'Terminator Genisys': Is it a satisfying reimagining of the franchise's story?

An increasingly popular strategy for rebooting a franchise is to use time travel to create an entirely different plot. Does 'Terminator Genisys' pull this off?

Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/AP
The newest 'Terminator' film is 'Terminator Genisys.'

“Terminator Genisys,” the newest film in the storied sci-fi franchise, is here, and it’s using the series’ time travel concept to move forward into a new future.

You most likely know the term “reboot” by now – movies that aren’t sequels are reimaginings of a successful property, usually bringing on new actors and rethinking the original story in some way. The “Amazing Spider-Man” films brought on new actor Andrew Garfield and brought Spidey back to high school, also focusing on a new villain. This spring’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” stars Tom Hardy, not original star Mel Gibson, and imagines a new story in which Mad Max faces off with a new villain. The “Man of Steel” Superman movie brought on a new actor, Henry Cavill, as the superhero and brought back a famous villain from the franchise (and reinvented Superman only seven years after the last movie that centered on him).

So “Terminator” is the newest franchise to do this, but it’s also embracing a new method of the reboot: time-travel.

In the new “Terminator” film, characters fans know – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, John Connor, who leads the resistance against the evil Skynet, his mother Sarah, and his father Kyle Reese – are reimagined. In the original version of the story, Kyle was sent back by John to protect his mother from Skynet; in this version, Kyle figures out that they’re in an alternate reality and Sarah already knew he was coming. Therefore, technically, nothing that happens after that is in the “Terminator” universe we know, giving the filmmakers the freedom to create what plot they like. 

Another popular science-fiction franchise already tried this trick. The 2009 movie “Star Trek” centered on younger versions of such famous characters as Captain James T. Kirk and Spock. Any fans who were wondering how all this fit into their known fictional universe – wouldn’t Kirk and Spock have referred to these adventures before? Wouldn’t it have come up that Spock and Uhura were romantically involved? – soon had their questions answered. The original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) traveled through time, so the events presented in this 2009 film were in a different reality than the Spock and Kirk fans knew.

Will other movies embrace this reboot method? It’s an easy way to have the freedom to create your own story within a known property. However, studios will have to learn a creative lesson from this new “Terminator” movie, which is receiving negative reviews from critics. Associated Press writer Jake Coyle wrote of the new “Terminator” story, “Hand reboot-crazy Hollywood a plot device like a time machine and the most advisable course of action is to run for cover.” Los Angeles Times critic Mark Olsen found the movie to be “a mess… ‘reimagining,’ taking some things and not others... in this case apparently really means not entirely thinking things through… one big character twist… feels less like a surprise and more like the filmmakers just throwing up their hands and admitting they don't know how to get their way out of all this either.”

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