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Family Movie Review: Terminator Genisys (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 125 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. Typical action-movie stuff: lots of gunfire, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, and people getting killed by killer robots; some cursing; and some implied nudity, like naked men with conveniently placed shadows, the shadow of a naked woman, and a couple of nude people in profile, but with nothing visible; also some kissing.

If you don’t think about it too much, ‘Terminator Genisys’ is absurd enough to be kind of fun. But you’ll need to turn your brain off for this sequel in the ‘Terminator’ franchise.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Terminator Genisys” is clearly the kind of film where the writers came up with the movie’s largest plot twist first, and then reverse-engineered the rest of the movie around it. It’s kind of fun if you don’t think about the logic or reasoning behind anything at all that’s happening onscreen, but even still, this sequel doesn’t make a strong reason for existing.

The best thing “Terminator Genisys” has going for itself, actually, isn’t the new members of the cast or the complicated plot that attempts to link this film with some of the other “Terminator” franchise properties, but Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 67-year-old is the absolute highlight of this film, providing the emotional layers and deadpan humor the film badly needs. Parents will especially appreciate his storyline, which transforms his character from Terminator killing machine to protective, sarcastic father figure.

“Terminator Genisys” begins with a lengthy exposition sequence that explains the plot of the franchise so far (ignoring 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” which doesn’t play into this narrative): After the automated missile defense system Skynet became self-aware in 1997, it launched a Judgment Day that killed 3 billion humans with nuclear warfare. Since then, Skynet has defended itself with murderous robots named Terminators, who can blend in with the human population; this is their main weapon against the human uprising, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke, of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”).

But Skynet is also developing an ultimate weapon against the human forces: time travel, which they would use to send a Terminator back in time to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), ensuring that he’s never born. To combat this, Connor also uses the time-travel technology to send back his right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, of “Insurgent”), to protect his mother and help destroy Skynet before the future happens.

Reese goes back to 1984 to do this, but what he encounters isn’t what he expected: Sarah isn’t weak or in need of his help; instead, she’s already a hardened survivor, adept with guns and fighting, and her main ally is Pops (Schwarzenegger, of “The Expendables 3”), a Terminator that has been taking care of her since she was 9 years old. Neither Sarah or Pops know who sent him back to protect her, but together they’ve been preparing for Reese’s arrival in 1984, and they need him to help them destroy Skynet. There’s just one problem: Because the past Connor thought Reese was returning to doesn’t exist, that means everything they thought they knew about how to destroy Skynet is wrong. They’re in another reality, and they’re going to need a new plan to fight Skynet—before Judgment Day destroys them and everything else.

For most of its plot, “Terminator Genisys” banks on twisting the familiar parts of the franchise’s first two films; the film flips the gender roles so Sarah is in charge, makes a longtime ally an unexpected villain, and creates Terminators in different genders and ethnicities. That’s all fun to watch out for, and you may want to focus on that because the plot is practically nonsensical. There are numerous points where Pops explains barely comprehensible science-talk plot developments to Reese and Sarah that will bore parents and children alike, and there’s a romance subplot between Reese and Sarah that tries to toy with ideas about fate and destiny but just comes off as forced.

What really sells the movie are the great effects—the liquid metal and new magnetic features of the advanced Terminators are used for some great visual tricks, like hiding in mirrors—and the wonderful performance from Schwarzenegger, who can not only still punch like a freight train but also brings an unexpected paternal warmth to his role. Sarah’s attempts to teach him small talk, and his horrifically pained attempt at a casual smile, are great ways to humanize a character we thought we already knew.

“Terminator Genisys” may not have much of a plot going for it, but Schwarzenegger alone is enough reason to tough through the film. His performance is enough to forgive much else of the ridiculousness at work in “Terminator Genisys.”

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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