The Terminator series has always had an uneasy relationship with technology. The franchise relies on advancing tech to make its villains look cooler, while simultaneously (and ironically) warning about the dangers of our continued reliance on technology. Terminator Genisys—my new favorite bad Terminator movie—has finally crossed from cautionary tale into “get off my lawn” territory.
In case you haven’t seen Terminator Genisys, this is your spoiler warning: I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie (which puts me about on par with the studio itself). If you enjoy hate-watching movies, I advise stopping here. Terminator Genisys is easily my favorite hate-watch since Prometheus and I don’t want to steal the laugh fest from you. However, if you don’t want to watch a bad movie, feel free to continue.
The movie begins, as most Terminator films do, with the death of human civilization. Then, a couple years after the studio green lit the project, the film opens in the future after the machines have destroyed San Francisco and pretty much no other human city. For reasons that will become apparent later.
John Connor and Kyle Reese (played by I’m Not Sure and Does Anyone Really Care? respectively) share a bromantic moment before setting out on the final missions to destroy Skynet. One team goes to blow up Skynet’s main data center off screen—which probably would’ve been a much better movie to watch—while Jyle go off to find the time machine before Skynet can use it to start poking holes in the entire franchise’s continuity.
The bro-namic duo just barely miss seeing a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger travel back in time. In keeping with the franchise’s continuity (enjoy it, this will be the last time continuity matters in this film), John chooses Kyle to send back in time to protect Sarah in 1984. He drops a few final hints about how hot his mom is before stripping Kyle down and putting him in a time bubble. At the last minute, Matt Smith shows up and does something something to John Connor. The film kindly asks you to please forget this happened for the next hour so it can pretend to surprise you later.
When John Connor arrives in 1984, we get a few gratuitous scenes directly ripped off from the original Terminator film, smooshed together with some random scenes from T2 for good measure. The naked Arnold that was sent back in time tries to steal clothes from a band of punk kids, while a different, clothed Arnold, destroys the naked Arnold, retconning the entire first film in one scene. Later, a T-1000 shows up in 1984 because the first two Terminator films have probably blurred together in your memory anyway, right?
We learn that Good Guy Arnold (whom the movie insists on unironically referring to as “Pops” for the duration of the film) was sent back even further in time to protect Sarah Connor when she was 9, and has been with her ever since. We are never told who sent him back or why, and Arnold smugly claims that those files have been deleted from his system. You can leave your stupid questions about story and continuity in your pocket.
To be honest, everything up until this point was pretty okay. There’s an interesting role-reversal dynamic with Sarah Connor (played by Emilia Stormborn of House Clarke) saving Kyle Reese, instead of the other way around. Plus, the homages to the previous films, while ham-fisted and forced, at least seem to be done in a loving way, rather than made simply to spite the previous films (even though they completely erase the entire franchise’s history within the first hour).
Once Pops (ugh), Sarah, and Kyle kill off the remaining Terminators in 1984, however, shit goes completely off the fucking rails. Sarah and Pops (ffs) lead Kyle into some sewer lair where they reveal they have
a team of mutant turtles a god damn time machine. The T-800 that’s been protecting Sarah all these years doesn’t remember who sent him back in time, but apparently has detailed files on how to build a fucking time machine. Go figure.
Sarah reveals that their plan is to use their time machine to travel into the future to 1997 (why not just get to 1997 the normal way by waiting?) and destroy Skynet before it’s “born.” Kyle, however, has a better plan: because he had some kind of weird memory crossover after going back in time, he thinks they should go to 2017 to stop Skynet. Not 1997.
Kyle and Sarah then proceed to have the stupidest lover’s spat in alternate history about how much prep time they should sacrifice for no god damn reason. The entire argument—and indeed, the entire rest of the movie—hinges on the notion that just sitting around and waiting for time to take its natural course is not an option. You might briefly argue that the screenwriters just didn’t think about that, except that’s exactly how Pops gets to the future anyway.
Of course, Sarah eventually relents and agrees to travel forward in time to 2017 (or present-ish day). After they materialize in the middle of a freeway in the future, we quickly discover the reason that it was so important that we travel forward in time. You see, in this alternate timeline, Cyberdyne is a modern tech company providing consumer products. In just a few days, the company will release “Genisys,” a software update that’s going to change the world. It’s also briefly mentioned that Genisys also does stuff for the military, I guess.
