In 1984, a robotic killing machine arrived from the future to kill mild-mannered Sarah Connor so she wouldn’t give birth to the savior of humanity. In 1992, a machine with the same face came back to protect that savior, 10-year-old John Conner, from being killed by an even more dangerous enemy. Terminator and T2: Judgement Day made an enormous impact on the action genre, spawning a franchise that includes comic books, novels, a television series, and three more films including this year’s Terminator: Genisys. While the last two films were lackluster by even a charitable estimation and the TV series only lasted a handful of seasons, Genisys arrived in early July with the intention of revitalizing the classic time travel saga.
A much-publicized comment from the writer/director of thfirst two acclaimed pictures, James Cameron, came ahead of the film’s release. Cameron gushed about the new movie, saying, “In my mind I think of [Genisys] as the third film.” This statement was hardly surprising considering the uninspired content of T3: Rise of the Machines and the somewhat mindless Terminator: Salvation. They departed drastically from the themes of the first movies, functioning as little more than generic action films with a thin veneer of Terminator mythology painted over their flimsy plotlines. Cameron’s endorsement and subsequent commentary that it was “being very respectful of the first two films” indicated to fanboys and girls everywhere that this might finally be a movie worth sitting through.
Another endorsement also came from the iconic Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 67 year old actor plays two versions of the T-800 series on various sides of the temporal conflict, and stated that he only agreed to do this film after being pleased with the script. The timing was ideal in that he was asked to do this film just months after leaving the office of Governor of California, a job commitment that kept him from extensive work on Salvation. (His own cinematic salvation perhaps?)
The original plan for Salvation was to make it part of a trilogy of films that was scrapped after the first one bombed. Since then the rights to the property has changed hands a number of times, with studios attempting to do something with the name before those rights revert back to Cameron in 2019.
After seeing the film, it’s apparent that Genisys returns to many of the themes and motifs present in the first and second films. Though the plot itself is plodding and dense, it nevertheless explores the concept of an irrepressible and unique “human spirit”, the inevitability of fate, and our calling to both accept and challenge these responsibilities. Genisys suggests that what makes us human is our irrepressible belief in a better future despite all evidence to the contrary, recalling Linda Hamilton’s closing monolog of the second film. And while this year’s Terminator is nothing close to what the first and second films were, I personally felt it
Genisys also looks ahead into one of the many possible ways that our relationship with artificial intelligence could play out. While Skynet first took over satellites, it has now spread into the digital realm and across the Internet. In our “real world”, Skynet doesn’t need humanoid robots to infiltrate humanity: we carry those infiltrators as smartphones in our pockets, empower them with access to our home security systems, and even trust them to perform surgery. As others have pointed out, if we make AI, we must first teach it to value life or the Hobbesian reality of an evil Skynet is almost inevitable.
What started as an cheap action film starring Conan the Barbarian and a little-known TV actress has become a multi-million dollar franchise that studios are desperate to do while they still can. Despite some difficulties in making it, two previous flops, and almost not getting the face of the series, Terminator: Genisys looks like it will not only do well, but live up to the original two both for action and depth of theme.