I don’t think anyone was really begging for another installment of The Terminator series—and this weekend’s box office results may also confirm that. Regardless, here we are with Terminator Genisys sitting in our theaters and, for some of us, in our minds as well.
It is painfully evident at times in this film that Paramount Pictures is simply interested in cashing in on this franchise a few more times and the beauty of time travel (as a plot device, not as something that resembles any working theories on actual time travel) is that it allows this franchise to undergo a face-lift without having to claim that they are just remaking, or rebooting, the original(s). This gives us Sarah Connor (played by a series third actress, Emilia Clarke), Kyle Reese (third actor, Jai Courtney), John Connor (sixth actor, Jason Clarke), and the terminator (still Arnold Schwarzenegger). But how do these new pieces work together? Are we really adding anything to the Terminator mythos?
Sadly, while Jason Clarke gives us a serviceable John Connor, our Kyle and Sarah lack most any on-screen chemistry. I am personally blaming Jai Courtney here, who I still don’t see as a Hollywood leading man. Where’s the charisma? Where’s the charm? Well, I’ll tell you– Arnold has it all! For all the time-hopping, nonsensical plot twists, and straight up face-palming that Genisys offers us as movie-goers, what it does not lack is a heaping helping of Schwarzenegger giving a performance that is incredibly compelling and enjoyable to watch. When you add the latest special effects and some crowd pleasing future battle scenes, Genisys does deliver the kind of Summer Blockbuster set pieces that are ideal for shoveling copious amounts of popcorn into ones mouth.
So what are we really saying? Surely there is more to the Terminator universe than cool special effects and Arnold dropping one-liners to have us return for the fifth cinematic (and sixth overall) installment in the series. I had to really stop and ask myself what even made me interested in another excursion into that world. It is no secret that I am a big sci-fi fan. I also have a not-so-secret love for cheesy-bad, one-liner filled, action films. But it’s more than that. I think it’s my love affair with the idea of time travel. The idea that I could craft a better present (and future) by optimizing the past—that’s what brings me back.
I really sit and wonder from time to time (we even talked about this at length on our Reel World Theology episode about Edge of Tomorrow) about what I would do if I could go back and change the past. Not only what I would do if I could change the past, but could I make my present better? Could I make my future better? I’m content, but honestly, it’s not everything I want.
Our characters in Genisys (and throughout the entire Terminator franchise) are constantly wrestling with this concept of fate and the idea that they are the captains of their own ship—that they can change things—that they know best. While I wouldn’t assume a cyborg-lead extermination of humanity would be ideal, it makes me hesitant to think that humans would know the best course of action for the best future. Of course, there is not a lot of room in many sci-fi films for the sovereignty of God. Fortunately, there is a lot of room for it in our reality.
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ –Isaiah 46:9-10
I often wrestle with what I would change and why. What would really happen if I changed something and what are my motivations? We often have the best intentions, right? I would be a little richer. I wouldn’t have said that hurtful thing to that person. I could have stopped a cyborg takeover. I could have killed Hitler! Noble. Just. Righteous! Sadly, even with the best of motivations, my intentions nearly always remind me of Proverbs and Romans.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” –Proverbs 19:21
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28
God’s plans are not only more well thought out, they are working together for good.
I think the hardest part of this to really grasp is that “good” doesn’t always (in fact, rarely) means “comfort.” Too often, when I think about changing my fate, I am really thinking about changing my personal comfort.
Genisys, much like its predecessors only scratch the surface of human perspective. In T2, we see a young John Connor agree that Skynet should be stopped, but tells his bodyguard terminator that it isn’t allowed to kill and later he tries to stop his mom, Sarah Connor, from killing Miles Dyson, the man who would eventually be responsible for creating Skynet. He offers a different perspective. In Genisys, Kyle Reese is ready to kill all terminators, but Sarah convinces him that some can serve a purpose, like “Pops”. She offers a different perspective. While these only scratch the surface of addressing our limited human perspective on any situation, it does ask us to pause and consider it. What would be the best course of action? Who gets to live and die? With our limited knowledge of time and space, how do we really know what is working for good? Heck, without an agreed upon set of beliefs, how can we even agree what is good now, much less what will be good later? This is where God and His sovereignty step in.
With God a reality, we can think less of ourselves and how we could do things better and, instead; think more about “His Kingdom come. His will be done.” We are told the best thing in the world is when we are totally in control, but I submit that it is more comforting to know that the buck doesn’t stop with me or my knowledge. Because without God’s wisdom, I am just taking my best guess.
Another reality is that, as a film, Terminator Genisys isn’t really asking us to stop and consider much. It doesn’t break any ground like the first two films did, but it isn’t completely forgettable like the third. It also certainly doesn’t take itself as seriously as the Christian Bale lead Salvation. Despite its convoluted plot (see a great explanation of all the time lines here), gaping plot holes, and its belligerence at constantly ignoring rules or actions of existing events in the Terminator universe, Terminator Genisys is pretty fun. There are a ton of great callbacks to the previous movies and, seriously, this has to be Arnold having more fun with a role than I have seen in a long time.
Ultimately, if you don’t stop to think about things like science, continuity, plot, character development, or rational thought and, instead, focus on things like callbacks, one liners, special effects, JK Simmons, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you will enjoy this one! Did you check out Terminator Genisys this weekend? Did you like it? Would you travel back in time to stop yourself from seeing this movie?