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Is there a timeline where Terminator Genisys didn't disappoint?

So with Emilia Clarke not doing any Terminator Genisys sequels I finally sat down to watch the film last night.

I've not been keen to watch it because the first two films are some of my favourite, all-time movies. I even have the T2 limited edition VHS set in a heavy metal tin. So I was already committed to be disappointed by it.

In that respect, the film did not disappoint in being disappointing.

This mini review contains spoilers. Possibly the same ones as the trailers I saw.

In summary

It was not a bad film and I didn't hate it. Those words get thrown around a bit too much nowadays. The acting was good and technically the film worked. No bad special effects or scenes so jarring that I immediately recall them.

It just didn't work.

So what didn't work?

It's one of these cursed "reboots" where studios and directors attempt to recycle plots and dialogue to guarantee a successful film by gambling that nostalgia and good enough is enough to justify the return on investment. Rather than gambling that a new story, new settings and novel stories work.

The other films (well the first two) were taken apart and they built a list of things that they needed:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • T800 (so Arnie could appear)
  • A T1000 (since liquid metal terminator)
  • A famous TV actress
  • A reasonable famous film actor
  • A section based in the future
  • A section based in around "now" (well 2017)
  • Most of the memorable dialogue from the first two films
  • Nostalgic homages to the original
Of course they needed twists to keep things interesting so when they remade some of the 1984 sequences, they changed them.

The T800 antagonist from Terminator is ambushed by "Pops" another T800 protagonist, and the militant young Sarah Connor, preventing the events of the first film from ever happening.

Kyle Reese arrives and is immediately attacked by the T1000. If the original continuity held, Reese had never seen a liquid metal terminator yet managed to avoid being slaughtered.

Come with me if you want to see cyborgs killing people

The 1984 Terminator had two simple things that it asked you to suspend your disbelief with. Humanoid cyborgs and time travel. Well that and the simple plot was a machine from the future ultimately defeats itself by creating a technology that allows its arch enemy to be born.

If Skynet had not created time travel, Kyle Reese would never have travelled back to save Sarah Connor and John Connor would never have been born.

So the time travel was simpler and a plot device to set up a fight between man and machine in the present. It ultimately left us with fate determines what happens. No matter what Skynet did, it caused it's own defeat.

"No fate but what we make for ourselves"

Terminator 2: Judgement Day changed the time travel from the events being established to being in flux. Despite Skynet defeating itself, they added that it also created itself. Parts from the 1984 terminator were reverse engineered and thus Skynet was born.

So they could justify Skynet taking the risk of messing with time travel because without it, Skynet would again destroy itself.

Thus 5 minutes before the T800 was sent to 1984, Skynet sent it's far more advanced T1000 to 1995. Whilst Sarah Connor's narration tells us that the T1000's target is a young John Connor, it's true mission was probably to ensure that Miles Dyson lived to ensure Skynet's existence.

So T2 ends with Skynet defeated, Dyson dead, the Connors still alive and all the terminators destroyed. We see a dark road and are told the future is not written.

Thus ends one of the best film series ever.

This could still be the same timeline as the 1984 film with events predetermined. What if 5 minutes before the T1000 was sent, another terminator was sent with Skynet embedded in its head and a mission to plug itself into the Internet on schedule. The "extensive" files the T800 used to track down the inventor of Skynet could have been false or planted.

And then sequels happen...

I was pleasantly surprised with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It wasn't awful and closed the loop with John Connor's fate still being predetermined. The date's changed but Judgement Day still happened. John still had to become the saviour of humanity. It was a film that probably shouldn't have been made since it starts to contradict the first two.

Terminator Salvation was released in 2009. My highlight of this film is I fell asleep during the end fight. So the heavily promoted shots of Arnold's likeness being applied as CGI on to another actor, I missed those.

Apparently there's a TV series as well. I didn't even risk it.


So the theory that our fate is predetermined no matter what we do from the first two films is discarded completely. It is replaced by something like Back to the Future's comedy timelines situation.

In Back to the Future series, we follow one Marty McFly as he stomps around timelines trying to figure things out. Doc Brown has to stop and draw him a diagram to explain the series of alternate timelines and it's funny.

