“This time travel crap; just fries your brain like an egg.”
That line (taken from Rian Johnson’s Looper) perfectly encapsulates how to approach time travel in movies and TV shows. There are so many variations of how to travel through time, and so many corners being cut for the sake of storytelling, that it’s become almost a necessity to forsake the argument of “plot holes” (which is a boring argument, regardless). But most importantly, there’s no real way to determine what sort of time travel may be realistic unless there have been successful time travelers from the future reading this article (and if you are a time traveler, please contact me, immediately).
In fact, the lack of all that actual scientific, mumbo-jumbo is beneficiary to storytellers, as an absence of theoretical explanation can allow them to do whatever they want faster, and in a more compelling manner. Also, it’s fiction, so you should be able to do whatever you want to do in the first place. In this way (as far as the Terminator franchise is concerned), we don’t have to worry about how Skynet wants to kill John Connor today, tomorrow, or yesterday. There’s no need to question Skynet, or to send a Terminator back in time to kill John Connor; and regardless if either goal were to be achieved, does that mean in that projected past, there is no John Connor to save in the future, and if so, would there have been a reason to send a Terminator back in time in the first place? Or are there new timelines whenever a Terminator is sent back, rendering a sizable amount of timelines safe, while others are doomed to the technological apocalypse? Is there no fate but what we make? Is it all pointless?
Lately, time travel has taken a different type of storytelling shift in its approach to rebooting franchises, or to alternatively wipe a slate of bad movies clean within a pre-existing franchise (a point upon which I am personally torn). It works with a franchise like Star Trek, where the filmmakers honor what came before while boldly promising to go where no Star Trek has gone before (still sort of waiting on that one). X-Men (because of the comics) works because people would never stop complaining about how bad X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are (and they’re not wrong, but does anybody else get the feeling people love Days of Future Past only because it deletes the continuity held between the previous films, minus First Class?). It helps that both of these examples are actually solid entries in their respective franchises, but it still begs the question or whether or not we should care in the first place.
There are literally hundreds of factors that go into the creation of a movie, so the script and story beats, while essential to creating anything with a solid, baseline idea behind it, also needs to build upon its own world properly. What we’re heading towards with movie time travel isn’t world building, it’s an excuse to reboot even more properties. I’m all for good reboots (I’ll never stop singing the praises of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek), but when does it stop?
I’m beginning to worry every franchise involving some form of time travel (or other theoretical sci-fi trope) might dip their toes into soft-reboot territory. And that’s not to say that Terminator Genisys, or any other soft-reboot won’t be good (and yet I’m 99% certain we’ll never see another good Terminator movie), but the odds are continuously stacked against them. Does the franchise story being told deserve to have more story explored? Or is a clean-slate, time travel story simply the best way to explore these ideas?
Given how the thesis of the first two Terminator films is phrased, namely that there is “no fate but what we make,” I’m going to say this is the wrong approach for this franchise. We stopped Judgment Day. Then we had to keep trying to stop it, again, and again, and once more for good measure.
If there truly is no fate but what we make, can we at least start choosing the proper fates for these beloved franchises?