Back in 2003--the same year that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released--I saw the T2 3D: Battle Across Time attraction at the Universal Studios theme park in Florida. For those of you who haven't seen it, T2 3D is Jim Cameron's early experiment in 3D filmmaking that combined 3D film with live performers who appeared to interact in real time with the screen's 3D images. The attraction was set up as a 12 minute mini-sequel to Terminator 2, complete with the four principal cast members returning from that film: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Partick and Edward Furlong.
T2 3D was an entertaining attraction, but its story made the character of John Connor feel like an unimportant bystander in the defeat of Skynet. He accompanies Schwarzenegger's Terminator into the bleak Skynet-run future and mostly takes cover while the Terminator fights Skynet's armies of kill-bots. This certainly wasn't the same John Connor who is destined to save humanity, so I was thankful at the time that the official franchise continuity would never do something so ridiculous as undermine Connor's role.
Boy, was I wrong. This summer's Terminator 5: Genisys looks like it's going to do what I never thought could be done as part of its seismic rearrangement of the Terminator timeline by changing John Connor's significance in the battle against Skynet. In other words, the fifth Terminator film dares to ask this question: If Sarah Connor is capable of defeating Skynet before John Connor is born, then is John Connor necessary at all? Read on for some minor spoliers ....
I've been following the Terminator franchise for years so when I heard that Terminator 5: Genisys was going to make some significant changes to series, I decided against waiting for the film's release this summer and read about the plot of Terminator 5: Genisys on various spoiler sites. Without giving too much away, it appears that the John Connor in this movie isn't crucial to the decisive defeat of Skynet at all. The way the script goes about compromising Connor calls into question why Skynet would even bother making a time machine in the first place, but the script's big twist hinges on rewriting the future of Skynet so much that Connor stops being humanity's last, best hope.
I sort of understand why the makers of Genisys are making such a drastic change. Between the new sequel, the previous four movies and the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, five different actors have played John Connor by now with none of them being the "definitive" version; thus, Terminator 5: Genisys underplays John Connor in favor of more popular and developed characters such as Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, and the T-800 that looks and talks like an Austrian body builder. Yet shifting the narrative focus away from John Connor undermines the logic of all previous Terminator stories, both canonical and non-canonical. Imagine if the recent Star Trek reboot decided to rewrite its timeline so that James T. Kirk would be unimportant to the fate of the U.S.S. Enterprise--that's what this feels like.
To be sure, I've watched and read many cautionary time travel stories where well-meaning time travelers inadvertently change things for the worse--or, in some cases, prevent themselves from existing at all. Yet prolonging the Terminator franchise by dismissing its central hero through a contrived time-travel subplot seems extremely counter-intuitive to me, so I can't imagine most Terminator fans enjoying this plot twist. What do you think?