In preparation for the idiosyncratically spelled Terminator Genesis (I refuse to spell it the other way, don’t like it, then read another review. On second thought, no, do not read another review. Or read another one but leave this one open, and refresh the page a couple of times). Where was I, Terminator. The franchise consists of a great film, a masterpiece, an unintentional comedy and a complete failure of a movie. There’s a lot to get through.
Though the first Terminator may be dated slightly, and bogged down by a truly terrible example of practical effects (the scene where the T-800 must remove its organic eye is some of the worst puppetry I’ve ever seen, seriously look it up if you don’t know what scene I’m referring to). This film’s rights were once bought for just a dollar. That could well be the deal of the century, as it went on to gross $78 million and spawn a franchise that continues to this day. The concept was high but somehow manufactured on a micro-budget and was somehow brilliant, the lack of money allowed James Cameron to skip pointless scenes in favour of action set pieces to advance the plot, streamlining the entire process. Schwarzenegger had been criticised for having the physique of a star, but lacking the dramatic weight to really carry a film but here he is perfectly cast, saying less than 100 words and still being the most memorable figure by a long way. Mind you there is an extremely strong supporting cast, one wonders why Michael Biehn’s career never really took off after this.
So one film is out the way, and it’s a great film. But Terminator 2: Judgement Day, is a masterpiece. The pace and speed of the film is unparalleled, essentially becoming one thrilling chase after another. Once again Arnold uses all of his strongest assets, but this time he makes the T-800 the ultimate anti-hero rather than the ruthless killing machine we saw in the first. That role is taken up by Robert Patrick as the T-1000, who as well as mastering the ice cold death stare, is turned into an unstoppable force thanks to some truly spectacular visual effects that still hold up today, the liquid metal effect not only looks terrifyingly artificial, but also disturbingly alive as it morphs from one physical being into another and then turns rigid to become a lethal and brutal weapon, and it was all for the first time. Audiences had never previously seen CGI of this standard, resembling natural human motion. At the time T2 was the most expensive movie ever made with a budget of $94 million but was extended to $102 million due to a troubled production. But it paid off as T2 ended up raking in $520 million in total. Few sequels improve upon the original as much as this one did, taking a bigger scope, more complex plot and further developing its themes and characters.
So, two amazing films and with one more this could have become the ultimate film trilogy. Despite the fact that T2 left the story relatively closed, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came in 2003, twelve years after the last instalment. In contrast to the other two, James Cameron was not attached at all and as opposed to critical acclaim, this one received a much more lukewarm reception. In one sense it is similar to the others by being a sequence of chases and fights one after the other, but it lacks the pace and brutality of the others, opting instead for simplistic dialogue and campiness. Arnie’s attempts at comedy are almost as painful as the audio commentary he gave (he either states what is obvious or makes frankly bizarre comments about the situation that are just as boring). At the end of the day, Rise of the Machines is a B level movie, loud, unintelligent and obvious.
But worse was to come. Terminator: Salvation may have upped the special effects and large set pieces by setting the story in the middle of the apocalyptic war, but it lacks the heart and character depth of the first two, and it isn’t enjoyable as an unintentional comedy like Rise of the Machines. Christian Bale’s acting strength is nowhere to be seen, not having the correct character development to really add anything to the role and Sam Worthington… well let’s just say that there’s a reason he’s not the blockbuster star he was back in 2009. It also features a CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger that is physically painful to look at and the action is just so generic, as well as a plot that fails to sustain itself for three acts. One has to wonder if they would have had more favourable reviews if they had just substituted the movie for that Christian Bale rage blooper (if you haven’t seen that yet then look it up). As James Cameron put it when he was asked about whether he would return to the franchise “The soup’s already been pissed in”.
So can GENESIS, that’s how you spell it makers of Terminator 5, restore this franchise with a fresh reboot/sequel/hybrid/prequel perspective of the original simplistic story? Only time will tell, and by time I mean less than a day away.