NB: This article contains spoilers for Terminator Genisys. Big huge ones. Strong advice: don’t read until you’ve seen the film.
“New mission, new fate,” reads the tagline for Terminator Genisys, a sequel that returns to the series’ 1984 past in order to mine a new future for its story.
But like Kyle Reese, who emerges blinking in the smog of an 80s Los Angeles, we’re bewildered to learn that the past is no longer as director James Cameron wrote it: Sarah Connor is no longer a vulnerable waitress, but a leather-clad survival expert raised by a house-broken T-800.
Kyle and Sarah’s objective is no longer to merely survive the attention of an unwanted assassin, but take the fight to Cyberdyne. If the first two films’ message was that the future is not set, then thinking behind Genisys seems to be that the past has a similarly fluid quality.
Like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, we have questions. So with inevitable spoilers, here are some of the thoughts that Genisys raised for us, and where possible, our attempts to provide some logical answers…
1. Who sent the “good” T-800 back if John Connor was attacked?
Like the original Terminator, Genisys begins in the ashes of a shattered Los Angeles. Resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) is leading the charge against Skynet. With the machines’ defence grid smashed, Skynet’s response is to send a Terminator back to 1984 to kill John Connor’s mother – thus cutting down the human resistance before it’s even begun.
Loyal soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney this time) volunteers to go back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator. But as the dazzling light of the time machine envelops him, he just has time to see one of his own men, Alex (Matt Smith). suddenly attack John Connor. There was, it seems, a new kind of Terminator in the resistance’s midst all along.
It’s a twist, that’s for sure, and explains why Matt Smith’s role in the movie’s been kept under wraps when so many other plot details have been roundly spoiled by Genisys’ ad campaign (much to director Alan Taylor’s chagrin).
But John Connor’s death (or assimilation into the Skynet…as we’ll see later), causes a bit of a problem with the movie’s own logic. The T-800 was sent back in time to protect a nine-year-old Sarah Connor and train her into the rock-hard survivalist we meet in the new 1984 timeline. But if John Connor’s dead and the resistance fighters around him potentially killed by Matt Smith’s T-5000 (as he’s listed on IMDb), who reprogrammed the T-800 and sent it back?
We’re guessing it must have been some other survivor of the resistance with an intimate knowledge of Sarah’s childhood (otherwise how would they know where she lived?). The film never attempts to provide an explanation itself.
2. In the future war, why do T-800s drive trucks?
This is one of those small details that sticks in your mind even when all the action sequences are playing out. In the future war, we see the resistance break into Skynet’s secure facility by hiding in the back of a truck. The truck is being driven by a T-800 endoskeleton.
Now, given that the very first Terminator introduced the automated Hunter Killers, isn’t it a bit odd that Skynet doesn’t have self-driving trucks? A small point, admittedly, but one that’s nagged at our brains since the final credits rolled.
3. Who sent back Lee Byung-hun’s T-1000?
Presumably John Connor, who in this version of events has been infected by Matt Smith’s T-5000. John is now a nano-machine thing called the T-3000.
4. Why hasn’t ‘Pops’ already put the bullets in their clips if he’s been preparing the arsenal for decades?
Two possible reasons. One – and I’m no gun expert – is that maybe it’s a bad thing to store ammunition with bullets ready in place. Secondly, could if have something to do with the T-800’s malfunctioning hand by that point? Hence him letting Kyle Reece do the bulk of the work.
5. Why does Kyle Reese have memories of a past he hasn’t directly experienced?
According to Schwarzeneger’s exposition-spouting T-800 (or Guardian, or Pops), Kyle experienced something called a “nexus point” as he travelled back in time – that is, he experiences the memories of his analogue in an alternate reality. In other words, the adult Kyle suddenly sees what his childhood would have been like if Judgment Day hadn’t dropped in 1997, which is where he gathers a vital bit of information: that a “killer app” called Genisys will spark Judgment Day in 2017.
To boil things down even further, Terminator Genisys‘ writers needed to come up with a rather convoluted explanation as to why the apocalypse has moved, and how characters in the past would know that the future had changed.
6. How did Sarah Connor know about Skynet in 1984?
This is explained. The ‘Pops’ T-800 was sent back in time to 1973, and the two met then. This is what causes the fractured timeline in the first place that the film hinges on. As such, by the time Kyle gets to Sarah in 1984, she knows pretty much everything she needs to know.
7. Wait, didn’t Terminator 3 reveal that Sarah Connor had died? And didn’t Judgment Day happen in 2004?
Well, she was certainly dead. Terminator 3 told us that she died in 1997, after the original Judgment Day failed to materialise, of leukemia. Her grave was used to store weapons. It would be fair to say that Terminator Genisys opts for the ‘retcon’ trick of ignoring the narrative choices made by Terminator 3 though, instead tying itself to the story of the first two films and picking up from there. Hence, Sarah’s alive and the Judgment Day of 2004 moves to 2017.
8. Why did the T-800 go and work for Cyberdyne?
This is one of Terminator Genisys‘ funniest throwaway lines. In a late scene, Schwarzenegger’s “Guardian” T-800 explains his detailed knowledge of Cyberdyne’s high-security building: “I helped build it,” he says, “before they laid me off.”
