By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  “I’m old. Not obsolete,” says the Arnold Schwarzenegger character on more than one occasion in Terminator Genisys.

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Perhaps the same could be said for this franchise.

 

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

 

The genesis of the science fiction thriller, Terminator Genisys:  it’s the fifth installment of the time-travel fantasy franchise spawned in 1984, when director James Cameron had soon-to-be-the-governator Schwarzenegger promise us that he would be “bock.”

Would he ever.

Since then, we’ve had the technically spectacular Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), proving that one good Terminator deserves another; the respectable but been-there-done-that-drenched Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003); and the counterproductively complicated and oppressively humorless if grimly efficient Terminator Salvation (2009).

Now we get Terminator Genisys (which falls a bit short of the first two but is superior to the last two), a relentless futuristic action thriller the busy and contrived plot of which picks up after the second film and then sends the characters back in time to re-experience the events of the first film in a different way.

It may not whet our appetite to the extent that we yearn for additional episodes, but at least it makes a case for its own existence.

It’s set in 2029, when the Future War rages on and a group of humans is openly rebelling against the artificial-intelligence system, Skynet.

Sounds familiar, no?  Suddenly the lines between “sequel” and “remake,” or between “prequel” and “reboot,” get very blurry.

Why don’t we just call this one, as some of the makers do, a “reset”?  Okay, that’s resettled.

Jason Clarke becomes the fourth actor to play John Connor, who leads the future human rebellion against the machine overlords.

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In the original, the robotic title character played by Ahnold in villain mode was sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor because her future son, John, would become the leader of the anti-machine resistance.

Schwarzenegger reprises his role in this fifth outing, although he’s no longer in villain mode.  Or is he?

As for John Connor, seen till now as the savior of the human race… hmmm

Connor leads the resistance, aided by his loyal lieutenant, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), whom Connor sends back to 1984 to ensure John’s existence by saving Sarah, John’s mother (played by “Game of Thrones” TV star Emilia Clarke) from a Terminator that’s programmed to kill her so she’ll never give birth to John.

Sarah, it turns out, has been brought up by another Terminator T-800 programmed to protect her, played, of course, by Schwarzenegger.  And this protective Terminator must help Sarah and Reese fight off the murderous agendas of the two other programmed Terminator assassins.

And then — wouldn’t you know it? — a romance blossoms between Sarah and Reese.

Got all that?

Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) includes references to the earlier episodes, especially the iconic first one.  The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, the first in a planned trilogy, tweaks the narrative line of the first two films while honoring them respectfully at the same time.

All things considered, the script does a decent job of spelling out the complicated mountain of exposition, but the time travel premise induces its usual headache along the way.

The special visual effects -– including a scene in which Schwarzenegger’s time-traveling robot assassin battles a three-decades younger version of himself — are just that: special.  Always a major component in this franchise, they are undeniably impressive again, combining elements of the earlier episodes with new wrinkles of one sort or another, all of which hold our interest.

So we’ll program 3 stars out of 4 for the well-executed Terminator Genisys.  Whether the Terminator franchise has just added a makeover, a do-over, or a comb-over, let’s just say that it wins us over.

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