All Terminator sequels begin with an earnest, weary voice-over explaining the whole situation. Recently, I’ve been amusing myself by imagining one that goes on forever and ever with all its complications: “The machines sent a Terminator back… but they couldn’t stop Sarah Connor… so the sent another… but the rebels had sent one first… and then they couldn’t stop judgement day… but there was already a plan… and the machines didn’t count on… so we shut down Cyberdyne… but then… and so… only we didn’t foresee… but first… and then… but that all changed when… and first…” See? This is how I have to amuse myself.
The new Terminator film does indeed begin with one of these earnest voice-overs, explaining the whole deal and, my God, who fucking cares? I was pretty geeked to see this, partly because I’ll watch any sci-fi blockbuster in 3D, and partly because the whole franchise is so essentially drained of any reason to exist—except, of course, to make money—that it sounded like big fun just trying to see WHAT POSSIBLE WAY they could come up to justify the existence of this thing. So for disclosure: I have actually seen all Terminator films EXCEPT the first one, which I do want to see, but is not high priority because James Cameron and his whole brand of action are not a big favorite of mine. I don’t really like any of them, but as noted: I’ll see any sci-fi blockbuster with robots and explosions. Oh, and I am strangely attracted to the muscular blankness of living mannequin Jai Courtney.
So we begin in the future finding out that there was a nuclear holocaust, Kyle Reese survived and was rescued by John Connor, they became buddies in the resistance, they take down Skynet, but not before they send back a Schwarzenegger, so Kyle volunteers to go back to save her, but just as he does, John Connor is attacked. See? So it is all that kind if “But… so… and… only… thus… but…” kind of convoluted story. Anyway, he ends up in a 1984 where Sarah Connor saves him because she’s actually a tough cookie with a Schwarzenegger of her own, because John Connor getting attacked changed the whole timeline, and her Schwarzenegger saved her and raised her since she was nine [which made me imagine a sitcom: “My Terminator Dad!”], and now they all have one of those liquid-metal ones after them, played by an Asian in order for this movie to play better in Asian markets. Also in here, we see present-day Schwarzenegger fight 1984 Schwarzenegger, which looks REALLY. FUCKING. FAKE. So anyone hoping to see that particular fight will probably be disappointed.
So for the first hour or so, we just have a whole brainstorming blackboard full of fairly desperate-seeming “ultra cool” fights and shocking reversals, like the SchwarzeneggerX2 fight, various liquid metal terminator fights, a “who is the real Kyle Reese” scene, fighting a metal skeleton terminator, that they have a different future now, that Skynet is now an app, blah, blah. It plays like an attempt to get every possible cool idea in, and it does indeed come across as extremely desperate. Then, after about an hour, THIS movie starts—meaning we finally settle down into the one story THIS film is going to tell—and it’s too bad about the first hour, because the story this movie has to tell is not so bad and overall kind of fun and involving.
SPOILERS > > >
So the story of this movie is that because the bad machine waited to attack John Connor right as Kyle was going back—handy for the story, but really dumb as a strategy, but those machines are not the smartest, are they?—now the nuclear holocaust is in 2017—conveniently revising it into the future from this film. And now Skynet is an app that is going to go live in two days, and when it does, it will achieve self-awareness and all the bad stuff will happen. They get from 1984 to 2015 in a home-built time machine which is supposed to be because they know Cyberdyne technology… and also kind of hilarious. And what else? John Connor is now himself a terminator, made of nano technology, which functions in exactly the same way as the liquid metal, only looks different. So in part two they end up having to fight John Connor through various situations, while trying to get in and blow up Skynet before it achieves consciousness.
So what’s good about it? First and foremost: Schwarzenegger. For whatever reason—I’m not saying that today’s stars are bland—the dude’s got it. He’s charismatic, and he’s just fun to watch and virtually hang around with. Secondly, ultimately they ended up with a pretty decent team of characters here, and they’re all not that bad to be around. It’s also nice in the second half when the thing just settles down and tells one story. Finally, there are some cool moments—the only thing nano-Connor is vulnerable to are magnets—and there’s a fun scene where he gets sucked into an MRI machine, and I also liked the final confrontation when these two essentially indestructible robots go at it. I’m not saying any of it is wonderful, but it definitely passes the time in a vaguely pleasant way.
The big evil plan that is Skynet now is an app that will “connect everything,” and the blind, ignorant masses are signing up for in droves because then their phone and tablets and computers will all be “connected,” which is… kind of exactly like the cloud now, right? This all comes and goes without really seeming like social comment, which is kind of funny, since the movie is essentially criticizing everyone in the audience for ultimately destroying the world because of their simplistic yearning for even more digital convenience and uploading all of their personal information into the web. Yet the entire thing is so cynical that it plays as merely accepted that OF COURSE everyone would willingly give their privacy, and ultimately, control over their lives to machines for a little more “convenience”—which you could argue HAS HAPPENED—but golly, maybe at least express that this is BAD? Something? Some sort of point of view? In this film, humanity voluntarily handing over its humanity is portrayed as a given, a simple plot point, and gee, maybe it’s true, but… do we have to be so cynical about it?
The other unexpected thing going on here is a love story. Yep. Sarah Connor knows from the start that she is going to have Kyle Reese’s baby, and she bemoans the fact that she has no choice in the matter, it is predestined. The movie has Kyle find out that he is to father Sarah’s baby halfway through, and he is shocked [much as I would prefer to see Jai Courtney stroking his crotch and saying “Look what I got in here, baby… Come on, it’s your destiny!”] and they go through the film without much mention of it, only to find at the end that they have fallen in wuvvvv. But then, because they have defeated Skynet, Sarah now has CHOICE in the matter and can consent to it of her own free will, which is also a nice touch. This is an example of one of those things that could have been given more space to breathe if only they didn’t have to pack the first hour with a greatest hits of the prior films.
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The verdict: acceptable time-passer. The second half is actually far more entertaining than it has any right to be. The first half reeks of desperation, but you can admire their wish to deal with all of the baggage of the past. I have no idea what you’d think if you were deeply invested in this franchise… you’d probably be appalled. But it gives a shot at rejiggering the whole thing, and you kind of have to admire that… although that depends on believing that this thing should exist in any form. Anyway, that’s it, definitely won’t kill you.
How much time do you have to kill?