THE TERMINATOR (1980-2009) Franchise Review: Revisiting Judgment Day
‘Terminator: Genisys’ was an attempt to reboot the franchise by correcting the mistakes of the movies post ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, literally. The story resets the timeline using the time travel plot device to possibly create more films in the franchise. The Terminator movies, initially just the original two films by Director James Cameron, saw one of the first successful films to feature the now cliched plot of machines taking over the world. Cameron kept his story contained to a key character and was able to portray the world ending consequences from a more human perspective, emphasizing one’s legacy and a sort of family dynamic.
So let’s take a look at the four Terminator movies prior to ‘Terminator: Genisys’, and see how each film of the franchise stands on its own, more than 30 years since the original. Be sure to share your thoughts on the Franchise in the comments below.
‘The Terminator’ (1984)
The original Terminator movie saw the introduction of this time traveling, post-apocalyptic world. Director James Cameron (‘Avatar’) tells the story about a future where the world is a wasteland ruled by machines, with humans clinging to their existence. One man leads the human resistance against the machines and is the only thing standing between them and total world domination. In order to defeat this leader, John Connor, a cybernetic organism known as a Terminator is sent back in time to murder Connor’s mother, before he is even born. Thus preventing his existence, and securing the machines’ successful genocide of humans. Securing the same technology, the humans also send back a protector for Connor’s mother, and the two men from the future, one machine and one rebel, with opposing goals meet the mother of their futures.
‘The Terminator’ was one of the first time travel movies before it became a formula, and it depicted the concept without too many paradoxes or complicated technical explanations. The special effects was another reason why ‘The Terminator’ was so successful during its original release, as such practical effects to that scope weren’t that common at the time. The film also put Arnold Shwarzennegger on the map, spawning multiple one-liners that reverberates through pop culture even today.
‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991)
‘Terminator 2’ almost retreads the same formula as the first, but (pardon the cliche) bigger and better in every possible way. Shwarzennegger reprises his role as a Terminator, but this time, a reprogrammed one sent back in time to save Sarah Connor, as well as a young John Connor. Robert Patrick (‘X-Files’) plays a more advanced and formidable Terminator, compared to Arnold’s now obsolete model. The story sees an adolescent John Connor played by Edward Furlong, estranged from his mother Sarah who is in a mental asylum for her talk about the future. The Terminators’ appearance convinces the young Connor into believing his mom as he joins her and the now, more humanized Shwarzenegger, into trying to prevent the future from ever happening.
Quite possibly the most successful sequel in cinematic history, the second film of the franchise almost acts as a reboot of its own story, while still being a direct continuation of the events from the first film and its storyline. ‘T2‘, as it’s more widely referred to as, features enough natural exposition throughout the film, rendering it completely unnecessary to watch the first film. However, it still warrants a viewing if for nothing else but the transformation of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from an unassuming waitress to a militant bad ass revolutionary.
The films also builds on the themes established in the first film about fate and being in control of one’s own destiny, with the ability to change the future and not be subject to any one version of the future. Something the all the future sequels will play with, with varying degrees of success.
‘Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines’ (2003)
More than a decade later, the Terminator franchise returns with a third film, which fails to live up to its predecessors in every which way imaginable. Casting a relatively unknown and inexperienced actor such as Nick Stahl in the lead role of a now 20-something John Connor, the 3rd film provides no emotional depth for the character, and features a story that is futile in its very concept. With Connor going underground after the death of Sarah Connor, the future machines send back a Terminator that targets people who will help Connor lead the resistance in the future. Crossing paths with a past school mate, Connor is greeted by Shwarzennegger’s bad-turned-good Terminator once again, whose mission is to save him from the now even more advanced lady-Terminator, played by Kristanna Loken. The entire story focuses on revelations about the future, Connor’s relationship with this woman, and an ultimate end that sees no change in the status quo of things prior to the second movie.
While ‘T2’ provided a somewhat happy ending, ‘Rise Of The Machines’ completely undoes that by proving a plot point about the future being unchangeable, contradicting the entire moral message of the first two films. The film itself provides no dramatic conclusion to the story, neither does it display any reason for the story itself to have been told in the first place. Instead, Connor comes across as an inept leader, who seems hardly capable of being the legend he has been made out to be thus far. The chemistry between Stahl and Clair Daines, playing this future wife-to-be, is nonexistent. While Schwarzenegger plays his role to satisfaction with some new quirks and humourous lines throughout the film, nothing in this 3rd film provides any fleshing out of the universe or any further insight into the world.
‘Terminator Salvation’ (2009)
With an accomplished actor such as Christian Bale (‘Batman Begins’) joining the ‘Terminator’ franchise, the most recent film before ‘Genisys’ sought to return it to its glory days with ‘Terminator Salvation’. Finally shifting the story to the future, ‘Salvation’ shows a John Connor who is not yet the infamous leader we’ve all heard bout, but is merely a commander in the human resistance against the machines. This features a cool establish story where Connor is not yet a legend, but a complicated leader who has a following due to his experiences in the past, creating an almost self fulfilling prophecy around the character, that influences the beginnings of this human resistance in the future. Thus Connor is painted as a messiah for some and a false prophet for others, and also introduces a mysterious new character played by Sam Worthington.
‘Salvation’, while an interesting concept, acting as a bridge between the future that was told in the previous films and what happened thus far, failed primarily due to its screenplay, and further by shoddy performances and some strange choices by the director. The first ever full fledged potrayal of resistance-era John Connor, Bale’s screen time ran second to Worthington’s, whose twist ending was nothing but. Worthington’s sub plot seemed to almost be telling an origin story to the cybernetic organisms that end up being the Terminators, but ended up as some sort of irrational redemption tale of a man who has been dead decades before the movie. The inclusion of Worthington’s Marcus also raise questions regarding Connor’s hateful reaction to him, given that this Connor apparently spent his childhood with multiple Terminator, experiences, including the good side to them. Add to this Bale’s performance which was lackluster at best, and a climax that went no where, except for re-treading familiar plot points from other films, and ‘Salvation’ was a good concept turned mediocre.
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Which was your favourite Terminator film so far?
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