A Breakdown of the Terminator Series...
I’ll be honest, I have no problem with time travel. I love all the different theories. Be it Back to the Future, Butterfly Effect, Timecop, or Avengers: Endgame, I’m all up for whatever they throw at me. I love the ride, plain and simple. Having said that, I’ll also admit, 12 Monkeys messed with my head something fierce. But that brings us to the *ahem* grandfather of them all… The Terminator.
I’m going to start by saying that The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are nearly flawless action movies. They tell you what to expect and then deliver on it in every way. When Arnold takes his eye out in the original, the scene gave me chills as a kid. Watching the T-1000 come through the prison bars, or run after John Connor… Forget about it. And let’s not forget the future scenes. Watching a grown John Connor survey the battlefield, scarred face and all. Something about it was amazing. So placing the first two aside, let examine the rest.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. I had such high hopes for this movie. To be fair, it wasn’t just on its own merits, Terminator 3 came out in a hallmark time. Both I, Robot and Matrix Revolutions came out around the same time. That means across franchises, we would see the machines rise, the start of the human/machine war and then the end of it as well. We would have a non-canon trilogy that would cross all these different mythoi. The fanboy in me went CRAZY. My excitement quickly faded.
Rise of the Machines was disappointing on so many levels. I realize that we couldn’t have Linda Hamilton, so I laid my sadness to rest on that. But the story floundered. Here was a chance to create THE grandfather of all grandfather paradoxes. Skynet was “destroyed” in T2, but somehow still sent a Terminator back for John Connor. The first thing that Terminator does is log onto the internet. But does that T-X create the rebirth of Skynet through a virus implanted INTO the internet? NO! But why not? It would have made Skynet the opposite of John Connor. Skynet couldn’t be born without implanting itself as a virus carried by the T-X, which it sent back to the past. Same as John Connor was created by sending his father Kyle Reese into the past to protect Sarah. It makes no sense NOT to use that aspect, as that’s entirely what the Skynet of T2 is based on. If the original Terminator hadn't gone back to kill John, Miles Dyson would have the technology for Skynet. Grandfather paradoxes abound! That’s not where my dislike for T3 ends, but it is the most pivotal. Was the T-X overpowered, just to be defeated? Yes. Was John Connor a bad actor? Yes. Was the first set of HKs that attacked the military utterly WEAK? Yes. But having John and Kate Brewster ending up in the hardened bunker together to lead humanity out of the second Judgement Day was dope.
Terminator Salvation. The era of everyone trying to make Sam Worthington “that guy.” There were some very interesting concepts in Terminator Salvation. That original scene with Christian Bale’s John Connor was pretty dynamic. But I also quickly realized that the weaponry the humans had was BY FAR outclassed by Skynet. Between the HKs and their dominance of radio frequencies, the humans never had a chance. They didn’t even need the terminators. But I digress. Moon Bloodgood, Michael Ironside, Christian Bale, Anton Yelchin and the spine-tingling moment of seeing “Arnold” as a T-850 in his prime again couldn’t compete against Common and Sam Worthington’s bad acting and an even more mundane script. When Bryce Dallas Howard can’t save your movie, I don’t know what to tell you. Even though having the T-850 make the iconic scar across John’s face and giving him a robotic heart brought the ideas full circle. Again, we run into, Skynet can’t exist without John and John can’t exist without Skynet. A concept that is repeated (almost on accident) but never explored. I’m sorry, 70 ft transforming robots don’t get defeated by regular bullets (I don’t what Michael Bay tries to get me to believe). Humanity gets washed in the Terminator Salvation timeline.
Terminator Genisys. I might be in the minority, but there were some moments I loved in this flick. A strong, sassy, young Sarah Connor (no one speaks ill of the Khalessi). An older, somewhat grizzled T-800. A clueless Kyle Reese. It made for a great piece of action. We get some scenes, in the beginning, showing humanity fighting the machines in the future. We get laser guns! Who else was waiting for the laser guns? Was it just me? I also like contingencies for fighting different types of terminators. It made sense. I wanted to see who sent the second T-800 back, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Where this movie went off the rails was with John Connor. It was amazing to have that moment of fright as Skynet attacks John as Kyle Reese disappears into the timestream. It’s great watching his memories get rewritten. I even like Judgement Day being something of a “fixed” event in time. No matter what we do, we continue racing towards it. But come on, turn John into a nanotech terminator??? How? Why? That doesn’t even make sense. The movie lost me at that moment. I wanted to like Skynet having seen hundreds of timelines and tried to avert its destruction, that’s amazing humanity for a soulless machine. But taking John and making him the fill-in villain? That was just weak. The movie never recovered from that. Let the character of John Connor be the person he’s supposed to be.
