Alan Taylor’s franchise refresh/retcon Terminator Genisys has opened to mixed reviews (read our Terminator Genisys review) but, with series star Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as a T-800 hero, plenty of moviegoers are headed back to the theater for the latest chapter of humanity’s battle with Skynet. Time-travel has always been at the center of Terminator’s premise but Genisys is the first entry to fully embrace a time (universe?) hopping storyline – as well as dealing with the subsequent ripple effect of messing with the past in order to change the future.
Given the challenges of time travel storytelling, paired with convoluted time-travel rules in the larger Terminator series mythology, Genisys includes several plot developments that may be confusing for certain moviegoers – especially on a first viewing. For that reason, we’re here to help breakdown how time travel works in the latest movie, as well as explain the film’s ending and mid-credits sequence.
Our discussion is going to be full of SPOILERS for Terminator: Genisys, so READ NO FURTHER unless you’re all caught up. You have been warned.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
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- Terminator vs. Genisys 1984 Timeline Comparison (This Page)
- Genisys is Skynet: Judgment Day Cancelled?
- Genisys Ending & Mid-Credits Scene Explained
Terminator vs. Genisys 1984 Timeline Comparison
As spoiled by the Terminator Genisys trailers, Taylor’s entry in the series presents a version of 1984 with subtle and not-so-subtle differences – compared to James Cameron’s 1984 original. However, it’s important to note that the new 1984 isn’t just a different version, but 1984 in an alternate universe. The Terminator multiverse might not be apparent to casual viewers, but franchise fans know this time-travel/alternate timeline precedent was established in Cameron’s Judgement Day sequel. For Genisys, Kyle Reese is sent back in time into a different past – thanks to the intentional or unintentional intervention of Skynet (as Matt Smith’s T-5000) at the exact moment of Reese’s entry into the Time Displacement Device.
Speaking about Smith’s T-5000 (aka Adam) in a recent interview with Crave, the film’s writers made it clear that the T-5000 wasn’t the product of Skynet and the Connors’ past battles, but a visitor from an entirely different universe – one that has observed multiple ways the war could play out and, as a result, sets in motion a plan to ensure that the machines win as many times as possible:
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.
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.
In the first Terminator film, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was a helpless nineteen-year old who would have been easy prey for the malevolent T-800 if future Resistance warrior Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) had not followed the Terminator back through time and intervened. Skynet’s plan was simple: Kill Sarah Connor in the past, before she can become pregnant and mother Resistance leader John Connor. Without John Connor, there would be no Resistance, and Skynet would win the post-Judgment Day war.
In the original timeline, Reese succeeds in protecting Sarah from the T-800, giving his life in the process (but not until after he and Sarah copulate and, unknowingly, conceive John). Skynet would later send other Terminators back in time to 1995 and 2004, in order to kill John (as seen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). Both machines failed, thanks to protection from reprogrammed T-800 protectors, but Sarah and John were never able to prevent Judgment Day – only postpone it.
Genisys catches up with Connor on the final night of his war with Skynet, where the Resistance engages in a two-pronged offensive, destroying the Skynet defense grid and attacking the AI’s secret weapon: a time machine. As predicted, Connor and Reese arrive too late to stop the T-800 from traveling through time to 1984 and, in line with prior installments, Reese volunteers to follow, with Connor knowingly sending his own father to protect Sarah.
However, the version of Earth’s future depicted in Genisys is different from that presented in the original movie – thanks to Skynet’s past and future meddling. In a different timeline, Skynet took an organic human form (to allow travel through time), infiltrates the Resistance (as “Alex”), and attacks John Connor at the moment Reese enters the time machine – altering John’s DNA, replacing his human cells with machine cells, effectively turning John into a new Terminator (the T-3000).
Skynet’s intervention creates a “key moment” that causes Reese to travel through time and the multiverse to an alternate version of 1984 – with different past events. Genisys, then, marks the start of a new timeline in the Terminator film series, so we do not yet have all the pieces to definitively explain why the future is different from the story Reese relays to Sarah in The Terminator – but it is a different timeline within the multiverse.
Still, given that the Genisys‘ opening act is the furthest point in the post-Judgment Day future audiences have witnessed, it’s likely that the creation of Alex/the T-5000 (Matt Smith) will be revealed in Genisys sequels. After all, since we still don’t know who sent “Pops” back in time to protect nine-year-old Sarah, there’s no way of knowing what other yet-to-be revealed changes have been made in this new past and future.
