I’d given up on the Terminator franchise some time ago. After the so so Rise of the Machines it really felt to me like there just wasn’t much juice left for the squeezing. But squeeze they did with two badly received offerings in Salvation and Genisys, so when this one was announced I was like ‘really?’ Some people showed some optimism because James Cameron was returning as a producer but I wasn’t sold so I skipped it in the theaters.
But after recently seeing some good reports about it on Twitter from some people whose opinions I respect I decided to give it a go. I figured at worst it was two hours of my day where I had it on while I was doing some other things so why not. Was I right to try it out? Let’s see….
The two biggest issues that affect any Terminator story after T2 were that they kept recycling the Jon Connor story of becoming the man to lead us to victory over the machines in the future, thus needing to be protected at all costs,, and that Linda Hamilton wouldn’t come back to play Sarah Conor. Well, they addressed both here as she came back for this one and they changed the story up a lot.
Instead of doing yet another Save Jon, Save the Future yarn they did a (spoiler alert) ‘what if Jon gets killed?’ story instead. Now this was not good according to the critics but I thought it worked. The previous film did a weird ‘what if John gets infected with machinery and becomes a Terminator?’ convoluted time travel story; this is a lot cleaner. If Skynet is going to keep sending back Terminators then yeah, one of them is going to succeed. And when that happens what comes next?
In this film John and Sarah’s efforts in T2 resulted in Cyberdyne Systems going under and Skynet never being created but another system, Legion, was created by a rival company which then leads to the inevitable apocalypse. In that future a woman named Dani (played by Natalia Reyes) goes on to become the resistance leader and she sends a cybernetically enhanced soldier named Grace (MacKenzie Davis) back in time to protect her younger self from the latest version of Terminator, the Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna). Along the way they meet up with Sarah and an old T 800 who has retired into the quiet life.
As much as some critics hated the shift away from John, for me it worked. You can’t keep rehashing the same story over and over about John being in jeopardy. An advanced AI computer system that keeps sending increasingly advanced killing machines back in time to kill one person, who has lesser tech at their disposal and lives in a world that doesn’t believe them, is going to eventually win just off of the law of averages. Each new installment makes it more implausible. So yeah it’s better to spread the responsibility around.
I also found the older T800’s story to be fascinating. His mission completed when he killed John, he was left to just exist with no mission and began learning on his own about humanity and developed a conscience, albeit a logic based one. It speaks to how we throw away devices, and on a global scale people, once their use to us has ended. It also speaks to being able to find a new purpose in life after one’s assumed role has ended. This older T800, who has assimilated and taken the name Carl, now covertly helps Sarah find newly arrived Terminators so she can take them out. Playing it this way also allowed for the now older Arnold to not have to go through ridiculous make up and CGI work to look like he did in 1984.
That goes for Hamilton also. We’re still in a world where women are largely don’t get the same opportunities on camera as men, which her post-T2 filmography kinda shows. Instead of being reduced to some kind of grandmotherly kind of role Sarah is a grizzled veteran of fighting Terminators after John’s death and shows the power of being able to keep going after tragedy derails us. This is her signature role and Linda has now played her as the shell-shocked woman on the run, the paranoid Doomsday prepped mother and now the older battle hardened soldier. She deserves all the accolades for pulling them off so well.
The one negative to Linda and Arnold commanding things so much is that Dani and Grace constantly get overshadowed. We don’t get that much indepth time with either, and that’s particularly damning with Dani given who she goes on to become. For all intents and purposes this movie is one last ride with Linda and Arnold and it can be to the detriment of the other characters. And given that we know how every Terminator film ends – sacrifice by the protector(s) in ending the threat – some more time could have been spent on Dani and Grace to flesh them out.
The only other thing is no fault of this movie or anyone involved; the lackluster chapters that preceded it. After three movies that got bad to middling reviews a lot of the air had been sucked out of the balloon going into this one, and the box office showed. Despite a lot of cautious optimism in the media, audiences were clearly done with the franchise and it straight up tanked.
Final Verdict (7/10)
Overall quality: 4/6 (good) Enjoyability: 3/4
Any Terminator movie plot is pretty standard at this point, but the twists added to this freshened things up a bit for me. Linda and Arnold were great again. This looks like the end of the line given the amount of money it lost and if so, this was a fine place to leave it. Knowing that the machines won’t stop but that we will find a way to overcome them is about right. I wouldn’t have felt bad had I gone to see it in the theater and it’s definitely not a bad way to spend two hours on Hulu.