“Talk to the hand“
Dir. Jonathan Mostow
Runtime: 109 minutes
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes
It’s been 12 years since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” graced cinema screens. Judgment Day was averted thanks to the heroics of Sarah & John Connor – or was it?
The Judgment Day which was supposed to occur in 1997 was averted by future resistance leader John Connor and his mum Sarah. The future was changed. Since then, John Connor has been living off the grid and hiding, during which time his mother Sarah has died.
In the changed future, the changed version of Skynet sends a Terminator model (T-X), back in time. As it does not know where John Connor is, the Terminator has been programmed to wipe out future allies to the human resistance. To counter this, the future resistance has also sent back their own Terminator (T-101) back.
One of the targets that the T-X is hunting for is Katherine Brewer, future wife to John Connor. It gets lucky and finds John with Katherine, so its target is quickly changed to include John in its kill list. The pair escape their encounter with the T-X thanks to the T-101, but their adventure has only just begun.
It is revealed that John and Sarah’s previous actions only delayed Judgment Day, and it was still going to happen. Furthermore, unlike John’s previous encounter with a Terminator, the T-101 is not programmed to obey his commands, but Katherine’s instead. As it transpires, the T-101 is responsible for killing John in the future, and future Katherine sent it back to protect the two of them.
The T-101 must get the pair to a Sierra Nevada installation at Crystal Peak which isn’t going to be easy with the T-X hunting them every step of the way
… or… here’s a summary in 180 characters or less…
High-tech killing machine sent from the future to change the past. Only a low-spec machine from the future can protect the past to shape the future.
John Connor: “No, you shouldn’t exist. We took out Cyberdyne over ten years ago. We stopped Judgment Day.”
T-101: “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.“
In the grand scheme of Terminator films, this is considered the poor relation. It has been panned on various reviewing websites – but I don’t hate it. In fact, given half a chance it’s actually ok-ish – it’s just both different and kind of the same is all. It is different because James Cameron wasn’t onboard; it’s different because it was made by a different studio; it’s different because some of the characters are different. That being said though, the underlying theme is actually pretty much the same – save the future by protecting the past – run/fight/hide. It is also the same because it’s kind of a rehash of “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” too.
If the first Terminator film demonstrates what can be achieved with imagination and storytelling, despite having a relatively low budget. And then the second installment, T2, demonstrates what imagination and storytelling can achieve with a big budget. Then T3 demonstrates what recycling previous ideas and not really adding much to it (other than a lot more CGI thanks to a big budget) can achieve.
Casting wise, as the Terminator T-101 you have Arnie of course, who else could play the role? His appearance in this, well, how do I put this politely? Arnie isn’t in the shape he was for the previous Terminator film. He’s in his 50’s in this film and it shows a little – not that I am ageist in any way at all – good on him. It’s just that, well, there are future Terminator films around the corner, and they are a little cleverer when it comes to using Arnie, or his likeness. In this film though, clever concepts are out. He has had his hair dyed, he’s had some of his wrinkles filled with makeup, and the there is an abundance of CGI to make him seem younger and stronger. There are times where he appears as a parody of the Terminators in other films, which to be truthful is down to the cheap writing for this film. There are times where jokes are milked, and it makes Arnie’s Terminator look cheapened. It isn’t Arnie’s worst appearance by a long way, but I think he wasn’t utilised as well as he could have been – he was there because the franchise would have seemed pointless without him in the film – but as future films in the franchise prove, there are better ways to utilise him.
Nick Stahl and Claire Danes do alright as the central humans in the film. A lot of people instantly dismissed this film because John Connor was not being played by an older Edward Furlong – but having seen the films he was doing and the state he was in at the time (substance abuse) this film came out, I am not entirely surprised that Stahl was cast as Connor and Furlong was dropped. Stahl and Danes are both decent without excellent, which is down to poor writing again. I have seen them both excel in other projects, but here they just seemed flat and shared no chemistry.
In case you are wondering, Linda Hamilton turned down the offer to appear as Sarah Connor. She said that there was no character arc or development for Sarah and as such Hamilton was content to step aside.
Kristanna Loken needs a mention as the T-X. While she doesn’t do anything wrong as an actress, she is let down by what has been done in post-production. The new T-X terminator is really heavy on the CGI, making her appear a bit cartoony. I wont for one minute suggest she is the reason, because frankly all she has to do is look menacing and give an occasional expression. She is meant to be emotionless and cold, and that she does well here.
FUN FACT: Arnie wanted ex-wrestling star Chyna to play the T-X.
Why is this the poor relation in the Terminator franchise? I’d argue that it’s because it was forced. Because it was a project for capital gain, rather than a project for love or art. It copied the previous films, rather than bringing audiences something new. The previous films in the franchise with James Cameron at the helm where more creatively inspired. This film was made after the rights to sequels changed hands a few times, not because somebody had a great idea. In addition, the story and the writing are a little weaker than previous installments of the franchise. For me, a lot more issues and problems are created in this film than solved – but that’s because I’m a Terminator nerd. In hindsight it is amusing that “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019) decided to re-write canon history. In what that film presents it wipes this film (and some future ones too) clean from history.
Some of the thing that irked me include:
- There are times where T3 tries to give nods to previous films in the franchise, presumably in case the audience forgot they existed. It is fun to a point, and of course happens in other films too, but it does it too many times throughout the film and becomes a bit of a goofy parody of itself. Yes – I understand that the T-101 likes wearing sunglasses!! Yes, I understand the need to force in a line that somebody will “be back”.
- As suggested in T2, how is Skynet operational after John destroyed the core and every trace of previous Terminators.
- If Skynet can send Terminators back in time, as it has done plenty of times now (5 by my count), why not send an army of them back in time so that they can win this time? (This of course is answered in “Terminator: Dark Fate” and would change the timeline.)
- Why haven’t the US Military got any security at its facility, and more to the point, how can two young adults and their 6ft gun totting robot enter the facility without being accosted?
- Furthermore, with Crystal Peak, why would the US government leave a secret, high grade fallout shelter COMPLETELY unguarded – not even some CCTV or alarms?
- If stock Terminators cant learn, and this new T-101 is a stock Terminator, how does it learn the “talk to the hand” line?
- When T-X punches through the cop from the back seat of the car, how does she press the pedals or work the gear stick? How can she “remote control” other vehicles? It all felt like a a lazy idea to solve plot holes.
- Where did the T-101’s weird existential crisis come from? He might have a good-guy CPU and a bad guy body, but it’s still just a machine, it’s still just 1’s and 0’s – the robotic rage and confusion just didn’t sell itself to me.
I have plenty more issues, but I getting fed of myself whinging now.
I enjoyed the twist at the end of this film more than I did the journey to get to that point, I enjoyed looking at some of the version 1 killing machines, I enjoyed the nostalgia this film brought. The biggest issue I had though is that this lacked balls, it didn’t have attitude, it didn’t feel right, it felt like a copy and paste film rather than something new. I felt like a film for films sake, rather than a film for a great concept. Perhaps this got panned so much because of the great Terminator films which came before it. At best, for me, this is a 6 out of 10. I don’t hate it, not unless I keep it in the film franchise chronology. If I think of it as a stand alone film, then it’s ok-ish.