2.5 stars. Rated PG-13, for relentless sci-fi violence and gunplay, partial nudity and fleeting profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.3.15
Not since the original five-cycle Planet of the Apes films, between 1968 and ’73, has a franchise attempted to cycle itself so intricately. Terminator scripters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier deserve credit for an ambitious attempt here, tackling multiple time periods — and alternate timeline realities — in an effort to slot this newest entry into What Has Gone Before, while also (more or less) re-telling the whole wild ’n’ crazy story from the beginning.
Sadly — and as often is the case, with sloppy time travel sagas — things get so convoluted that the result becomes confusing and, ultimately, pointless. The situation clearly has gotten out of hand when characters spend the entire third act explaining each new twist to each other (and, by extension, to us). Rarely has a film indulged in so much blatant, tedious said-bookism.
Part of the problem is the labyrinthine degree to which this franchise has been expanded (often not for the better) by outside parties, most notably extended story arcs by six different comic book publishers, dating back to 1988. No single new film could satisfy a mythos that has grown so convoluted.
On top of which, director Alan Taylor has absolutely no sense of pacing. He simply yanks his cast from one deafening CGI action scene to the next, with no attempt to build suspense or inject any sense of actual drama. The result is massive, messy and noisy: a 125-minute cartoon that has none of the heart — or intelligence — that made director James Cameron’s first two films so memorable, back in 1984 and ’91.
This is simply a pinball machine, with its little spheres — our heroes — whacked and bounced from one crazed menace to another, somehow (miraculously!) surviving each encounter, physical laws and human frailty be damned.
That said, this new big-screen Terminator chapter — the fifth — does have one secret weapon: the same bright, shining star who also highlighted Cameron’s entries: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Far from the over-the-hill relic that many fans may have feared, the big guy owns this film. He’s well employed, granted some droll one-liners and sight gags, and has solid camera presence.
On top of which, Kalogridis and Lussier come up with a genuinely clever explanation for why Schwarzenegger’s good-guy T-800 android has aged so much, since its first appearance in 1991.
So ... take a deep breath, and pay attention. Ready?