Whether the T-5000 intentionally sent Reese to a different timeline (or it was an unintended consequence), the future has changed – as has the past. Genisys makes it clear that the first film’s T-800 was no longer the first Terminator sent back to kill Sarah. In the new timeline, a T-1000 was sent back to 1973 but was thwarted by Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character Pops – who spent the next 11 years taking care of Sarah, training her, and helping her destroy other Terminators Skynet sent through time.
As a result, when Reese appears in 1984, Sarah is not the naive and helpless girl that he was expecting to protect, but a battle-hardened warrior who already knows her importance as well as key future events.
One of those events is the arrival and location of Reese, along with the original T-800, which Sarah and Pops quickly dismantle. But due to the timeline changes, Reese encounters a T-1000 upon his entrance in 1984 – presumably one of many that Skynet has peppered through time to hunt Sarah and John. Knowing that it might only be a matter of time before they slip up and are killed by one of Skynet’s Terminators, Sarah and Pops built a bootleg time machine to travel directly to 1997 and prevent Skynet from coming online (and subsequently stop Judgment Day).
However, as the pair plot a course for 1997, Reese recalls new memories; flashes that appeared to him in the time machine, of an alternate past. A past where Judgment Day never happened but Skynet found a different means to destroy humanity in 2017…
NEXT PAGE: Genisys is Skynet: Judgment Day Cancelled?
Genisys is Skynet: Judgment Day Cancelled
Sarah initially dismisses Reese’s memories as hollow dreams of a childhood he didn’t get to have. At the time, Reese doesn’t understand the memories but Pops explains that, theoretically, the future Resistance fighter was able to peek into both timelines – because he was time-traveling at the exact moment of a key change in history: the death of John Connor. If Pops is correct, when the T-5000 murders John and transforms him into the T-3000, the timeline fractures – allowing Reese to retain memories of his own past and a new past (where Judgment Day never happened).
The memories reveal two key things:
- A younger version of himself muttering in the mirror: “Genisys is Skynet” (alongside flashes of the Genisys product launch countdown).
- An interaction between his alternate younger self and Sarah Connor – where she traces his palm and instructs him to run.
“There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves” was one of the biggest mantras of the original Terminator trilogy, and remains a driving force in the series. However, as far as the overarching plot goes, the Terminator films are still a closed loop of events (within a larger multiverse) – which can be manipulated for better or worse by humans and Skynet: John Connor sends Reese back in time to save Sarah from the T-800, they fall in love and conceive John, crush the T-800, Cyberdyne finds smashed T-800 parts and creates Skynet, unleashing Judgment Day, after which John finds an orphaned Reese, they fight side by side in Skynet’s war, and John sends Reese back in time to save Sarah from the T-800.
As a result, it’s conceivable that, as mentioned earlier, minor changes to the Terminator timeline resulted in an altered future (after all, Judgment Day was revealed to have been postponed from 1995 to 2004) – one where, unknown to John and the resistance, Skynet has already sent multiple Terminators back through time.
Thanks to future humans and machines meddling in the past, Judgment Day is once again delayed – this time from 2004 to 2017. Instead of a nuclear attack, the altered future Skynet crafts a new plan to wipe away human kind: an operating system capable of infiltrating billions of devices around the world. To that end, Skynet plants T-3000 John Connor back in 2014 as a tech advisor to Cyberdyne, guiding development on tools and technology that Skynet, once fully operational, can then use against its creators (including a new time machine, T-1000/liquid metal assembly line, and a cloud-based consumer platform: Genisys).
Thanks to his un-lived memories, Reese recognizes that Judgment Day never happened in the new past, convincing Sarah and Pops that they will need to jump to 2017 to stop Skynet (as his younger self recites in Kyle’s ‘memory’). Since battle damage on the T-800 has exposed his metal endoskeleton (and only organic tissue can travel through time), he cannot travel with Sarah and Reese – forcing the T-800 to take “the long way” around (read: living the thirty year gap), which Pops uses to infiltrate Cyberdyne and prepare for impending battle with Skynet in 2017.
When Sarah and Reese arrive in 2017, they are met by the T-3000 John Connor who has already been in the past for 3 years (since 2014), aiding in the creation of Skynet. He is needed since, in this universe, Cyberdyne never discovered and retro-engineered the original T-800 chip. Aside from slight upgrades to the shape-shifting T-1000 models, the T-3000’s greatest asset is John’s memories, which the human-turned-machine uses to anticipate Sarah and Reese’s strategies – not to mention prey upon emotion and psychological vulnerability.
