Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be a very good actor, but he's a great Terminator.
Happily he gets to prove this one (assumedly) last time in "Terminator Genisys," the unexpectedly strong fifth entry in the fabled franchise director James Cameron kicked off in 1984. Now 66, Schwarzenegger easily brings the same mix of menace, power, robotic regurgitation and, most importantly, humor that he brought to the first two films in the series.
Although all the series' most core elements remain intact — Sarah and John Connor, Kyle Reese, assorted robot killing machines from the future and, of course, an impending doomsday — here they've been thrown into a time travel blender by screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier. This does wonders for the action and the characters but forces endless explanations that may or may not make much sense into the transitional dialogue.
Luckily, director Alan Taylor (a veteran of "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men" and "The Sopranos") moves things along at a brisk pace and his characters have the convenience of feeling both familiar and brand-new. At this point, these are reborn film legends we're watching.
It begins in the future, after the robots have killed most of mankind. The resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his faithful lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to rescue his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones") from a Terminator (an assassin robot wrapped in human skin) that has also been sent back to kill her.
So far so familiar. But a disruption in the time travel transmission throws everything out of whack. As Reese soon discovers, Sarah Connor is not the innocent waitress he was expecting but instead a proto-resistance soldier. And she's been raised by an aging Terminator she calls Pops (Schwarzenegger) since she was 9.
After cleaning up some bad Terminator business in the '80s, Sarah and Reese realize the Doomsday date has been moved up to 2017. So, after a bundle of tech talk from Pops, they leap ahead via time machine (Pops takes the old-fashioned way, aging and collecting firepower over the years). When they all meet up together again it's time to take down the Genisys system which will spell mankind's doom.
Only one complication; John Connor is also waiting for them in 2017. It's a family reunion, and you know how awkward those can be.
"Terminator Genisys" is filled with references to the first two films, from a group of punks one newly arrived Terminator encounters to a liquid metal T-1000 to a bleary old cop (J.K. Simmons) who remembers Sarah and Pops from his early days. And, as in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Schwarzenegger is given ample opportunity to awkwardly humanize Pops while around Sarah and Reese. His forced smile here is one of the film's, nay the year's, high points.
Yes, the gobbledygook does build up and it's probably best left to some grad student in film studies to figure out if all the time travel crisscrossing makes any sense. The point here is the momentum, the epic battles and stunts, the sheer blazing size of it all and that goofy smile. "Terminator Genisys" is the first fully worthy successor to Cameron's original films and it shows Arnold may be old, but he's not obsolete.
Rated PG - 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language
Running time: 125 minutes