When I initially heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger was shopping the possibility of a new Terminator movie my heart sank. I took it as a cash grab, as I also heard that he was shopping sequels for Conan The Barbarian, and Twins at the same time also. Even with my doubts I'm a big enough fan of the franchise that I intended to see it in the theater anyway. That was my intention, but with a busy summer schedule that included a family trip to Virginia Beach, and a personal trip to Chicago for BotCon, I simply didn't have the time to catch it while it was still showing. I ended up being forced to wait for the home video release, and actively avoiding spoilers for months.
Studio: Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Alan Taylor
Staring: Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Terminator
Jason Clarke: John Connor
Emilia Clarke: Sarah Connor
Jai Courtney: Kyle Reese
As I mentioned earlier, initially I didn't have very high expectations for this film. When I know I'm going to see a movie I usually avoid spoilers, and trailers as much as possible, but after seeing the first trailer for the movie I was intrigued. Unfortunately the trailer gave away a few of the plot points, but it had given me a bit of hope that the movie might be better than I had initially expected. Due to this movie being released during a rather busy part of my summer schedule I was unable to see it in the theater, but a few of my friends did get to see it on the big screen, and had taken to telling me how good the movie was. This did nothing but raise my expectations, and made the wait for the BluRay release completely intolerable.
The day finally came. I make the trek across town to Walmart, get the movie, pop it into the BluRay drive on my HTPC, and start the ripping process so that I could watch it when I got home from work that night (I like to watch movies in the dark like a proper human being). The anticipation was building. I spent most of the night staring at the clock counting down to quitting time, so that I could finally go home and enjoy this movie; fail! To my surprise something went wonky with the ripping process, and there was no sound. I played around with the settings for a while, and decided that I had to re-rip the movie. (I know I could have easily just put the disc in my BluRay player, but that's just not the way I do things.) A few hours later, and everything was ready to go. All of this may seem irrelevant, but the anticipation is all part of the movie experience for me; hence all the midnight premiers I attend.
After seeing the trailers, and hearing what my friends had to say about this movie, I have to say... I think we have vastly different opinions about what makes a good movie.
While I enjoy Emilia Clarke in her role as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, I don't feel like she was able to capture the determination that both Linda Hamilton (The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) , and Lena Headey (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) brought to the character. Sarah Connor has always been depicted as a strong character; after finding out about the inevitable future of human kind, she displayed an unwavering determination to protect John, and do whatever was necessary to prevent the machines from rising to power. Emilia however, seems to come off less confident and intense than we've become accustomed to seeing the character (something that she has demonstrated that she is capable of doing as The Khaleesi on Game of Thrones), and more like a confused teen; this is not a woman that will move Heaven, Hell, and Earth to protect her son.
Jai Courtney, who I only really know from the Divergent Series, gave exactly the performance I expected; Eric from Divergent. Again, another case of the actor failing to capture the essence of an already established character in a franchise that has become a pop culture classic. The crux of this character (at least for me) is that he knew, before ever traveling back in time to save John's mother, that he was already in love with her. Unfortunately I never once believed that he had anything more than a "high school kids passing infatuation" with her.
Jason Clarke's performance as John Conner didn't start off bad, but quickly fell apart once "the big reveal" came to light (even though it was given away in the trailer), and the audience was made aware that he was in fact a Terminator... kind of. While I say that the character fell apart after the big reveal, the writing was already on the wall, specifically during John's big speech to rally the troops to finally bring an end to the war. Giving an inspirational speech that's supposed to evoke emotion in the masses (and the audience) should consist of more than simply yelling at the top your lungs; see Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, Bill Pullman in Independence Day, or Lillo Brancato Jr. in Renaissance Man as a couple of reference points. His attempts to portray John Connor as a deranged hybrid of man and machine, (presumably) wrestling with his humanity in the third act, seems comical at times. While the character does come across as mentally unstable, you never really get a feel that he has any qualms about betraying the human race at all... even though protecting it is something that's been at the core of his existence since he took his first breath.
Arnold seems to have taken a total departure from the previous incarnations of the T-800. While it's never stated outright, it's pretty obvious that the attempt was to make the audience believe that "Pops" has a genuine emotional attachment to Sarah (actually seeing himself as her "father"). There are times where I honestly thought the character might cry; emotionally I never felt that it was appropriate for him to shed tears, but there is a definite narrative that leads you to think that he will. If there was ever a time that I felt it was appropriate for a machine to cry, it would have been in T2 when John's Terminator tells him to lower him into the molten metal because he cannot technically "self destruct". As an audience member I actually wanted him to shed a tear as he was lowered to his destruction by the person he was sent to protect, but he didn't, and despite emotionally wanting him to do so I think it was the right choice. Making the audience want something, and deliberately not delivering it, shows artistic integrity; whereas making the audience expect something, but never really want it, just falls flat in my opinion.
The smile. I know it was intended as a running gag to lighten the mood, but I'm supposed to believe that a killing machine is able to travel back in time, become emotionally attached to a little girl, integrate himself into society for decades, get a job doing construction in preparation to stop Skynet... yet it cannot manage to mimic a passable human smile? As a comic relief tool I get a chuckle out of it, but if you're trying to convince me that The Terminator has shown some real emotional growth, and integrated himself into society; it actually works to his detriment.
Performance wise the characters seem to come off as unintentional parodies of themselves. Rather this was a directorial choice, or just a serious lack of effort on the part of the cast, it is a huge departure in the "feel" of the franchise as a whole. I get a serious sense that somebody along the creative process took note of the Box Office success of The Hunger Games, Divergant, and Maze Runner, and said, "Let's make one of these... but with Terminators!"
That's not to say that this movie is totally awful, it just fails to live up to the overall tone set by the previous installments. James Cameron set the bar pretty high with the first two films... I mean he's James Freakin' Cameron! The guy makes a movie once every 10 years, and is willing to sit on ideas (and scripts) for decades, until he feels like he'll be able to make the movie exactly the way he envisions it; there's no competing with that.
The tonality of the movie is a huge departure from the franchise as a whole, but it was still a fun film to watch. A "popcorn flick" for sure, but some of the concepts were pretty interesting. While hinted at in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the idea of using time travel as a weapon to actively bring the fight to Skynet, rather than just using it as a plot device (that allows two robots from the future to come to modern times and duke it out) is a welcomed idea.
Even though it was given away in the previews, the concept of changing John from "humanity's greatest hope" into "humanity's greatest threat" is absolutely phenomenal. It opens up a whole new world of things to contemplate. Would it then be better to let the machines kill him, and see how things unfold? Is he still so important to humanity's survival that preventing his turn to "the dark side" now becomes the running theme of the franchise? With him on their side does Kyle now become "chosen one" that saves humanity in an even more distant future? Mind blown.
The absolute highlight for me was Byung-hun Lee's portrayal of the T-1000. Lee captured the mannerisms of Robert Patrick (Judgment Day) to a tee, and transported twelve-year-old me back to the drive-in where I first watched Terminator 2. Although he didn't have a lot of screen time, he was easily the most sinister foe of the whole movie, and stayed true to an already establish character.
Don't let my harshness dissuade you from seeing the movie, I have the luxury of looking at this movie through the rose-colored glasses that come from growing up with this franchise. My pre-teen daughter absolutely loved it, but I have a feeling that she was the intended target. As a single movie in a series I'm not very fond of it, but if the rumors of a trilogy are true, it may work well as another "chapter" in an ongoing story... who knows?