The first film ends with Marty in a better timeline. His father is finally an author. His mother stopped smoking and drinking and is healthy. Biff is less of a butt head and he gets the truck.

So Marty constantly made little changes in the past that affected futures. There is no determined fate.

Terminator Genisys takes this and tries to shoehorn it into Terminator's fate based time travel plots. It takes something that works in a farcical comedy and tries to wrap it in nostalgia science fiction.

Genisys then throws a few more twists in. So former Doctor Who, Matt (credited as Matthew) Smith is standing in the background when Kyle Reese is being sent back in time. This Distracted us from the film and the wife and I had a conversation about if it was him in the background.

When the Matt Smith-inator, a new even more advanced infiltration unit, attacks John Connor so Kyle Reese can see the series immediately disappears down an alternative timeline. Reese now knows something of the future our 1984 version of Reese didn't. Fate be damned.

As every killer cyborg knows, the best times to strike at your opponents are:
  1. Randomly during their history,
  2. Just after they have defeated you and are sending their father back in time to meet their mother.

A brief history of the future

Let's try to break down what we know about the order of 2029 events are...:
  • Matt Smith-inator, the most advanced unit infiltrates John Connor's squad. His orders are to wait around until Skynet loses then turn John Connor into a terminator.
  • Earlier than we see in Genisys, Skynet sends the T1000 back to 1995 to fail at killing John Connor or protecting Miles Dyson.
  • Also unseen another T1000 is sent back to kill Kyle Reese when he arrives in 1984.
  • Another T1000 is send back to kill the nine year old Sarah Connor.
  • "Someone" sends "Pops" (Arnie's Terminator from Genisys) back to protect a young Sarah Connor from another T1000 attack.
  • Skynet sends the original T800 back to 1984. This allows the T800 remains to be found and Skynet created in 1997.
  • Skynet is destroyed. All the terminators stop functioning because Skynet is defeated.
  • Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect 1984's Sarah Connor and impregnate her with John Connor. He see's John Connor being attacked.
  • Let's not worry that a T800 needs to be sent back by John Connor to protect himself in 1995.
  • John Connor, now replaced by a terminator, travels back to 2015 to rebrand Skynet as Genisys and release an operating system.
So destroying Skynet stopped the terminators functioning but sending them back in time to before Skynet exists is fine. Obviously these models have an offline mode.

Skynet 2.0

Skynet doesn't care anymore. It's sending back T1000s back when it can, failing to explain how liquid metal can travel through the time device. However the time device is the best way to destroy the new John Connor model terminator even though it seems to be some form of nano based terminator that replaced John completely.

However Skynet is stupid. Rather than sending back a death squad of terminators with the finished source code for Skynet, it is sending them ad-hoc around history trying to let the Dyson's finish inventing it whilst trying to stop the Connor's living.

Sarah Connor and Pops make a time machine so they can travel from 1984 to 2017 to stop Genisys from turning into Skynet. They decide to trust Reese having a new memory from an alternative past to plan out their mission and travel forward in time to stop Skynet v2.0 appearing.

I'm not sure at which point I stopped caring. The fact the characters still cared annoyed me the most.

Fate was no longer important. Any action, no matter how insignificant send the timeline off in a different direction. Destroy Skynet and an alternative Skynet from a parallel timeline (who couldn't consistently ever exists, it's been destroyed remember) would do something to bring itself back.

How can Skynet do better?

What is the most important mission for Skynet?

Killing Sarah Connor? Let's send our least advanced terminator back for that one.

Killing a young John Connor? T1000 should do it. Sure it would have been more effective sending a T1000 against his mother but they're rare prototypes.

Killing Kyle Reese in the past? Sure, we can spare a T1000 for this. Okay, maybe we could have used Matt Smith to kill him in 2029 before the time travel but... actually wait why didn't we do this?

Protect Miles Dyson? Well we failed here so probably not important.

Getting Skynet created? This is probably the most important task. Shall we send an infiltrator to 1970s and help him create DARPA Net, accelerate the advancement of technology and bring forward Judgement Day? No we need a chip from a terminator for that. Do we have two terminators to send back? Nope, they are all busy trying to kill the Connors.

