First and foremost, when you do, there’s a mid-credit scene that’s really important to catch. I want to be open in saying that the film is decent, but it’s not amazing. It hits some marks and misses others. It did however give me something that Terminator sequels haven’t in a while — hope.
Genisys balances some fantastic nostalgia and reimagining of the original Terminator and then tips it on its head by twisting the events from T2 into somewhere new and giving us changes to the characters that those two films established that takes them in really interesting directions:
• Sarah: In The Terminator, she start out helpless and afraid and manages to get everything together by the end and starts preparing for the future. Then in T2, she’s super capable and a supreme badass, but also pretty mentally unstable because of all the fear & pressure she’s lived with for years. Genisys takes that, and gives her the upbringing that John Connor almost got with the T-800. She knows about her future, Kyle’s future, John’s future, and everything else that had lead to now and has been preparing for it since she was 9 years old. As such, she’s got 100% of T2’s badassery with John Connor’s sort of uncomfortable view of the way things are — like the fact that on May 12th, 1984 she has to meet Kyle Reese, fall in love with him, f*ck him, and watch him die in under 48 hours. Unsurprisingly, she’s not cool with that despite knowing how important it is, and the film grows from that.
• The T-800: What started out as a soulless and terrifying killing machine in The Terminator became an iconic protector in T2 as Uncle Bob. We got to see the machine start to learn more than just the data it was sent out with. Having detailed files on human anatomy caused it to think that John Connor’s crying was because of something wrong with his eyes, but then his chip is reset and he learns to the point that he says, “I know now why you cry, but it’s something that I can never do.” and Sarah Connor shakes hands with him and thinks that the machine would’ve been a better guardian for John than anyone else. ‘Pops’ is that guardian, and cares for Genisys’ future-aware Sarah the way that it did for John in T2, but we’re allowed to see that entire dynamic not get cut short. We get to see a machine do more and try to understand humans the way that T2 made us love.
• Kyle Reese: Kyle’s the lens we view everything through. In the original film, his mission plays out the way that he’d dreamed about insofar as Sarah Connor falling for him because he’d loved John’s stories of her. We get to see these in Genisys but they don’t play out how he’s prepared for. Instead, we get to see him grappling with knowing that he’s going on a one way trip to fall in love and fight the final battle to being in the middle of a new time where things are wholly different and grappling with trusting a Terminator and his feelings for a Sarah who’s nothing like he’s been told.
These three are our core in Genisys. They slowly build up a dynamic that could let us follow the result of their story directly like we did with The Sarah Connor Chronicles and have them take risks that are new and dangerous. We get to see them up against Byung-Hun Lee’s utterly fantastic T-1000, and John Connor as a T-3000 completely throwing things for a twist. They’re presented with a very new relationship with the future that lies ahead of them, and it’s one that despite its flaws in execution, I desperately want to see because it has so much potential to be amazing for the series itself. The negative reviews can help them correct their missteps, but the framework for the new series is rock solid and it deserves to have something built up from it.
This is the point where I’m gonna get into all the nitty gritty details, so if you want to go into the film spoiler-free — leave now. If you’ve seen the movie or don’t mind knowing everything, keep going. And just in case you’re skimming and might miss this, here’s an extra warning:
SPOILERS AHEAD FROM HERE ON OUT!!!!
Let’s start with where things take a crazy turn for Sarah Connor:
The source of our deviated timeline is that the T-1000 was sent back to kill Sarah Connor and her parents when she was nine, and the T-800 was sent to protect her and serve are her guardian. Pops specifically states that whoever sent him erased his memory of the event, so that there isn’t a way for anyone to track that person down to prevent it in the future. It seems to point to these being the same two terminators sent back from the new timeline’s events for T2 - which is extra cool, since that means that “Pops” is literally this timeline’s “Uncle Bob” and not just a similarly programmed T-800.
This is where we get Kyle Reese running into some issues while time-traveling. He starts having memories of this changed future from Young!Kyle, because of him passing into a non-Terminator-1-timeline. While this is also the result of John Connor getting killed and converted into the T-3000 as he leaves, it’s also setting up some new versions of the classic bootstrap paradoxes in the new timeline:
- Kyle remember a message about Genisys being Skynet and coming online that he tells his Young!self after the event occurs in 2017.
- Kyle says a phrase to Sarah that was the last thing that her father ever said to her. This makes Sarah trust Kyle. She later tells Young!Kyle this phrase.
This second thing is one of the part that the films should’ve shown us rather than tell us.
