Usually the Terminator movies are used as a reference where the sequel was better than the original. Personally, I have always preferred The Terminator from 1984 over the super-slick sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day, from 1991. I liked T2, it just had a different feel, and was way more produced. Mainly because director James Cameron actually had some money to put into the budget, and by that time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge star. I am barely mentioning Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003, and Terminator Salvation in 2009 – they were both okay, but did not live up to either of the predecessors.
The Terminator was Arnold’s second movie, and the one that really made him a star. He moved here from Austria in the late 60s, and started immediately taking acting classes and getting involved in real estate in L.A. so that he would have money to spend on the acting lessons. His first movie was Hercules in New York from 1969, which is pretty terrible. Then there were some bit parts here and there until Conan the Barbarian in 1982 (yes, that's James Earl Jones in that wig).
James Cameron had been working on the idea for the Terminator for several years, having gotten the idea from a dream he had while working on Piranha II: the Spawning. He partnered with Gale Anne Heard, who had been working as Roger Corman’s assistant, and finally got enough money together to make the movie. Cameron’s first thought for the Assassin-cyborg from the future was his friend, Lance Henriksen.
He wanted him to look regular enough to blend in, and come right out of a crowd at his target. Arnold was first considered to play Kyle Reese, the hero, to pull in some international appeal, however, after meeting with Cameron – Arnold basically talked himself into the role of the Terminator. Michael Biehn was hired as Reese, Linda Hamilton was cast has Sarah Connor, and Henriksen got to stay in the movie as Detective Hal Vukovich, who was partnered with Paul Winfield’s police chief. A young Stan Winston came on to work on the Terminator effects.
The plot is actually fairly straightforward for a sci-fi time-travel movie. In the future, a cluster of human resistance fighters are battling machines, controlled by SkyNet. SkyNet was created by Cyberdine systems as a defense network, however, immediately after coming online in August of 1997, SkyNet decides the only way to keep the world safe is to eliminate humankind (which is what all A.I. eventually decides, so really – let’s stop trying to make A.I. work!!) and launches all of our nuclear weapons at us. In the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust, humankind rises up to fight back, led by John Connor. He has finally found a weakness, and is about to completely destroy the machines when they launch a desperate mission. They send a machine back in time to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 – thereby destroying their enemy before he is born. They send back a killer T-800, who plunks down by the Griffin observatory in L.A., and is promptly threatened by punks (these punks include very young Brian Thompson, and very young Cameron-muse Bill Paxton).
The resistance finds the time machine and also sends back someone – a lone protector to try to save Sarah from the Terminator. Kyle Reese volunteers for the mission. He arrives in 1984, plunking down in a dirty alley, stealing pants from a homeless guy – and hiding from the cops in a department store. He tracks Sarah down in a club after the Terminator tracks her down. He teaches her what he can, and together they attempt to outrun the Terminator. When Sarah presses Kyle for details about why he would volunteer for a one-way mission, he reveals that John was always telling him things about her – even giving Kyle a picture of Sarah. He tells her he has been in love with her for some time.
This revelation causes her to fall in love with him, resulting in one night of passion – which of course – results in John. Together, they fight the Terminator, Kyle gets mortally wounded, and Sarah destroys the majority of the Terminator, except for one arm and the CPU from the skull. This, of course, is accidentally picked up by what will become Cyberdyne, allowing them to leapfrog years of development, and get closer to creating SkyNet. The movie ends with Sarah recording tapes for John, telling him about Kyle, and how important it will be to send him back – and prepping for the inevitable war with the machines.
The second Terminator picks up in 1991 – Sarah has been locked up in a mental institution, and John is a young hoodlum. SkyNet tries again, and sends back an upgraded model, the T-1000, which is liquid metal. The resistance is also able to send back a protector for John this time, a reprogrammed T-800. Together, they attempt to destroy Cyberdyne again.
In T3, Rise of the Machines – once again a new Terminator is sent back to kill John, this time a metal endoskeleton covered by a liquid metal outside that looks female. John’s wife is able to send back a T-800 as a protector again. We see Judgement Day happen at the end; apparently, no matter how successful you are at fighting Terminators that are sent after you through time, you still can’t stop the machines from blowing us all up.
In Terminator Salvation – we see John fighting in the resistance after Judgement Day. I hesitate to explain the plot of this one, because it didn’t make much sense. We do see John meet Kyle Reese, and get way crazy about protecting him, but not really being able to tell anyone why. Also – this one features way too much Sam Worthington as a character that is a Terminator, but doesn’t know he’s a Terminator.
That brings us up to date with the brand new Terminator Genisys. Released 31 years after the original. 31 years! It’s directed by Alan Taylor this time, who has done a lot of episodes of Game of Thrones, as well as Thor 2: the Dark World – which I loved.
In this story, we start out in the future, where Kyle Reese is telling us all about the time he lives in, and we get to see the desperate mission that he and John Connor lead their crew on to finally disable the machines. Kyle does ask a couple of questions about how John is able to know so much about when and where things will happen, but he doesn’t get any answers. They find the time device, and John asks for volunteers to go back in time to protect his mother, while looking directly at Kyle. Kyle of course, volunteers, because he’s completely in love with Sarah, thanks to John steering him in that direction. John warns Kyle that Sarah will be weak and afraid, and in need of his protection. Kyle steps in and suddenly sees John get attached by someone who steps out of the crowd, but it’s too late to deal with that, and from there, we get a really well done recreation of the first few minutes of the original movie.
