There’s been a lot of bad Terminators in the past 23 years. And not “bad Terminators” like a George Thorogood, all-the-way-through-the-muscle-tissue kind of “bad.” I mean disappointing, weak, meandering Terminators. After 1991, when cinemas everywhere were graced with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we’ve suffered through two mostly-unnecessary sequels and a bevy of video games, comics and novels that exist as filler. Also, admittedly, a TV show that was neat but hasn’t made any lasting impression on the films.
Terminator Genisys, just by existing as a Terminator movie made in the 21st century, runs a very real risk of ending up in that same pile. But if you’ve seen the trailer for Terminator Genisys that dropped last week, you may have noticed something. Terminator Genisys is trying very hard not to be associated with the crummier films in the Terminator oeuvre, Terminator Salvation and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Instead, it’s trying oh so very hard to make you think of the original two; the two Terminator films that are undeniable sci-fi classics.
Yes, some of that is obvious. Really obvious. Like how Terminator Genisys will use time travel to throw us back into the setting and story of the first Terminator (with a T-1000 thrown in there for good measure), or how, at the trailer’s end, a T-800 with Doc Brown hair throws out the required “I’ll be back.” But there’s something else at play here; a method of early Terminator association that’s slightly more under the skin. Specifically, that a healthy portion of this trailer’s action and story beats have been lifted, shot-for-shot and moment-for-moment, right from The Terminator and Terminator 2.
Thanks to the magic of screenshots, let’s find out what parts of that trailer we’ve seen before.
2009’s Terminator Salvation took one very large visual leap with the franchise. When the first two Terminator films flashed forward to the future, everything we saw had a very specific color palette. The sky was black, and the bombed-out husks of society were about the same (maybe a dark brown or a blue here or there. Two colors stuck out: the metallic grey glint of Skynet’s army, and nifty purple lasers.
Terminator Salvation, on the other hand, had loads of daylight footage and an entirely new color palette- light brown, mostly. Terminator Genisys has nixed that and gone right back to what works. Sure, there’s a little orange in there, but that’s mostly due to multiple explosions. In the future, the night is dark and full of lasers. And that’s what matters most.
Next up in the trailer is one I actually wasn’t Terminator-savvy enough to spot (disappointing, as I’ve seen T2 more times than I can count, and burned through all the Ultimate Edition DVD Special Features back when DVD special features were a thing people cared about).
Early on in the Terminator Genisys trailer, John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) are stopped in their tracks when this excessively large robot falls from the sky.
It turns out (thanks to the good people at /Film) that the bot in question is an HK Centurion- a scrapped future-war machine that showed up in the concept art for T2, but never in the film. Makes sense- when trying to copy Terminator 2, what better resources are there than old, untouched pieces of Terminator 2?
Now, the stuff you’re expecting. Terminator Genisys follows Kyle Reese as he goes about his 1984 Terminator mission, until sweeping the rug away and revealing that messing with the future has drastically altered the past. Or something. This much, we’ve gleaned from the trailer. And, like any dutiful Terminator recreation, it looks pretty damn close to the original.
Here are the cops who first stumble onto Reese (although in Genisys, they seem to have been time-swapped for a T-1000).
And here’s Kyle skulking shirtlessly through a department store.
The rabbit hole goes far deeper than a trailer could ever explain- apparently, costume designer Susan Matheson browbeat Nike until they made her a custom pair of Nike Vandals (the shoes Kyle steals from the store). Even if it meant Nike shutting down production just to make one set of Terminator shoes.
The shot-for-shot, shoe-for-shoe remake doesn’t last forever. It comes to an exploding halt as soon as Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) blasts through the store window in an armored car and, as necessary in every Terminator film, barks “come with me if you want to live.”
Except that Sarah totally stole her idea from T2. Who knows how time travel works, but maybe Genisys Sarah still remembers that time when she and John were trapped in the lobby of the Cyberdyne building, and their loyal Arnold Schwarzenegger crashed through the plate glass window in an armored car to rescue them. Whether she remembers it or not, she’s totally copying his move.
In stalling for time while Kyle scrambles into the car, Sarah pops off a few shots into the pursuing T-1000- one of which hits his eye, dead center.
Because she’s using a pistol and not a shotgun, the ensuing “T-1000 shloops is eye back into place” is a lot less involved (the shotgun leaves a way bigger hole). Clearly, though, we’ve seen this before.
Next up, the trailer pulls another armored car/department store move and blends two separate references into the same scene. First is the attentive redo of a classic Terminator moment- in this case, a mint in box 1984 Arnie unfurling for the very first time.
Man does that Schwarzenegger look convincing. In motion it’s a little plasticky, but in a still image, it’s as though someone simply fudged with the brightness on the original pic. Were it not for the differences in the background (whoever was in charge of finding an identical Terminator garbage truck couldn’t find one, it seems), I might have assumed this to be a weird, slightly-off-but-still-magnificent Photoshop of the real thing.
Interrupting the moment comes another Schwarzenegger, brandishing a shotgun and walking straight-on into the camera. In both cases, the shotgun is a surprise- in T2, the weapon’s hidden in a box of roses (prompting a wonderfully melodramatic step-on-rose-in-slow-motion moment), while in Genisys, Schwarzenegger begins by speaking to his past self, then pulls the gun from off-camera. They’ve even got matching leather jackets- although the older Schwarzenegger has a hoodie on under his. Perhaps, denoting that this T-800 has been hanging with humans long enough to go from the “Hasta la vista, babies” of the ’90s to the hoodies of today.
As the trailer draws to its large-scale, fast-cuts action ending, there’s less time to dwell on moments stolen from either T1 or T2. But a pair of images stick out. First is an iconic shot of Schwarzenegger contemplating his now skinless arm.
In T2, the T-800 slashes and peels off his own skin without much (or any) consideration; just doing what John Connor requested. The Genisys Terminator bears what looks like an actual grimace on his face, which would again imply he’s grown some in all those years it took for his skin to age. Or he’s just grumbling at the obvious mediocrity of a CGI limb when you show a real, working prop right above it.
We end with one final homage- the last little burst of cool in the trailer (like a stinger, meant to leave you wanting more) is also a move from the T2 playbook.
The T-1000 once leapt extremely improbably and also headfirst towards a moving helicopter, and headbutted his way in with relative ease. No doubt this Doc Brown Terminator (seriously, if you hadn’t noticed already, his hair’s grandpa-level white) will do the same. And with that, we’re out- awaiting the next glut of Terminator Genisys footage to pour over with dangerous attention to detail.
This is a lot of homage for one trailer. Either Paramount decided to cram an feature film’s worth of Terminator and Terminator 2 references into a two and a half minute clip, or the entire movie is just a collage of everyone’s favorite franchise moments. There needs to be more to it than that. Terminator Genisys is a film hanging in the balance- if it’s clever and unique and makes the twelve year-old inside me cheer like when he first realized Arnold Schwarzenegger is THE GOOD GUY in the second one, it’ll have reversed the fate of the Terminator franchise. With time travel, no less.
If Terminator Genisys blows, there will officially be more cruddy Terminator movies than great ones. Which, sadly, is a fate not even time travel can reverse.