Still, once Pops intercepts the T-3000 and the machine is revealed to be a puppet of Skynet, the Genisys story locks into a race against time – to reach Cyberdyne and destroy Genisys before the A.I. can upload and take control of consumer technologies (as well as military installations) around the globe.
NEXT PAGE: Genisys Ending & Mid-Credits Scene Explained
Genisys Ending & Mid-Credits Scene Explained
When Danny Dyson (son of T2 scientist Miles Dyson) introduces the OS to press and Cyberdyne employees, Genisys is presented as a polite (and un-intimidating) child but, as the program prepares for upload, Skynet evolves, growing in speed, sophistication, and power (subsequently accelerating the countdown). Without a physical form, Skynet relies on the T-3000 to thwart Sarah, Reese, and Pops – who intend to detonate the entire Cyberdyne facility, including Skynet’s central core, before the A.I. can escape isolation and spread, unchecked, across the world (“Now I’m here… soon I’ll be everywhere”).
The heroes manage to stop the T-3000 and Genisys. Sarah and Reese detonate explosives inside Cyberdyne, leveling the entire complex while Pops confines the T-3000 inside Cyberdyne’s under-construction time machine. While not yet functional, the machine still fries non-organic materials (think aluminum foil in a microwave) and, since Connor is in non-organic Terminator mode, the T-3000 is destroyed by the machine’s magnetic waves. In the process, Pops is inadvertently thrown from the magnetic field, into a vat of raw liquid metal (T-1000-style mimetic polyalloy). Despite critical damage to the T-800’s body, the polyalloy networks with Pops’ CPU chip – resurrecting Sarah’s protector with new T-1000-style resistance, weapon crafting and, potentially, shape-shifting.
The development is, without question, a moment of serendipity for Pops, and a way to provide the T-800 with new abilities in future installments, but aside from standard sci-fi suspension of disbelief, the idea isn’t entirely far-fetched. After all, the T-800 had previously informed Reese and Sarah that mimetic polyalloy is harmless – until it is connected to a CPU. As a result, the Pops upgrade is similar to removing a fully-functional CPU and hard drive from a smashed and inoperable computer, then installing the parts in a new (as well as improved) casing. Fused with the liquid metal, Pops retakes physical form – and rescues Sarah and Reese from the rubble of Cyberdyne’s destruction.
Even with the Genisys upload thwarted, this Terminator storyline is still a closed time loop – meaning that Sarah and Pops must ensure that Reese’s past self (in Judgment Day’s war-torn future) receives the message that Genisys is Skynet. To that end, they travel to Reese’s childhood home and reconnect with pre-teen Kyle Reese – who memorizes the warning (creating the memory that future-Reese sees when he enters the time machine). Time-travel gurus will find that some Genisys plot details do not line-up – or remain unanswered. Since Genisys was planned as the first entry in a new Terminator movie series, we simply do not have all of the pieces yet – meaning that moviegoers may not fully understand the new timeline until future chapters fill in the gaps.
That said, a mid-credits scene (revealing that Skynet’s system core survived Cyberdyne’s destruction), leaves room for the filmmakers to further toy with the timeline – or add connective tissue to assure that unanswered questions are resolved in sequels.
Audiences will have to wait for Terminator 6 (Insert Catchy Subtitle) to know exactly how the events of Genisys have influenced this new future; however, considering the system core remains intact and powered, with a holographic projection of Skynet confirming that the Genisys program has also survived, it’s clear this Earth hasn’t prevented a future showdown with the machines.
It remains to be seen how Skynet will strike back but Paramount Pictures has successfully reset the franchise, opening up new directions for exploration, as well as remaining questions: Who sent Pops back in time to protect nine-year-old Sarah? Not to mention, given their jump forward in time, and the unique factors of human genetics, pregnancy, and heredity, will Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese still conceive a son (John) – rather than a daughter (Jane)? Even so, has Judgment Day been postponed far enough into the future for John or Jane Connor (who would be born three decades after John’s original birthdate) to lead the Resistance?
Like any quality piece of entertainment, a lot of this is subjective and there are multiple ways of interpreting the larger Terminator Genisys story, so feel free to (respectfully) share your interpretation with fellow moviegoers in the comment section below.
If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Terminator Genisys Spoilers Discussion. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Terminator Genisys episode of the SR Underground podcast.
Terminator Genisys is now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
Quotation Source: Crave