Terminator: Genisys feels like a VHS cassette that's been rewound and recorded over for 21 years. Director Alan Taylor gives us images -- a thumbs-up, an abandoned factory, a liquid-metal cop smashing through the windshield of a car -- that cut through the CGI like scratches on tape. Genisys is haunted by ghosts of old movies, a cyborg whose entire DNA is déjà vu.
Time is meaningless. Judgment Day has rained nuclear hellfire in 1997, 2003, or 2017, numbers intoned with the transient gravitas of Powerball winners. When Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "I'll be back," the line echoes in the brain. Is this 1984, 1991, or 2015?
Genisys boots up in 2029, a generation after the robot rebellion, where scarred rebel leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a final assault against Skynet. Those of you with flowcharts will recall that's the year when Connor sent his young foot soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to rescue and impregnate his mother, Sarah. Reese lands in punk Eighties L.A., where he's greeted by a young, naked Arnold, recapturing the physical perfection that first got him cast as a computer man, now with computer help. And then comes a warrior Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) who, in this timeline, has been waiting for him since 1973.
Genisys starts with a mystifying war montage where we can't decipher whether Reese and John Connor are in peril or showing off their highlight reel. Then it maintains that furious confusion. Everyone is shooting and punching, but no one knows how or why or even what year they should time-travel to next. Audiences will have seen five of these movies, and might be just as disoriented.