Killing John Connor in the future? Well we managed that one. We used Matt Smith-inator remember? If only he could have done that earlier in the war. Maybe if we hadn't wasted all the budget on time travel.

Creating time travel? Well Skynet can't exist without Skynet sending back important hardware or software so I guess this is important. Despite that there is a timeline where Skynet was destroyed, Judgement Day didn't happen so Skynet (which can not exist) sent John Connor back for us.

If this is the internal logic we're dealing with, Skynet doesn't need to do anything, something is going to create it.

Well if we're going to mess around with time travel it's a shame we can only send cyborgs covered in living tissue back. Wait, does anyone at Skynet know anything about biological stuff? Can we create an organic terminator? The skin department does? Do they know anything about biological weapons?

Of course, I'm being silly. Why send back a deadly plague to destroy the humans, or a tailored virus fatal to anyone with Connor DNA when our killer robots are so effective.


I enjoyed ranting there because it pulled out the many problems I had with the sheer, internal inconsistency with Terminator Genisys.

I was on board with Terminator's suspension of disbelief. Sure cyborgs and time travel, I'll give you them now entertain me with a great story about love and fate, man verses machine. A reluctant, kick-ass heroine.

Now if you take those and can't structure a story about why the advanced robots are given the lesser jobs then you lose me. If the time travel just branches no matter what happens, is this fate? What about "no fate but what we make?"

Our protagonists made their fate and yet Skynet still existed.

Sarah & Reese's Excellent Adventure

At a few points in Genisys I was made to think of the time travel in the slightly more credible Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.


KYLE REESE and SARAH CONNOR are standing on the time displacement platform. Working the controls is POPS, an old looking cyborg.

          Don't forget to travel back in time and put the keys
          under the rock in the jail. And stop me being killed.
          Kyle Reese. Do not forget to have sex with a woman
          and create a resistance leader to defeat Skynet.
          Wait? What?
          You'll see!

POPS just holds out his thumb and pulls a synthetic smile.
REESE and SARAH travel in time somewhere. Doesn't matter where.
          I'll be back. You two won't be.

SOCRETES stumbles into the room and starts playing with the time
          You! Come with me if you want to help me
          with my history presentation.

It's not all bad

There is a sequence where to destroy a T1000, Sarah Connor lures it into room with a network of pipes contains acid or a similar corrosive chemical. They shoot the pipes and the terminator is dissolved. It's a nice change from the terminator trope of industrial machines and furnaces after smashing them with trucks for a while.

Arnie was his usual self. He's like an old uncle you have fond memories of. It may not be the best memories of him, but it's always nice to see him. Even if just to be reminded of his past glories.

And finally

As with most of these "reboots" the film pales when put alongside the originals.

Replacing the Terminator franchise branding and run it as a parody and I may have enjoyed it. Sending a killing machine back from the future to flog a dead horse however failed to appeal.

We actually watched this film just after Mad Max: Fury Road which is a good example of a franchise reboot or continuation.

Contrasting these suggests the bum notes that Genisys hit:
  • The franchise tone of humour changed. Terminator was a very dark film. Genisys introduced banter. Mad Max kept the same level of quirkiness.
  • Attempting to tell the exact same story again but with twists failed. Genisys was going for a prequel/shot for shot remake until twists! Fury Road had a different story that set up a similar sequence (race across desert in a tanker surrounded by gangs). It didn't try to retcon itself into Mad Max 2 and go somewhere else.
  • Internally inconsistent with established canon. Genisys just made tonnes of errors, hand waved some away. Mad Max just told another chapter in the story.
  • Far too much homage. Everyone had to have a line from the classic films. Fury Road stood alone but there was knowing winks to Max's car, the footage crank speed changing.
  • Character motivations were unclear. In 1984 the characters had to survive. In Genisys they had to travel around time striving to put right what once went wrong. Mad Max was clear why the characters were doing things.
It's always a disappointment when a loved franchise jumps the shark and people motivated by money still try to milk characters and plots too far.
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