If you were allowed to see the entirety of Sarah and her father’s final moments together, the audience would have the context for his dying phrase that’s as impactful for them as it is for Sarah that works vastly better than if it’s just described. Additionally, it would’ve given us more time with Byung-Hun Lee as the T-1000 and help show that he was Sarah & Pops’ nemesis for a very long time, and it knew that Kyle’s arrival was the best place to reacquire them, since going off the grid in the ‘70s and ‘80s would’ve made them nearly impossible to locate otherwise. That would’ve added to the fact that they’ve been prepping the whole time to defeat both The Terminator’s T-800 and our alternate timeline T2’s T-1000, and given more time to make that feel like a huge victory for the two of them, while Kyle attempts to cope with all the changes.
Next comes Matt Smith’s role:
He’s Skynet. We can see that Skynet specifically fears Sarah Connor in this timeline because she attacked it in 2017, and there is no John Connor aside from the one who is the T-3000. Just like if you killed Young!Kyle now, the film’s main Kyle Reese wouldn’t stop existing, Kyle & Sarah not having a child in this timeline won’t cause John/T-3000 not to exist. They’re deviated into a new timeline, and the T-3000 explains as much in the parking garage when he talks about killing them. Skynet took the John Connor from the future of The Terminator and turned it into its guardian to ensure its new creation in Genisys. Additionally, the reason that the mid-credit scene is so important is that it proves that Skynet is learning and basing its tactics on its known factors from other alternate futures that it’s experienced. In the start of the film (the future from The Terminator), Skynet loses control of the machines because they take down the its Central Core in Colorado, but the real final battle with John & Kyle is where it’s taking control of the Time Displacement equipment, because that’s it’s exit strategy.
Skynet intentionally lets Kyle go, because that would ensure John Connor’s creation, and allow it to use John as its guardian to ensure its own creation in a different timeline. This is why John works closely with someone at Cyberdyne Skynet already knows is related to it’s original creation - Miles Dyson, and has the T-3000 assist his son Danny Dyson. With no chip from The Terminator’s T-800 left behind, his father doesn’t create a Skynet that goes live in 1997. That’s why Danny and John work together to create Genisys (and combine it with Skynet). Then John as the T-3000 uses his leverage within the company to create the mimetic polyalloy and time displacement equipment because they’re also important, but what’s most clever about this is the whole things is a front.
While it’s their plan to get Skynet active, it’s also a ruse meant to play off of Kyle’s knowledge of the future to give them a sense of security if they managed to destroy it. The mid-credit scene shows us that the outcome of this was that despite not spreading and interconnecting with everything as Genisys, during the growth and development of Skynet it was able to establish Sarah, Kyle, & Pops as its main threats within the current timeline, and ensure its own survival within the Skynet Central Core. This is why having Matt Smith as the face of Skynet and a tangible nemesis works so well. We get to see IT as an entity who’s building itself and learning from different timelines in ways that the Serena Kogan visage in Salvation attempted to convey.
So where could it go from here?
This is the part that I’ve mentioned I’m most excited for, and the thing that gives me hope. We have O’Brien who is a great anchor for the everyman who’s seen some shit and is trying to figure it out in a way that’s essentially the polar opposite of Silberman from the past series. Both Kyle and Sarah have the basis of forming a real, non-predetermined relationship and one is from a post-apocalyptic future, and the other is from the mid-’80s and they’re both trying to find a way to live normally in 2017. The only member of their little family unit who’s actually arrived in this day and age naturally is Pops whose interactions with Sarah and Kyle are vastly different and quite enjoyable when they get to play off of each others’ oddities and shortcomings. This is something else that the film could’ve benefited from is taking a little time to breathe and let them figure each other out that a sequel absolutely would be able to do. Pops’ mimetic polyalloy upgrade, making him a T-1800 gives him new and interesting combat capabilities that make him like a slightly less weaponized T-X from Terminator 3, and given his smile has improved seems to also have pushed his developmental capabilities into new and interesting territory.
Insofar as questions left behind, we still don’t know who sent the T-1000 or Pops back in time to kill/guard Sarah, and Skynet is alive and learning - very much unknown to them, so it’s the one who gets to make the next move. Now that Skynet’s been given the platform to be a real character as an AI who’s learning from various timelines, there’s so much that you can do with it, and with ex-timelord Matt Smith as the one in that role, I can’t think of anything I’d like to see more that would give the Terminator series something really new and substantial.
While it has its flaws, it’s a film that’s has continually made me more excited the longer I’ve thought about it after seeing it, and being thrilled at what more it could bring to the table now that it’s jumped the most incredibly difficult hurdle of forging it’s own path. Genisys was planned as the first film in a trilogy, and despite its flaws it has heart and a framework to carry it, so that’s why I’m standing firmly by my statement,
“If you care about Terminator, you need to go see Genisys.”