I don’t know whether it was my years of watching a certain Galifreyan timelord in a blue Police box flip-flopping through time with reckless abandon in Doctor Who or that my favourite sub-genre of sci-fi is time travel, but barring one small intentionally obscured detail, I really was not at all confused by the temporal gymnastics that went on in Terminator Genisys. Although I wouldn’t think it, I must be smarter than your average
bear film critic, because I’ve seen numerous reviews mentioning how the reviewer couldn’t make heads or tails of the time-travel/alternate timelines plot that the film used to simultaneously revisit and reboot events from the first two films.
Well, if those reviewers were confused before then director Alan Taylor is about to put a serious whammy on their brains, as he explains that “we don’t expect anybody to get” the film’s plot. In what I consider to be a seriously mind boggling and utterly laughable admission, Taylor spoke to The Daily Beast and laid out what he considers the film’s various timelines, and how none of it makes sense, but the audience should just nod and smile and move on with their lives.[MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET!]
“We start in 2029 during the Future War, then go back to… 1984, jumping into… 2017. So that’s three… But when we start the movie we’re actually pre-Judgment Day, because we’re watching a happy beautiful world that was lost. And then Judgment Day happens. Then we cut ahead to…Post-Judgment Day. So that’s actually two more time frames, just within the prologue. Which brings us up to five. Then when we time travel with Kyle he’s remembering an alternate timeline, which was his 13th birthday in the happy time-verse, which would be 2012 seen in two different ways. And the seventh is when we flash back to the 1970s when Sarah is saved by the Guardian [Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800]. That’s my favorite, because that’s my 11-year-old daughter playing the young Sarah Connor.”
“Arnold has one of the most unpronounceable, impenetrable expositional lines in the movie when he says, ‘It’s possible to remember two time frames when you enter the quantum field during a nexus moment,’ and nobody has any idea what he’s talking about,” the director explained. “But yes, it makes sense. We don’t expect anybody to get it — then Kyle turns to Sarah and says, ‘Can you make him stop talking like that?’ It’s a way to say, you don’t really have to get this. If you want to nerd out, it’s all there, I think it’s coherent. But hopefully we can move on.”
“My favorite part is using humor to sort of skate over it. It’s a way of saying, ‘You may not get this, but who cares? Keep going!’ There’s a scene where J.K. Simmons [who plays a detective] comes in and says, ‘What you’re doing seems really complicated.’ And [Sarah Connor] says, ‘We’re here to save the world!’ And he says, ‘I can work with that.’ Basically, that’s what we’re telling the audience: Go with it, we’re saving the world.”
Look I don’t want to be the guy who tells somebody how to do their job, but Alan Taylor clearly has no idea what alternate timelines are, does he? If you show what happens before an event, show the event itself, and then show what happened after the event, those are not 3 separate alternate timelines. They’re just various points one one timeline. So how many timelines are there?
Well, in my life-long sci-fi geek, time travel film student, fledgeling physics nerd understanding, Genisys has two timelines (plus a third we never see): There’s the original timeline (let’s call it Timeline A) that results in John Connor sending Kyle Reese back to stop the original Terminator, and the new timeline (Timeline B) that Kyle instead finds himself in, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Pops” version of the Terminator was sent back in time to save a 9-year old Sarah Connor, and in so doing changes events as we know them. This second, new timeline, is where all the action from the film after the prologue plays out – whether they’re in 1984 or 2017, it’s still just different points on the same timeline. Clear? I said, “Clear”, Mr. Taylor? Good.
Now, there is another timeline though, and it’s the one where Matt Smith’s character comes from. It’s revealed in Timeline B that Skynet becomes Genisys, a more “user friendly” app that infiltrates modern connected society instead of the military like in Timeline A, and it’s Matt Smith (who ironically played the very same Timelord I mentioned up top) that becomes the young digital face of Genisys. But we first meet a different, physical version of him at the end of the events of Timeline A, where it’s his actions, interfering with the time travel process and infecting John Connor somehow, that results in Kyle Reese ending up in Timeline B and John becoming some new human/Terminator hybrid.
So who was that other physical version of Matt Smith’s “Skynet” though, and where did he come from? Writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier spilled the beans to CraveOnline.
Laeta Kalogridis: [Matt Smith’s Skynet is the change that creates this new timeline]. You see in the beginning. He grabs John. He’s not from this timeline. He’s from an alternate universe, in the multiverse, another of the many universes that exist. That Skynet is not from that timeline.
Patrick Lussier: It is the understanding that for Skynet, finally realizing that “I cannot just wipe out the humans, I can never defeat the humans unless I have the best weapon that humans have, and that is him.”
Laeta Kalogridis: Or, more simply put, if you have a Skynet that has witnessed multiple iterations of the rise of the machines, which Skynet has…
Patrick Lussier: And being wiped out over and over…
Laeta Kalogridis: This Skynet has been to this universe, and this universe, and this universe. That’s why he says, “I came a very long way to stop you.” He’s not from here. So he’s watched it. He’s watched it happen a bunch of different times, and each time he’s seen it there is a different result but the same result.
So Skynet [Matt Smith] can now hop between dimensions?
Laeta Kalogridis: This particular Skynet, from another place. This Skynet – not from the original two movies – can.”
Firstly, I recommend you check out the full interviews with both Taylor and Kalogridis/Lussier, as they are both quite interesting and also shows all three parties’ reactions to the fact that the studio decided to reveal the film’s biggest plot twist in a trailer. Secondly, yes, we now have a Terminator multiverse. Maybe this could be how they link up the new Terminator TV series that’s being planned?
As Taylor explained in his interview as well, there were lots of things in this movie like this multiverse aspect that was intentionally not touched on – who sent Arnie back to the earlier time period, being the biggest mystery – as they were leaving them for the sequels which Paramount already has penciled in for release in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Problem is, with Genisys under performing at the box office, will we ever actually get to see those sequels? Terminator Salvation was also supposed to be the start of a new trilogy before it also didn’t make the mark commercially and critically, and ended up being completely cut out of continuity. Despite Arnie’s insistence that he’ll always be back, I don’t think we want to see the 67-year old actor reprising this role again in 10 years time in some new reboot that just ignores the events of Terminator Genisys. Hasta La Vista, dignity?
Last Updated: July 7, 2015