Now, this raises all kinds of questions in itself. We could be charitable and guess that the T-800 assisted in building Cyberdyne so he’d know how to dismantle it later. But why not cut to the chase and demolish the whole thing before it’s even finished? Also, can you imagine the job interview where the T-800 applies to be a labourer?
9. Why did the location shift from Los Angeles to San Francisco?
We’ve a feeling that the city of San Francisco is offering some decent incentives to Hollywood filmmakers of late. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Godzilla, and San Andreas are three recent films that all took place in San Francisco, and Genisys, like those movies, has its own action set-piece which takes place on the Golden Gate bridge. Given just how important the Los Angeles backdrop was to the first three films in the series, moving to such a well-thumbed movie location is more than little disappointing.
10. Of all the vehicles in the car park, why steal the school bus?
Speaking of the Golden Gate set-piece, here’s another question that immediately sprang to mind: shortly before it, Sarah, Kyle and the Guardian steal a school bus in an effort to get away from the T-3000. Of all the vehicles in the car park, why choose the largest and the slowest? Is it some oblique nod to Dirty Harry, another film shot in San Francisco?
More likely, it’s an attempt to give the film a big “trailer moment” – the sight of the bus flipping on the city’s most famous bridge.
11. Why was the T-800 late in 2017?
“Stuck in traffic,” was his excuse, which is a bit rubbish, really. Even Google Maps can adjust travel times to account for tailbacks and road works.
12. What is Genisys, and why is it connected to the world’s nuclear arsenal?
It’s a new operating system that is apparently workable across all computers and handheld devices – including, we’ll wager, the computers that control the military’s defence systems. The upside of Genisys is that everyone gets a fully-integrated, cloud-based piece of software that manages all their social media needs and folders full of cat pictures. The bad news is that Genisys hates cat pictures so much that it becomes self-aware and decides to destroy all mankind.
13. What kind of person pre-orders an operating system?
Indeed. Think about how disappointed all those PC owners who pre-ordered Batman: Arkham Knight were when they found out it was broken. Now spare a thought for the one billion (one billion!) early adopters who sign up for Genisys, only to discover that it’s evil and wants to kill them. It would take one hell of a patch update to fix that bug.
14. Much was made of the older Kyle Reese meeting his younger self. Wouldn’t an old Sarah and John Connor been around in 2017 as well?
Theoretically, yes. But they probably live in Los Angeles or somewhere, so their paths wouldn’t have crossed.
15. What was the evil John Connor’s reason for going back in time?
The closest we get to reasoning in the movie is when John Connor explains that every time Skynet sends a Terminator back, it’s Sarah Connor that’s pivotal to it being fooled.
It isn’t the cleanest plan in truth, but there is some logic to it. Skynet sends back a version of John, now infected with nanotechnology, and his plan is to persuade Sarah and Kyle to join up with the machines (we see this in the film). He doesn’t come armed with a very convincing Powerpoint presentation though, and unsurprisingly, Sarah and John decline the offer to join forces with the machines they know will wipe out most of life. They all fight instead.
16. What was Cyberdyne’s time machine in 2017 for?
We learn that the T-3000 version of John Connor has a job at Cyberdyne, which means this massive, high-security tech company has unknowingly had two Terminators working for it before the war’s even begun. At any rate, Connor 3000 uses his superior intelligence to help Danny Dyson (son of the earlier films’ computer genius Miles Dyson) to build a time machine.
What does he plan to use it for? More murderous antics, probably.
17. Why does the T-800 say “protect my Sarah?” Doesn’t that go against the logic of a Terminator?
Yes it does, entirely. A Terminator is made up of programming code, and the rules of their operation have been firmly established across the films to date. However, let’s hold out an olive branch. Could Robo John Connor have left some residue of sorts on him, that does a Star Trek-esque emotion chip thing with the T-800’s head? Might that somehow add an emotional core to his codebase?
Yeah, it’s clutching at straws, but it may be the case. Moving on…
18. How much was James Cameron paid to record his full endorsement of the film?
No idea. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he just likes it (he’s a fan of Paul W S Anderson’s Resident Evil movie, if that counts for anything). Or maybe Paramount stumped up for two Avatars and an Abyss?
19. What was that post-credits sting all about?
That’s Skynet coming back from the dead again. Until that point, as the closing voiceover confirms, there are still threads left open. Yet Terminator Genisys could still work as a standalone movie, given that Sarah and Kyle have ended up together.
The mid-credits sequence is the old Flash Gordon ending trick, leaving the path open for a future film. Only in this case, we know that there’s a firm plan for a trilogy of new Terminator films. It would be fair to assume that Terminator Genisys 2/Terminator 6 will use the system core of Genisys to spark up trouble again. It’s survived the explosion, ready to be rediscovered in whatever year the next script conference deems the Terminator films should travel to.
20. Where does the franchise go from here?
In terms of box-office, we’ll just have to wait and see – based on the critical notices so far, Genisys will have to work hard overseas (particularly in Asia) to bring in the kind of cash that would make a sequel a certainty. If the money does come in, Skydance have two further films planned, with the stage set for Matt Smith’s T-5000 to appear in all three.
21. How come “Pops” reappeared at the end?
Thanks to a lot of luck and more than a bit of screenwriting kung fu, the nice T-800 fell in a vat of mimetic pollyalloy liquid, which essentially “upgraded” him into a T-1000 hybrid.
22. Doesn’t this mean that the upgraded Pops could make himself look young in the next movie?
Shut up. Just shut up.