The Terminator franchise is one of those that at some point “jumped the shark.” It can be argued that it might have happened with Terminator 3, or possibly with the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but for a franchise to recover would have to involve some sort of reboot, either of the entire series, or to a point where only a certain few “elements” can be removed. That was successfully done here.
Obviously due to the amount of real time that has passed since Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released, so hiring the original actors like Linda Hamilton or Michael Biehn to play their younger selves was out of the question. However, one cannot have a Terminator and not involve Mr. Olympia himself, Arnold Scharzenegger. As for our other principal actors, the movie went with a bit of a reach hiring Jai Courtney (Insurgent, Jack Reacher) as he bears little resemblance to Biehn from Terminator, but the casting Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones) is a pure stroke of genius as she is able to capture that youthful Sarah Connor we saw in Hamilton, but play her with a much needed edge. As for Courtney, his acting was strong enough to the point where I no longer felt distracted at this new actor playing the part of Kyle Reese, and Scharzenegger was able to play the Terminator in multiple levels, as the killing machine we saw in the first film, and also as the aged protector and guardian that he grew into for this film.
To use a phrase from Doctor Who, this movie gets “timey-wimey.” There is a change in the timeline which resets the events from the first movie, but at the same time pays homage to it and to its beloved sequel. Some fans might find these changes in the timeline, and how they happened, somewhat confusing. Perhaps it is because I watch a lot of time travel shows that I found myself along for the ride all the way through, except for one tiny detail which happens to Sarah as a child. It’s never fully explained, but it’s a detail that doesn’t require it to make sense for the overall sake of the movie. All of the other time travel aspects of this film make perfect sense and the story does an excellent job of adhering to these shifts in the timeline. Unlike other time travel stories, this movie DOES hold up under scrutiny.
However, probably the most important element of any Terminator movie is the action. James Cameron clearly understood this when directing the first two movies and was able to direct them in a very clear, almost linear fashion. Later movies failed in this and gave the viewer and onslaught of action sequences which not only could confuse the audience, but have them all reaching for a bottle of aspirin after the credits in order to deal with collective headache those movies gave them. No, what we had here in this latest movie clearly shows director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) borrowing a page out of James Cameron’s book of directing by giving us just enough action to have keep the audience on the edge of their seat, but not so much as to burden them with sensory overload.
If there is a message it could be argued that it’s how humanity has “plugged itself in” with their electronic devices. There is a point in the movie where everyone is looking down at his or her smart phone or tablet. However, towards the end of the movie we see a youngster who isn’t working with his electronic device, instead he is working with hands and fixing the mechanics of his dirt bike. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this movie is anti-technology, but it is most certainly pro-humanity.
The one flaw with each installment of this franchise is the threat has to be built up over and over again; otherwise the audience can’t feel the sense of danger our heroes have to face. While this has become something of a trope for these movies, the new danger presented here is unique and is quite a bold move.
In a final series of action sequences that partly resemble Terminator 2: Judgment Day, we are prepared for an ending of mixed emotions based on who lives and who doesn’t. However, at the risk of giving a spoiler here, this movie pretty much ends on a rather happy note. This might take some of the emotional gravitas we saw in the earlier movies, but there is a strange sense of satisfaction in it nonetheless. I would say that it’s wise to stick around once the credits start to roll however as all is not quite what it appears to be.
I was intrigued with the time travel aspect and how this would be used to possibly reboot the franchise. Where it could be argued that Star Trek by J.J. Abrams got it wrong, this movie did it right. If there is to be a sequel (and it could happen) I would hope that the studio brings back the same cast and crew. They all breathed new life into this series, and if James Cameron himself gives it a thumbs up then it must be worth watching.