The fifth installment of the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Genisys hit theaters this weekend, though it failed to hit with many critics and had the worst opening in series history (it finished in third place in the box office race behind Jurassic World and Inside Out). One element of the film many have taken issue with is the intricately layered (some have called it jumbled) timeline, but director Alan Taylor says he didn’t expect people to understand what was going on.
There are SPOILERS for Terminator: Genisys beyond this point. And killer robots from the future. Beware.
Talking to The Daily Beast, the subject of the twisting, shifting timelines came up, and Taylor admits that they knew going in that most people wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of the situation. While he expected that, he hoped people would accept that the logic holds and be able to move forward. He said:
Arnold has one of the most unpronounceable, impenetrable expositional lines in the movie when he says, ‘It’s possible to remember two time frames when you enter the quantum field during a nexus moment,’ and nobody has any idea what he’s talking about. But yes, it makes sense. We don’t expect anybody to get it—then Kyle turns to Sarah and says, ‘Can you make him stop talking like that?’ It’s a way to say, you don’t really have to get this. If you want to nerd out, it’s all there, I think it’s coherent. But hopefully we can move on.
Taylor does have a point. The timeline is rather intricate, and while you can dig into it and peel back each individual layer and distinguish every last thread, for the sake of flow, pace, and sanity watching the movie, it’s probably best to simply take it as face value as the internal logic of this world and continue forward. There is plenty of time to go back for another look and sort things out, and then we can talk about the theoretical side of time travel all day.
For the sake of clarity, Taylor does break down the various timelines and time frames of Terminator: Genisys. With the prologue, the movie starts pre-Judgment Day, where Skynet becomes self-aware and launches an assault on the human race. From there we see the world after the destruction, where the machines hunt down the remnants of humanity. Then we jump even further into the future, to 2029, where John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984. After a dalliance in the era of the first film, they jump forward to 2017, which is after the original Judgment Day, but in the rewritten timeline the apocalypse still hasn’t happened. Our heroes are, of course, trying to stop it from happening at all.
That’s five distinct times, but there’s still more. Because he witnessed a key moment where events diverge, Kyle Reese can also remember an alternate timeline, recalling his 13th birthday in what Taylor calls the "happy time-verse." And there’s also a flashback to the 1970s where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pops Terminator rescues a young Sarah Connor (played by Taylor’s eleven-year-old daughter).
Did you get all that? All in all, there are seven timeframes to keep straight, though recently when the writers attempted to explain the complexities and inner workings of this time travel chaos, they indicted that there are many, many more possibilities out there. Should Terminator: Genisys ultimately prove successful enough to warrant more sequels, you can bet we’ll be getting even more brainteasers like this in the future. Or have they already happened? Either way, the movie is in theaters now.