In 1984, The T-800 plunks down by the observatory naked, and the punks do the same threatening, but this time, there’s another T-800 there, but he looks oddly older. He and his accomplice defeat the newly arrived T-800. Meanwhile, Kyle plunks down in the dirty alley, steals the pants from the homeless guy, and heads into the department store to evade the cops. One of the cops however, turns out to be a T-1000 liquid metal Terminator – which is not at all what Kyle was expecting! He saves a cop’s life and just as he’s beginning to panic – is saved by Sarah Connor as she rams a truck through the store. He’s very confused, and she has to clarify that she was saved at 9 by the T-800 who she now calls “Pops”. Yup, Pops. She’s also been teaching him to ‘blend in’ by smiling – which is not going well.
He’s basically raised her as a warrior, waiting until this attempt would be made in 1984, which is why he looks older – the real skin outside his metal skeleton is aging. They want to use the CPU from the T-800 who came back to power the time machine they have built to go to 1997 to stop judgement day. Kyle however, insists that they go to 2017, because he suddenly has a new memory that lets him know Genisys (a brand new super-awesome operation system that everyone wants!) is actually SkyNet, created by CyberDyne, and will go live in 2017 and no longer in 1997. Eventually, he convinces them, and he and Sarah time travel, while Pops has to go the long way…basically living from 1984 to 2017, just waiting for them to appear.
That works pretty well, but then, things get complicated. I’m not going to go into why things get complicated, because it’s a pretty great twist, and the trailers ruined it. I’m hoping you haven’t seen any of the trailers, so that you are surprised when you go see it. Essentially, Miles Dyson (Joe Morton from T2) has let his son, Danny, take over Cyberdyne, and Danny has created Genisys – which of course will become Skynet, but they don’t know that. Sarah and Kyle try to stop it, while Kyle still loves her, and Sarah knows she has to love him back, or there will be no John – and Pops keeps insisting she “mate” with Kyle. They are assisted by the older version of the cop they saved in 1984, and finally seem to have some success, although we never find out who programed Pops to go back and save her when she was 9.
I had really really low expectations for this movie, which I think really helped me out. The last two have not been great, and I love the first one so much – I was expecting to hate this. I was pleasantly surprised! I loved the layover of the pieces from the original – I highly recommend watching the 1984 Terminator before going to see this. I thought it was directed really well, and all the performances were as good as they needed to be – executed, not necessarily elevated.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger was great as Pops, an aged T-800 who is just trying to protect ‘his’ Sarah. He’s always been great as the machine, and he keeps that up here. If you haven’t seen the bit where he dressed up in costume and wandered around Hollywood Boulevard interacting with tourists for charity – check that out.
- Jason Clarke, who has been slowly starting to appear in everything, plays John Connor. He’s genuine with just a touch of desperation, and really makes sense as the leader of the resistance.
- Emilia Clarke (no relation) your mother-of-dragons, sheds her Khaleesi wig to play Sarah Connor. She actually does resemble 1984 Linda Hamilton, and does a great job of being action packed and having no time for Kyle despite knowing she has to have time for him.
- Jai Courtney will be a great action star someday, and he does a good job in this. He’s got way more personality than Michael Biehn did in the original, but does a good job of being really confused most of the time.
- J. K. Simmons plays officer O’Brien, the cop they save in 1984, who hunts them down in 2017 to help them with their mission. He’s super entertaining and provides some nice comic relief.
- Dayo Okeniyi plays Danny Dyson, who we last saw in T2 as a little kid playing with a remote control car. He seems to just want to release a really awesome operating system program that connects everything and everyone, but come on guy! You have to know that’s a bad idea!
- Courtney B. Vance plays Miles Dyson – and I love Courtney B. Vance, but really – Joe Morton hasn’t aged, he could have played Miles Dyson again. I would have loved to see him back in this.
- Byung-hun Lee plays the T-1000, and disappointingly keeps his shirt on. The last few movies I’ve seen him in, he’s shirtless in minutes. He’s a great T-1000, very liquidy movement.
- Sandrine Holt, who I loved from the John Woo show Once a Thief, plays Detective Cheung. I’m mentioning that just so that I can reference Once a Thief.
- And hey, Whovians – Matt Smith is in this movie! When I first saw him, he was in the back of a crowd, and I figured maybe he was just cameo-ing as the Doctor, in the back of a shot. However, his role is bigger. And I will say nothing else about that.
Listen, it’s not as good as the first, it’s not as good as the second, but it’s surely better than 3 and 4, and I really enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would! Sure, the "Ahl be baaack" is a bit shoehorned in (okay, a lot shoehorned), and parts are a little silly, but overall, it's really entertaining. Check it out, but only after re-watching the original. Hey, they put a lot of energy into recreating the beginning, you might as well appreciate it!
8 out of 10 (the original gets a 10/10 from me). Gained points for Pops attempting to smile. Lost points for Pops having to ‘go the long way’, but gained points for him getting a job working construction at Cyberdyne during that time. Gained points for the slick effects this time around, but I still miss the stop-motion skeleton robot from the first.
Bonus Video 1 – in case you missed Ex Machina earlier this year, find it and watch it.
Bonus Video 2 – The aforementioned Once A Thief
Bonus Video 3 – Cast Interviews