Recently, Dan talked about watching the most recent film in the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Genisys. I have had a certain curiosity about the movie since the first trailers came out, but I was even more interested when I read that James Cameron felt that “the franchise has been reinvigorated” by Genisys. Given Dan’s opinion of the film (and its availability on Hulu, which I am able to access), I decided to see for myself.
First of all, Dan is correct. This movie rests a lot on nostalgia for prior Terminator movies. More accurately, this movie rests a lot on nostalgia for the first two: the 1984 film, The Terminator, and the 1991 film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie almost feel like a reboot of the original, with post-apocalyptic soldier, Kyle Reese, being ordered by revolutionary leader, John Connor, to step into the time travel device in order to stop a vicious killing machine from destroying the past. Not much later, we get to see the recreation of a popular moment of cinematic history: the Terminator beats up some weird ’80s punks to get some clothing.
From there, of course, the movie starts to go sideways. An older Arnold Termin-egger, along with an unidentified sniper, work together to stop the younger-looking killing machine. Soon after, Kyle Reese encounters a strange police officer who is revealed to be a T-1000 made of liquid metal (but not in the guise of Robert Patrick). It’s crazy, it’s out of control, and the movie lets us know that despite starting like the original The Terminator, this will be anything but. Soon enough, we have heroes Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor time travelling FORWARD to 2017, which should be after Judgment Day but is not. Instead, the nefarious villains of Cyberdyne Systems are about to realize some sort of stupid mega-app called “Genisys,” which promises to be the bomb.com, but will probably end up just being the bomb.
A few reviews I read expressed concern over the convoluted time travel timelines of this movie, and given that the producers intended to make a trilogy of films, the confusion is probably legitimate. But, as a sort of sequel to the first two Terminator films, I found this movie to be an interesting companion piece and contrast to the previous second sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The following analysis may contain spoilers, so be warned.
The original film The Terminator left the audience with the interesting idea that the whole story could only happen because it happened. The entire thing is a causal loop: Kyle Reese is sent back in time by John Connor to protect Sarah Connor, and in the process becomes John Connor’s father (explaining why John sent him back in the first place). Terminator 2: Judgment Day doubled down on the causal loop, further explaining that Cyberdyne Systems developed the requisite technology for Skynet and the Terminator from the remnants of the Terminator left behind in the first film. So, the audience realizes that this whole world and its future exist because of the fact that they exist.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day tries to change the narrative. After we learn what’s going on and who the real bad guys are, Sarah Connor convinces everybody that the best solution is to prevent Cyberdyne from ever being created. The takeaway theme from the movie is, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” By destroying all remnants of the Terminators and Cyberdyne Systems, Sarah and John Connor are able to avert the future apocalypse. Of course, this creates a bit of a paradox-sandwich as we have an established past that involves a future that no longer happens. But, let’s not worry about paradox sandwiches just yet.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took a hard left on this theme, changing it into “No fate but what we delay for ten or so years despite our best efforts.” Watching that movie back in 2003, I was exceedingly disappointed on the turn that it took, although it made sense given that the producers were more interested in making post-apocalyptic, dark future Terminator movies. That’s also where we got Terminator: Salvation, which I am certain that I watched but I disliked with such intensity that I forgot everything about it.
That hard left is what I think makes Terminator: Genisys stand out from the other films and makes it feel more like a proper sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. By the end of the movie, we find out that the personification of Skynet has essentially manipulated time in order to re-sequence the timeline to its own benefit. Instead of the “it’s going to happen eventually” narrative of T3, we have Skynet actively taking a role in manipulating time to its benefit. I guess you could say that Skynet has adopted the “No fate but what we make for ourselves” philosophy for itself. Oh, and Skynet is played by Matt Smith.
And that’s the thing that I really like about this new Terminator movie. T3 took the “take the story into your own hands” narrative of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and stole the agency and control of it. It said that no matter what you do, the terrible thing is going to happen. Terminator: Genisys did something different. It still acknowledged that the terrors of the future are a threat, but that it’s because they are actively working against you. It acknowledged that the “take the story into your own hands” narrative was just as much a thing that the villain could do as the heroes. It’s an interesting twist on the story. Somehow, that difference was important to me and I think is what makes Genisys a better “third movie” than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.