'Terminator Genisys': Does the Big Twist Blow Up the Franchise? (Analysis)

What if John Connor is the forerunner of something new?
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The twist in the latest trailer for Terminator Genisys reveals something that fans have been waiting for since the project was first announced — and, arguably, even earlier than that. Not only does it differentiate from itself from the earlier movies, it also suggests a possible future for the franchise that could transcend its roots. Spoilers and speculation abound, so be warned.

As the new trailer reveals, John Connor — in Terminator mythology, traditionally the leader of the human rebellion against the robotic overlords of Skynet — will be revealed to be some kind of cyborg in Genisys*, describing himself as "Not machine… not man… I'm more," while displaying some kind of robotic exoskeleton and regeneration abilities. "Survival is what you taught me," he tells his mother, teasingly, with the suggestion being that he's adapted in order to survive in the future. Does that mean he switched sides, or something else entirely…?

It's that latter option — the idea that there is a "something else entirely" out there — that's so interesting, and something that makes Genisys a far more interesting proposition than it had previously appealed. Somewhat fittingly, the conflict in the Terminator franchise has been a binary one: Robots vs. Humans. Even with the almost-prerequisite "robot changes sides and assists humans" twist introduced in Terminator 2, it's been those two sides, locked in eternal conflict. By introducing a hybrid of them, that eternal conflict is at least disrupted, making the future of the series more unknowable — and more intriguing as a result.

In many ways, it's reminiscent of a favored piece of Terminator-related storytelling: the 1992 comic book series RoboCop versus Terminator, which again introduced a cyborg into the proceedings and, in doing so, derails the Terminator mythology entirely, as the cyborg RoboCop sets out to destroy a nascent Skynet, which cannot simply destroy him because he's necessary for its own development (Time travel: always confusing when it comes to cause and effect). As a result of the conflict, RoboCop's humanity essentially "infects" part of the Skynet system and leads to mutual destruction, while the central "Robots vs. Humans" narrative is essentially left behind entirely.

(As with what we've seen of Terminator Genisys in trailers, RoboCop versus Terminator also features time travel crossing over with itself, so that the events of one trip through time can be counteracted by a second trip, and so on. It'd be interesting to find out if the comic, which is much loved in Terminator fan circles, influenced the writing of the movie.)

The introduction of a third faction into Terminator mythology not only offers the potential to similarly derail the Robots vs. Humans narrative (it's possible that the new John Connor is merely working as an agent of Skynet, but that's arguably the second most dull of any potential option available), it also leaves the space open for abandoning it entirely in future: What if John Connor is the forerunner for a new breed of hybrids that will push the former enemies together for the next movie? What if the hybrids will be the focus of the franchise going forward, with a move away from an action focus? (What if the next movie features Skynet trying to undermine the hybrids by sending Terminators back to assassinate President Lincoln? Okay, maybe that's unlikely, but it'd be great.)

For the first time since… well, 1991's Terminator 2, there's something new and unexpected potentially on offer in the new trailer for Terminator Genisys. The question now changes from "What's the point of rebooting the series?" to "Will the consequences of what's being teased make it into the finished movie?" That's a far more interesting way to lure audiences in when the movie opens on July 1.

(*All of the above is, of course, moot if Jason Clarke's character in the trailer is really just a shape changing Terminator that looks like John Connor. That would be the most dull of any potential option available, for those who were wondering.)

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