Humanity gets a do-over in "Terminator Genisys," the fifth in the franchise begun in 1984 with "The Terminator." But this screwy revision of the previous "Terminator" movies is so muddled and yakky, you may find yourself rooting for the apocalypse. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger is thrown through a wall into a Pepsi Max vending machine (if the rise of the machines means the fall of product placement, I'm all for it), and for a second I was pulling for a slugfest between the former bodybuilder and the Pepsi dispenser. Just to see who'd win.
Remember how the second "Back to the Future" film got mixed up in alternate time-lines and parallel universes and such? Delivered in wee truckloads of exposition by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, "Terminator Genisys" is like "Back to the Future Part II" times 20, or the more recent "Looper" with a hundred extra loops.
Director Alan Taylor's picture begins as a homage/recap/rip-off of the first, cheapest, meanest and best "Terminator," the one written and directed by James Cameron. We learn of the nuclear devastation and the rise of the machines, vending and otherwise, and the decimation of all that was good and true on our planet. Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) explains as much in voice-over, focusing on the 3 billion killed off on Judgment Day 2017.
The narrative starting point is 2029, with the human resistance being led by Reese and his legendary mentor, John Connor (Jason Clarke, whose character's true character is foreshadowed in a way that puts the "obvious" in "obvious"). Thanks to time travel, we're soon back in '84, and then forward to 2017, on Judgment Day eve. Sarah Connor, the tank-topped Mother Courage of the revolution, is portrayed by Emilia Clarke, the Mother of Dragons of "Game of Thrones." She calls her guardian Terminator, played by Schwarzenegger, "Pops," who repays her for the endearment with moral lectures delivered in monotone. Sarah Connor, meantime, bickers with Reese, with whom she must mate so that she can give birth to the man who will alter the course of — oh, hell, that's enough.
There are scenes of "old" Arnold thrashing his younger, '84 self. There are scenes featuring J.K. Simmons, bless him, as a sympathetic and dogged ally of our motley heroes that redeem entire minutes of the movie. The title refers to a "killer app" and coveted operating system that gives rise to the fall of humanity. Made on a reported (and mystifying, given its lack of visual imagination) budget of $170 million, "Terminator Genisys" doesn't take any pokes or try any dark satire in its technology-enslavement angle. This is strictly business, and dull business at that, for all the metal/flesh impalings and a bus dangling from the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is destroyed in the flashback prologue, and got creamed in "San Andreas" earlier this year. Does landmark status count for anything in California?
Arnold, for the record, has a new catchphrase: "I'm old. Not obsolete." He also reprises his greatest hit: "I'll be back." He may have trouble pronouncing the word "cellular," but that doesn't matter. Everything's at stake yet nothing comes to much in "Terminator Genisys." I did admire the sight of the disintegrating Bad Terminator struggling to break free of an MRI, but by the time Arnold's hushed by one of his exasperated cohorts with, "Whaddya gonna do, talk us to death?" a very expensive and very poorly written movie has begun to disintegrate itself.