The Terminator Franchise

**Note: The series is permeated with intense violence. There is only 1 scene of sensuality in the entire series, and that’s in the first installment.

Come with me if you want to live!

I was greatly pleased when I saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day on Yahoo’s list, as it’s the best installment in a franchise that I love. I’ll address each of the movies, because you need to know all of them, not just T2, to properly experience this entry on the list.

The Terminator franchise is undoubedly an essential pillar in science fiction film. It has all the elements of great science fiction, minus aliens: world domination by technology, the potential extermination of mankind due to technology, time-travel,  and great action.

The Terminator, released in 1984 and directed by James Cameron, is the first time that the inimitable Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in his most memorable role. He is a Terminator, a cyborg sent back through time from 2029 to 1984 by SkyNet, the Artificial Intelligence which took over the world and is doing its darnedest to exterminate the human race. The Terminator is sent to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, the leader of the human resistance against the machines–the last best hope for the survival of the human race. At the same time, a human soldier, Kyle Reese, is sent by John Connor to protect his mother.

That terminator is out there. It can’t 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.

Sarah Connor gets away, finally, but Reese does not, and the Terminator is destroyed. After sleeping with Reese, she is pregnant with a son who will one day become the leader of the resistance against the machines, and she knows she must become stronger in order to prepare him for his future role.

This was a groundbreaking film. The soundtrack (one guy on a synthesizer) could use a little spruce-up, but the movie is iconic for the unrelenting mission of the Terminator and his frightening, cold pursuit–as well as the memorable line:

I’ll be back.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) follows about a decade after the end of the first film. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is living with foster parents, and he’s a bit of a juvenile delinquent–nothing like what the man from the future said he would be. Sarah (Linda Hamilton, reprising her role) has been arrested for various destructive crimes in her efforts to stop Judgment Day: the day which the bombs fall and the human race must begin its struggle for survival. She is being held in a mental hospital and monitored by a trauma psychologist, Dr. Silberman, who we met in the first film.
In a familiar ball of light, the Terminator (the same Schwarzenegger model, but not the same unit from the first movie) arrives in 1992 in search of John Connor. This time, however, he’s been sent by future-John Connor to protect his past self. Unfortunately, the Terminator is an older model, and a T-1000 model (Robert Patrick) has come to the past. The T-1000 can mimic different human forms and voices, and he can absorb bullets. He’s more than a match for the Connors and their mechanical bodyguard.
This installment is not merely a chase film like the first, but the Connors have a mission: to stop Dr. Miles Dyson from reverse-engineering components from the first Terminator and unwittingly bringing about Judgment Day through his research.
This film is epic in just about every sense. There are fast-paced, well-choreographed car chases, a brilliant gunfight in Dyson’s lab, an ending in a metal-works factory, and some great humanizing moments for the still-cold Terminator. This film also boasts some of the earliest CG character effects. This was an excellent film which should certainly stand on Yahoo’s list.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was fun. It could not fully capture the greatness of T2, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. We have a new nemesis, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), who is a souped-up version of the T-1000 and gives a more flat performance than Robert Patrick did. Schwarzenegger begins to show his age here, but still does well. He once again returns as a Terminator (again, a different unit, but the future is lousy with them, so it works), to not only protect John Connor (Nick Stahl), but some of his top lieutenants in the war against the Machines in the near future, including Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), John’s future wife who will eventually send this Terminator/protector back to help John.
John Connor is living off the grid, believing he stopped Judgment Day, but still remaining careful, just in case someone else comes looking for him which, of course, is exactly what happens. The T-X has the direct opposite mission as the Terminator; she must take out John Connor and his lieutenants. The Terminator finds John and Kate just as they are about to be killed by the T-X, and he begins to drive them out of the city. After many car chases and gunfights, he informs them that Judgment Day is in 6 hours, that SkyNet is about to launch, and that Kate’s father–a USAF General in charge of tech, will active it. They attempt to stop the impending Armageddon, but eventually realize that Judgment Day is inevitable, and that the Terminator’s mission all along was to help them survive the bombs, not to stop them.
This felt a lot like a middle film in a trilogy, and in many ways it does that job. It bridges the gap into the post-apocalyptic world that we’ve heard about and seen glimpses of, but thought was being prevented all along. Instead, we see John really coming into his own, beginning to accept his upcoming role, and hopefully building the strength for the coming war.

Terminator: Salvation (2009) is really enjoyable and, I thought, satisfying. We finally see the future that was prophesied, and it’s filled with more machines than just the Terminators. We see SkyNet at its most insidious. They’ve sent back cold killers who, like juggernauts, relentlessly pursue their prey, but now SkyNet has created the ultimate weapon: a machine that believes it is human so that it can lure John Connor (Christian Bale) to SkyNet unwittingly.
Sam Worthington plays this infiltrator named Marcus Wright, who was actually a human being before he sold his body to science on his deathbed (or, death row-bed, I should say). John Connor is not the leader of the entire resistance yet, but a well-known, well-loved member of it. He is revered by many as a prophet, because he was prepared for what was to come, but the leaders of the resistance are wary of him because they cannot control him.
We meet Kyle Reese as a young man, not really a full-fledged resistance fighter, but eager and willing to take out the machines. Marcus gains his trust and learns about John Connor, to whom he is drawn without much reason. He is wounded along the way and, when he arrives at Connor’s base, he learns the truth about himself when Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard) examine his wounds. This instantly puts Connor and his crew on high alert and eventually, after lots of yelling, running through a mine-field, and a fight in a Hydrobot-infested river, Connor agrees to follow Marcus to SkyNet headquarters where he will use a new secret weapon to take out the heart of SkyNet.
Arnold makes a cameo role in absentia, as a prototype Terminator with a CG face. There are some great effects and good action. This is the future that was warned about in the previous films that could only now be done this effectively.
This deals with the definition of humanity, much like the previous two films–just because he’s a machine, does that limit his capability to care or make sacrifice less meaningful? These themes pervade much of Science Fiction, and really, this is done well throughout the saga. Supposedly, this is the beginning of a new trilogy of Terminator films. I hope so, but we’ll see how it goes.

Most assuredly, Terminator 2, and by extension the rest of the saga, should be on the Top 100 Modern Movie Classics.

One thought on “The Terminator Franchise

  1. A well written epic review to match the sprawling mythology of the Terminator series!

    I believe I have seen the first and second one on television at one point, maybe not in their entirety.

    Terminator is one of those things that I haven’t really had an interest in watching, due mostly to the fact that it is one the list of things I irrationally hate because my dad loved them:-(


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