To put that another way: Skynet only happens because you people use your smartphones too damn much. Everyone Sarah and Kyle meet in the future is obsessed with Genisys, texting, and probably Snapchat. Even the doctors that are treating them are obsessively using their smartphones. They mention that very soon, a Genisys update will rollout to everyone’s devices. Sarah and Kyle figure out that this is when Skynet will go online and destroy all humans.
The movie’s problems only become more glaring as time goes on at this point, and it all comes down to this central theme of “smartphones are bad.” In Terminator 3, we learn that the reason Skynet was able to destroy all humans was because the military put an AI in control of its missile defense system. In Genisys, however, there’s a single throwaway clip about how Cyberdyne also does work for the military, but the bulk of the movie focuses on this update rolling out to everyone’s phones that will tie all their devices together. Something that most modern devices already fucking do in some capacity. Here, though, it’s vaguely hinted that this a Bad Thing because of Reasons.
As Sarah and John escape the hospital, they bump into John Connor. The one from the future, battle scars and everything. Okay. They briefly question why John is in 2017, at which point John shares memories that only John Connor could have. That doesn’t really answer the question of how he ended up in 2017, but alright. Pops (is2g) then shows up and shoots John, revealing that he’s also some new kind of Terminator made of kinetic sand or some shit. Apparently in the future, Matt Smith pulled an Agent Smith and John Connor is now John Smith. Fuck me. Whatever.
After an entirely forgettable chase (I’m actually not even sure I definitely remember a chase), the gang heads to some bunker, while John Connor returns to Cyberdyne where it’s revealed that—DUN DUN DUUUNNN—he’s been working for Cyberdyne for years, helping them to develop things like time machines, liquid metal terminators, Genisys, and everything else the plot needs for a Terminator climactic showdown jambalaya.
Cyborg John Connor has apparently been working on Genisys for years, which means in addition to being hijacked as the movie’s villain (kind of a clever twist?), he’s also being shoehorned into a Silicon Valley executive role (sigh). Just in case you didn’t get that smartphones are supposed to be bad from the “Genisys is Skynet” thing they keep repeating, they bent the space time continuum to give Evil John Connor a job at Google.
The metaphor isn’t even subtle. Cyberdyne has a huge, sprawling campus in San Francisco. The company holds a press conference announcing pre-orders, and touting Genisys as—and this line is actually in the movie, multiple times—the “killer app.” Even the Genisys logo itself (seen above, and in nearly every fucking frame of the rest of the movie) is made up of clouds. You know, clouds? Like the cloud? Like “cloud computing”? Putting your files in the cloud? WHY AREN’T YOU PARANOID YET?
Or, to put that another way, Genisys is both the literal and figurative manifestation of this:
The remainder of the film is a nonsensical array of action scenes that are only as entertaining as they are silly, and for that very reason. At one point, Pops (kill me) pilots a helicopter as it falls sideways off a building, only to turn upwards at the last second, while Arnold flips off the Wright Brothers. Bad Guy Connor gets punched by magnets a lot. Skynet appears as a holographic little boy going through Computer Puberty until he regenerates into the 11th Doctor. Kyle and Sarah waste entirely too much ammo shooting out Skynet’s hologram projectors in what a smarter movie might consider a metaphor for futility.
The climax of the movie is an exercise in frustration, as the viewer endlessly screams at the screenwriter (“Why didn’t they just shoot through the window? Wait, why didn’t John use that power earlier? That is not how software distribution works!”) ultimately leading to a Days of Future Past-style soft reboot of the franchise. There’s also a mid-credits stinger that reveals Matt Smith isn’t really dead, and will likely be played in future movies by Peter Capaldi.
Presumably, Kyle Reese (who grew up in a world where robots hunted him his whole life) and Sarah Connor (who grew up in the late 70s) went on to have long, fulfilling lives in the tech-savvy 21st century. They were definitely not murdered by a mob that was angry at them for taking Gmail and Google offline for weeks, plunging the economy into a new recession. Though, if you do make a sequel, Paramount, that may not be a bad way to go.