Having said that… Terminator: Dark Fate. I want to like this movie. I really do. But that sad fact is, I don’t. It’s great seeing Linda Hamilton back in all her badassery (is that a word? It is now). It’s great seeing Arnold as a terminator that’s somehow almost human. I like infusing the story with new characters. Female fighting cyborg? Sign me up. Latina badass leader? I’m there! What should happen is I should have titled this article, The Problem with John Connor.
Warning this way there be spoilers…
The entire franchise is about John Connor and his fight against Skynet. Why in the bejesus would you kill him off in the first 5 minutes? With some throwaway line about another terminator being sent back. Each time a terminator is sent back so is someone from the Resistance to combat it. The movie itself holds that idea true. But as I’m still seething with anger about that, you give me a Sarah Connor that is only likable because she’s Linda Hamilton. You give me a Resistance fighter who isn’t likable when she isn’t fighting. And you give me one of the most charismatic female actresses the franchise has seen in Natalie Reyes, only to say, “She’s John.” So, you’ve replaced John Connor with… female John Connor? That makes ZERO sense. You want Daniella “Dani” Ramos to carry the franchise, by all means, do that, but do it by making her a new and fresh character. She’s got a different back story, a different set of motivations. What if she wants to hunt Skynet (Legion) because it killed her family? She could be more ruthless, more cutthroat. As it is, her motivation at the end of the movie is to make sure that Grace doesn’t die for her again. That’s pretty shallow, considering that the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Yes, I know I just said I want her bent on revenge, but that gives her character depth. Why is she more concerned about Grace not dying than she is undoing what happened to her father and brother?
I used to love the Terminator franchise. I even liked the Sarah Connor Chronicles (severely underrated). But I’m not a fan of how they have drug John Connor through the mud. There are other and indeed engaging ways to watch someone’s future unfold. There are amazing ways to examine grandfather paradoxes. This is not a gender-swapped character that gives us a new interpretation of the struggle. It’s simply a sticker of a stock character that the series chose not to develop. I want to see Dani AND John. What if John was just the figurehead and Dani was the brains behind the entire Resistance. It would be on-brand for how politics have gone historically. It would also set up a very interesting interaction for what happens AFTER the machines are defeated. The series could resurrect itself if it followed the story paths that brought it to prominence in the first place. The Terminator franchise is, unfortunately, a franchise that has disregarded the investment that fans have put into the lives of characters. Returning to form and remembering the shifting timelines and narratives that made The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day great would resurrect the series. But as I don’t see that happening, perhaps it’s time to press the button and shut it down.
No fate but what we make…
Brian Joseph Lambert is the lead contributing writer and editor at Wingless Entertainment LTD. He specializes in bringing diversity to action/adventure, fantasy and sci-fi worlds. In 2017, while earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Full Sail University, he published his first novel, ASCENSION- THE CHRUSION SAGA BOOK 1. In 2019 he earned a Master’s degree in Entertainment Business and released JUSTICE- ISSUE #0 for Wingless Entertainment LTD and Konkret Comics. Brian's current projects include WAR FOR THE SWORD- THE CHRUSION SAGA BOOK 2, a CG animated feature film entitled, RUBICON and JUSTICE- THE FALL, an ongoing graphic novel with KONKRET COMICS. Brian recently was selected as a Reader's Favorite Book Award Finalist in 2019 for, ASCENSION- THE CHRUSION SAGA BOOK 1. Brian has edited numerous independent works including, Is’Nana the Were-Spider by Greg Anderson Elysée, Akolyte by Derek Allen, Nia Caler by Dorphise Jean and the upcoming Beyond 13th by Michael Ralph. When not writing or editing, Brian works on creating a functioning lightsaber so that he can pass the Jedi trials.