I’m staring at the same press release that a hundred other websites have either posted or that they’re getting ready to post, and I am almost unable to summon up the irritation or the outrage or the interest to write, for what feels like the thousandth time, about another unnecessary “Terminator” sequel.
Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, who are attached to write the film, are two of my favorite people in town. And Laeta in particular comes with what I’m sure would be the hearty endorsement of James Cameron himself, which is as close to being anointed the Keeper of the Flame as you can get. I have no doubt that Laeta and Patrick can write a compelling action film set in the the somewhat strangled continuity that has already been established in earlier “Terminator” projects.
And I don’t care.
Megan Ellison and David Ellison have both proven over the last few years that they are serious about financing a broad and diverse slate of titles and artists, and I am genuinely happy they are in the business. I have no doubt they sat down and ran the numbers and that the “Terminator” franchise is a solid business investment, especially if they’re looking at this as a trilogy. There are very few film properties that have the sort of instant global recognition as “The Terminator,” so it must look like a license to print money.
What “The Terminator” represents to me, though, is just how far our industry will tie itself in knots to squeeze money out of things, whether there’s a genuine desire from the audience or not. There are very few people who loved the first “Terminator” film more fervently than I did. It was one of a handful of lightning bolt moments in my filmgoing life that I can remember rewiring me in some way. To be honest, I would have been fine if they’d never made a second film. The first one is such a great, self-contained bit of storytelling, suggesting so much without spelling it out. That last moment with Sarah Connor riding off into whatever future she makes is as powerful as any in science-fiction cinema.
The second film is one of those cases where I don’t think they needed to tell that story, but the way Cameron inverted the dynamics of the first film was pretty shrewd, and it allowed him to show what happens when we give up our humanity to fight an inhuman foe, with Linda Hamilton doing an amazing job as the transformed Sarah. Cameron also took a risk with the way he altered the Terminator…
… wait, I don’t remember Eddie Furlong being quite that masculine in the film.
Anyway, I get why Schwarzenegger wanted to play a good guy in the second film. By 1991, he was a brand, as big as any in the industry. And so was “The Terminator.” And once again, the ending of “T2” seemed like a perfect place to wrap things up, especially if Cameron had left on his original coda showing a happy, healthy Sarah in a world that had been healed. Even without that, Cameron brought things to a perfect close, and it should have ended there.
Jonathan Mostow’s “T3” is one of those films that people always describe with a healthy dose of surprise. “It’s not that bad,” they say. “It doesn’t suck at all” is the one friend put it that summer. And all of that is true. It is a decent action film with a somewhat daring ending. It is fairly enjoyable to sit through. And it is totally narratively useless. There is nothing I get from “T3” that I didn’t get earlier and better with the other two films.
And “Terminator Salvation”… oy. I have never gone further out of my way to give a film the benefit of the doubt. I did the set visit, I spoke with McG a few times during production, I was there for the BNAT preview, and in the end… it felt like a big giant spin-the-wheels waste of time and energy. It’s not a bad film, per se, but there was nothing it said or did that added anything to my understanding or enjoyment of the world established in the first two films. It is a movie that does everything hypothetically right, but that just never really comes to life.
Ultimately, I have yet to hear any argument that did not involve money that could explain why Hollywood keeps trying to make another “Terminator” movie. It may look like a blockbuster, and it may be built on a blockbuster frame, but I am afraid this series has a cold dead robot heart.
Prove me wrong, Paramount, when you release a new “Terminator” film on June 26, 2015.