After fans refused to take to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003, the series was to be rebooted into a new trilogy for a new generation with 2009’s Terminator Salvation. When fans didn’t take to that either, it was rebooted again into Terminator Genisys, which is also advertised and clearly thought of as part one of a trilogy. The Independence Day release is already bombing, and without a doubt, another reboot that will also be supposedly part one of a trilogy will hit sometime in the early ’20s.
Terminator Genisys branches off from the original movie’s timeline, sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect a very different Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), one who had already been attacked by machines from the future years earlier and had been saved by her own personal terminator, “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Pops had been sent back by parties unknown to protect Connor from an as-yet unheard of 1973 attack, and they’d been planning to prevent Skynet from causing the apocalyptic world Reese grew up in by stopping the scheduled nuclear apocalypse in 1997. However, as Reese is traveling to 1984, he sees an alternate past, one that he never lived through, which tells him Skynet pushed its timetable back to 2017, for some reason. After the trio fight off the T-800 — and the T-1000, which is also in 1984, again without explanation — they travel to 2017 to stop Skynet, but are faced with a foe they weren’t prepared for.
Wait, they spoiled that? Wow, what a bunch of idiots — it’s John Connor (Jason Clarke). Sarah’s son and legendary leader of the resistance has been turned into a terminator by this new, weird flesh-infecting virus Skynet developed. They also changed it to where he wrote the Skynet program himself and nobody else could understand it, despite it being achieved 20 years earlier when he was just a little kid in previous movies, and to where they’re already playing with time machines and that liquid metal stuff pre-apocalypse.
OK, so this plot is really half-baked and there are a ton of things that are distracting and wrong with it, and we’re going to go through all of them because fuck this movie.
The entire premise relies on time travel behaving in a way that makes no sense at all and is clearly just a way for producers to force these sequences they wanted into the plot. When Reese goes back, he sees a terminator attacking John Connor, an event which apparently caused other terminators to go back in time to earlier points, hence changing the past. However, because the endpoint of a back-in-time event is in the past, the effects of these events should have already been felt. This is why alternate futures are theoretically a thing, but alternate pasts are not. That’s stupid, and it doesn’t make any sense. A significant portion of the audience, myself included, will spend the entire movie trying to figure out how the temporal relationships work, and they don’t in any way.
It is a complete mystery why the 1997 judgment day was delayed until 2017 or how this change impacts the plot in any way in the first place, but when deciding when to go to the future, Reese and Connor have a big fight about it so obviously it’s important to someone. During this fight, they forget that time moves forward on its own, and they can just go to 1997 to check and then hang out until 2017. That’s what Pops does, it’s not a big deal. But it’s a whole scene, and it’s annoying and stupid. It doesn’t make any kind of difference.
So they get to 2017 and we learn why producers wanted this movie to take place in the near future — they wanted Skynet to be connected to smartphones and tablets and to create fear about connectivity and have creepy shots of everyone on their tablets and Connor having a panic attack over how helpless we all are. Skynet, according to one extra, is revolutionary new software that will connect phones to tablets to computers to televisions for total connectivity 24 hours a day. This is technology that already exists. It hasn’t nuked us, and it’s not going to. Also, given that, famously, the very first thing Skynet does is start a nuclear apocalpyse, how worried are you really about it running your smartphone? This angry flail at having subtext fails because the subtext isn’t sub- anything, and also because it’s trying to play on fears that, again, make no sense at all.
Then John Connor shows up and they make a big deal about how he’s family and human and they know him, but then it’s revealed that he’s been made into a terminator and really isn’t human at all anymore, and he’s demoted to kill-on-sight status for the rest of the movie. This begs the question, why is he John Connor at all? Sarah Connor hasn’t become a mother yet, she knows consciously that this is her son, but she’s just met him, so the emotional attachment isn’t and should’t be there. Why couldn’t they just send a random terminator like they’ve done in every other movie? They could still have Jason Clarke play him and everything. It doesn’t make any kind of difference!
The plot is clearly an excuse to string action scenes together, and they’re OK I guess. John Connor is made up of millions of cell-sized particles held together by a magnetic field, and they have some cool shots with him struggling against an MRI machine and going through vents and stuff. There’s one cool thing that he does in the last fight with Pops where he breaks himself into particles and puts his entire body through the terminator. It’s neat. Having these scenes without turning the plot into the cluster of nonsense and irrelevant arguments that it does would be incredibly easy. Also, there are just as many action scenes that don’t make any sense.
The best part is Pops. Schwarzenegger has a blast returning to his iconic role, and they do the annoying thumbs up and creepy grin things from Judgment Day, but they’re put in new contexts and used in surprising ways such that it’s actually funny most of the time. He’s also the only character who doesn’t have anything that makes no sense at all or any kind of difference tied to him. It’s sad that he’s relegated to a movie that is as backwards as this one.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. There’s no reason for the alphabet to be in that order. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.