
There’s a great scene in Looper where Bruce Willis’ character says about time travel: “I don't want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” I take that mantra to heart, and so when I watch a time travel movie I make sure not to think too hard about the plot and just go with the flow. So few movies do it well, and even the ones that do (for example: Primer) are usually so complicated that it’s more trouble than it’s worth to keep track of everything. I did that with this movie, and I’m glad, because the plot is so convoluted and ridiculously complicated that the whole thing collapses like a deck of cards if you start to think about it too hard (or really at all for that matter). The massive number of plot holes don’t help the matter, and the absurd number of references and callbacks to the two original Terminator films (it seems to pretend Rise of the Machines and Salvation don’t exist) hurt more than they help. It makes an already complicated plot virtually incomprehensible if you haven’t seen those two earlier films, and many of the references feel more like painfully obvious fanservice than the clever homages that I’m sure the filmmakers intended them to be.
To be fair, the movie is not all bad. Emilia Clarke is actually quite good as a badass and hardened Sarah Connor, raging at her predetermined place in the fate of mankind. It was great to see Schwarzenegger on film again, even if his role is by definition a bit wooden. And the action sequences are actually quite well-paced and choreographed, so as long as you don’t think too hard about the insane plot it’s a passable summer action movie.
But overall, Terminator Genisys is just another cynical attempt by Hollywood to part us from our hard-earned money by taking a beloved franchise, infusing it with eye-popping special effects, and trying to pass it off as something new and cool. This formula has become so ubiquitous that it’s not even the first month to use it (*coughcough* JURASSICWORLD* coughcough*). If you want to see an okay action movie, Emilia Clarke blow up evil robots, or the Governator spout off one-liners, then feel free. But honestly, there are much better movies that have been released this summer.