“I’m old,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator: Genisys.” “Not obsolete.”
Color me shocked.
As Shakespeare might have put it, I came to bury Schwarzenegger in this review, not to praise him. Hugely premature, that. He is, by far, the best thing about this boring and tedious new addition to a series that began with a truly great original sci-fi B-movie by James Cameron starring Ah-nuld, every American’s favorite resident cyborg alien.
As that film turned into a series, Cameron turned into a great movie storyteller and cinematic visionary on his way to “Titanic” and “Avatar.” (No one has ever staged nuclear holocausts more harrowingly than Cameron in this series.)
But Cameron doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with “Terminator: Genisys” despite Ah-nuld’s return to the series. And it shows.
The reason I dreaded 67-year-old Schwarzenegger’s return as a steroid action hero at the movies isn’t really his age. Sylvester Stallone has proven that there is indeed something intrinsically funny about action heroes in their 60s (and beyond) and it’s juicily exploitable in movies. Everyone seems to party down at the thought of being “Expendable” at Sly’s invitation – his fellow actors, an audience jam-packed with ’80s action movie fans and interlopers from other generations.
Schwarzenegger is a different matter – about as problematic as an American celebrity can be at the moment, short of being Bill Cosby. There was virtually no readership whatsoever for his autobiography “Total Recall” despite promises of revelations about his decidedly sloppy approach to home and family. (Arnold, you’ll remember, had an affair and a child with his family’s housekeeper, a bit of errancy compounded in public and media contempt by the fact that he was married to Maria Shriver, an authentic princess of the Kennedy clan.)
Arnold’s last few movies outside Sly’s company have been about as popular as his absurdly ballyhooed autobiography.
It wasn’t his off-key intimate socializing that made him a tough sell as a movie star and celebrity in his 60s. It was the most obvious fact of them all about Schwarzenegger: He had been the two-term governor of the state of California.
Who the devil wants a steroid action star – one who went on to have open-heart surgery – to return to his old profession once the people, yes, have, on two separate occasions, affirmed that he belonged in the governor’s mansion?
No matters of politics are involved here. Nor do I find anything intrinsically off-putting about governors in general.
It’s just that I think there are limits to the amount of cognitive dissonance one should ask mass audiences to live with.“California Governor” and “Steroid Action Star” are categories for human beings that should exist in a rigid order: star first, then governor. Going backward is asking rather too much, I think, of megaplex audiences at their largest.
But that’s not really the problem with the tedious “Terminator: Genisys.” The good news about Schwarzenegger’s role in the “Terminator” movies is that his part – the emotionless cyborg superhero – is basically inhuman anyway so any affection you wind up feeling for his robotic, overmuscled self is what you might feel for an oversized house pet, a kind of domesticated gorilla or Chewbacca sent back from the future to protect the mother of humanity’s savior.
Her name is Sarah Connor. Her son, the eventual savior of us all in the War Against the Machines, is John Connor. Which gets fatally complicated to the ruination of the movie.
Emilia Clarke is just fine as Sarah. So is Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the fellow whose DNA will eventually mingle with Sarah’s to produce John Connor in the traditional way.
Schwarzenegger has let his hair go gray as Sarah’s lifelong protector. She calls him “Pops.” So does everybody else. He’s kind of Grandpa Cyborg, speaking in long paragraphs of utterly impenetrable techspeak.
Which causes his Sarah to respond “bite me.” To which he says, in Spock-like cadences, “That is a very immature response.”
What there is of that kind of thing is mild fun in “Terminator: Genisys.” The trouble is there isn’t nearly enough of it.
It’s the time-traveling plot that’s quickly as tedious as can be and ultimately becomes close to awful.
Oscar winner J.K. Simmons plays an older cop from 1984 who is charged with doing 2029 comic relief duty when Schwarzenegger’s not around in this movie and the movie most needs it. At one point, the cop registers considerable annoyance at the movie’s insistence on time-traveling back and forth from 1984 to 2029 and several points in between. He speaks for many of us.
Not in the film, unfortunately. Here is one conversation: “What do we want?” “Time travel.” “When do we want it?” “It’s irrelevant.”
And that last, as a judgment on the movie, is dead on. So when Kyle wonders aloud why he remembers vividly a life he’s never lived, you would have to be made of sci-fi fanboy and fangirl steel to give a flying hoot.
It’s dreary and boring much of the way, despite the fact that the fate of the entire human species is at stake.
It’s salted with a little wit and humor, but not enough. Some of the CGI is impressive; most of it is anything but.
It’s almost mind-bogglingly sexless for a movie so concerned with getting naked and continuing the species in the time-honored way.
At one point John – who alternates annoyingly between virtue and villainy – refers to the War Against the Machines as “this long and terrible war.”
It’s never a good idea to salt a movie with so many script lines that, if absolutely necessary,could function as sound-bite capsule reviews.
The basic idea, somewhat incredibly, is clever – that in the year 2029, “Genisys” becomes a program that will unite everyone’s entire technical existence – but that it’s really a Trojan horse for a program that will destroy the human race.
If you think the movie is smart enough to do anything even remotely interesting with that basic, clever idea, forget it.
Unlike Schwarzenegger, the movie he’s in is new, but, unfortunately instantly obsolete.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons
Director: Alan Taylor
Running time: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language.
The Lowdown: Members of the resistance must time travel to save the world from an automated program that will unleash an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust in 2029.