“It can be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
WARNING this article contains spoilers for the Terminator franchise including the latest incarnation Terminator Genisys. Last week I went to a screening of The Terminator, The effects are looking a little shaky, but the 1984 classic remains the best of the Terminator franchise. The apocalypse has happened, machines have taken over the world and the remnants of humanity are hanging on and beginning to fight back. The premise of the film is that Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) travels through time to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) the future mother of a resistance leader from a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Reese has had a hard life growing up in the ruins of the old world, his life a constant battle for survival. Sarah is a waitress who can’t doesn’t see herself as the mother of the resistance, a resistance in a war she can’t imagine. In love with the idea and legend of Sarah Connor, Reese is willing to die for her and for John, her future son. The reason Reese has to die is for the balance of the movie as much as the heart of it. I wouldn’t go as far as a Christian metaphor of the hero dyeing for the sins of others, but his commitment to the cause is unshakeable and based around faith, all be it not religious faith. Had he survived it would have undermined the concept of the film about defeating an unstoppable killer, his ultimate sacrifice gives the film the gravitas it needs, it also helps set up the perfect ending. The happiness of Sarah’s victory and survival is first tempered by the death of the man she loves but then the shadow of the looming storm, the impending war that will end the world as we know it.
When The Terminator was released in 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger was a rising star thanks to the Conan movies, but he was still a minor star. It has been suggested that Schwarzenegger wanted to play Kyle Reese but James Cameron convinced him that The Terminator was the better part. By the time Terminator 2: Judgment Day came out in 1991 he was the biggest star in the world. As such he got his wish to play the hero not the killer. This could have been a disaster but amazingly worked and became the most popular movie in the franchise (I prefer the original). It also helps that going into the film I had no idea about the change in role until it was revealed. Is this idea of villain becoming hero centred in the age old movie trope of redemption? It also works well against Linda Hamilton whose appearance and character has completely changed since the first film.
Using an alternate timeline to reset the clock and negate the events of Judgment Day (1991), Rise of the Machines (2003) and Salvation (2009) as well as a lot of The Terminator. The film works best when playing with the original story. The first half hour largely works around the original film, a little like the way Back to the Future Part II did. Old Schwarzenegger waiting for the arrival of the original Terminator in 1984 is a particular highlight. Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) delivering the line “come with me if you want to live” set the tone for the film. Fans will remember Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) saying it to Sarah in the first film and Schwarzenegger saying it to her in the second. Elements of the reboot also work well, Judgment day is pushed back a decade. This is because they leave no trace of future technology so Miles Dyson doesn’t have access to the remains of the original terminator to create the chip that becomes the origin of Skynet as depicted Judgment Day. This results in a totally new story, or is it? It boils down to preventing Cyberdyne Systems creating Skynet, in other words, the same plot as Judgment Day. And while the plot in Judgment Day was an interesting surprise, every twist and turn in the Genisys plot is revealed in the trailer. This is also where the film loses its way. Similar to the death of Reese in the first film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day had to sacrifice Schwarzenegger’s good terminator both for the emotion and logic of plot. While Genisys repeatedly reminds us of the importance of not leaving any future technology behind, it fails to sacrifice any character that we are emotionally invested in.
The overly contrived and convoluted plot, including the protagonists travelling forward in time felt like an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008–2009). A TV show that was cancelled just as it was getting interestingly. This leads nicely to the conclusion of this film, as is so often the way the film had its happy ending but with a mid credit sting leaving to door open to sequels. Remember; “the future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
It may sound like I am tearing apart a terrible film. I am not taken on its own merits, it isn’t bad. It is largely an enjoyable film, but it is also forgettable and insignificant. Something that can not be said for James Cameron’s two instalments in the franchise. It’s worth watching for fans of the original films if only to spot the references, some more obvious than others.