Before we get into this, I want to make it as clear as possible that this is going to be a spoiler soaked discussion of Terminator Genisys. Granted, every so-called spoiler’s straight from the official trailer, but if you were somehow able to avoid it until now, this is your chance to bow out and be none the wiser before its July release.
A new Terminator Genisys trailer hit the internet earlier this week and, by God, was it a doozy. Rather than save its game-changing reveal for its release, Skydance Productions (a division of Paramount) spoiled the movie’s big twist smack dab in the middle of its marketing campaign. John Connor – champion of mankind – has betrayed humanity. Throwing his lot in with the machines, he’s transformed himself into some kind of next gen Terminator and gone back in time to do what Skynet never could: kill his mother before he ever had a chance to be born.
And although the Internet is rightly embroiled at the thought of spoiling such a massive twist in a franchise built around the inherent heroic destiny of John Connor before anybody’s had the chance to see it, I couldn’t help but gush over just how awesome that twist actually was. It’s everything that I’ve ever wanted to see in the franchise come to fruition.
I’ve argued for this basic setup before: “if your central premise is something as wibbly-wobbly as time travel, why not bend the franchise back in on itself?” Why not take its relatively simple premise of traveling back in time to destroy your unborn enemy (and conversely to save your unborn savior) and transform it into a temporal ouroboros: traveling back in time over and over again, mucking about with timelines and histories until the linear course of events warps into something grotesque and altogether unrecognizable?
While it is a leap in logic for the series, it’s no more farfetched than sending your father back in time to impregnate your mother with you. John Connor was never a well-adjusted, model citizen. He was the son of a teenaged mother whose father died before he was born. Fearing the machines’ uprising, Sarah Connor’s admittedly well-meaning parenting robbed him of a stable home environment. They moved constantly from place to place, going anywhere Sarah could learn something that might help John in the war to come. And when you start to think about the kinds of people who would have the kinds of skills she was seeking out, it’s not hard to guess what kind of effect hardcore survivalists and likely domestic terrorists would have on him.
By the time he was 10, his mother had been incarcerated in a mental hospital and he wasn’t allowed to see her. He was shipped off to uncaring foster parents and quickly accrued a fairly impressive police record using the skills that she had taught him. After the events of Judgment Day, he lost the only real father-figure he had ever known (the T-800) and because his mother was still an escaped mental patient, they packed up once again and lived on the run.
His mother only survived another 6 years after that, 3 of which was spent battling leukemia. Afterwards, he became a paranoid drifter: working odd jobs, stealing pet medication and living off the grid. Terminator Salvation saw him develop into a disobedient officer within the human resistance that was all too willing to oppose his superiors if he thought that it would serve the greater good.
Is it really all that surprising that this habitually abandoned and systematically abused character would end up turning on a humanity that he had never truly been a part of except in opposition to extinction? Is it really inconceivable that the machines could broker a deal with him, or that he would be so resentful of the mess that his life had become as a direct result of his mother’s poor parenting that he would be willing to kill her and erase himself from the annals of history altogether?
And don’t get me wrong. I do not for one second think that the script’s main concerns were narrative. It’s an obvious attempt to reboot a decades old franchise that’s finally caught up to itself. This is the Days of Future Past of Terminator movies: one last temporal ride to unravel the franchise’s tangled continuity and justify as many more time-traveling sequels as they can squeeze out of the franchise before doing it all over again.
The thing is, though, that I simply don’t care. Greed might not always be good, but it’s the only reason why we’re getting what’s shaping up to be the best film of the franchise (or at least as close as anything’s come to dethroning Judgment Day in that regard). The twist, although poorly revealed through marketing, is intelligent, unexpected and yet completely plausible given the character’s broken childhood and the time twisting nature of the series. I can only hope that the movie itself lives up to that promise.