“Old… not obsolete” – finally an Arnie catchphrase I can relate to!
The Terminator is back, older, wiser and post Governorship. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns – against all the odds – to the role that made him famous (no, not Conan – the other one). And a fun time he has with it too.
Forget “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Forget “Terminator: Salvation” (and Lord knows I’ve tried). This film intelligently and sensibly picks up the story after James Cameron’s groundbreaking first two films. You may recall in the first film that Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect young Sarah Connor from the Terminator, also sent back in time to kill her and stop her son John Connor (no guessing who the father was) from leading the resistance against the machines unleashed by Cyberdyne’s well intentioned but foolish ‘Internet of Everything’ program.
In this film we pick up again at the start of that story where the scarred and embattled John Connor (Jason Clarke – “White House Down”, “The Great Gatsby”) sends Kyle (Jai Courtney – “A Good Day to Die Hard”, “Insurgent”) on the fateful trip. But, on the basis that time is slippery stuff, when he gets back to 1984 although things start the same way there are some significant upgrades to the program. Sarah Connor (“Game of Thrones”’s Emilia Clarke) doesn’t need protecting very much. And she has a new friend.
Some have already labelled this a clinical money-making attempt to prolong a long-past-its-sell-by-date franchise. And they’d be right. But its certainly no worse than the terrible recycling of rebooted superheroes like Superman and Spiderman, and the ant-like army (words chosen purposely) of minor DC and Marvel properties about to invade a multiplex near you. (I read somewhere this week that there was to be a new superhero film every 12 weeks from now to the end of 2016 – it makes you want Cyberdyne to succeed and put us all out of our misery).
Despite ripping off a range of action scenes from other films including “Speed”, “Spiderman”, “The Lost World” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, this was moderately entertaining throughout its running time.
In Kevin Kline’s excellent comedy “In and Out” a self-help tape plays the immortal line “Think about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold doesn’t dance, he can barely walk”. But Schwarzenegger IS good at playing this character, and the Terminator we see here is one who has tried and failed to pick up some social traits without much success. This is well played for comic effect by Schwarzenegger.
London-born Emilia Clarke also packs a punch in more ways than one: a diminutive pocket rocket of sass and energy that is the best thing in the film. Here is an actress – shy, presumably for the UK 12A ratings, at showing much skin – that I can see going on to better and better things. Jai Courtney is OK as Kyle (but he’s still not forgiven for Die Hard 5). And J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) is great as a cop whose path has crossed with the T-800 in the past.
Where the film seriously struggles is in the storyline. Time is meant to flow in a nice linear way from past to future, but this storyline involves a confusing mashup of timelines that would be a challenge for even Stephen Hawking to follow. (Timelines difficult this confusing a mashup storyline involves of that is to follow. Do you see what I mean?) And the primary problem with time travel stuff in films is that it makes you ask lots of plot questions that the producers probably would prefer you didn’t ask. Whilst there is a pointed reference at the end of the film to “lots of questions we don’t know the answers to”, it’s too late – – we’ve already asked the questions and found the answers wanting. Just to add further confusion to the mix, just as the timey wimey stuff gets into full swing, up pops a retired Time Lord (Matthew Smith). For one blissful and glorious moment I thought he might actually appear as a very subtle cameo in the form of the good Doctor himself, just casually observing from the back of the crowd someone else dabbling in the time/space continuum before melting off again into the crowd. (That’s what I would have done!) But no, he does have a bigger part to play in the film.
All in all, in the annals of film mumbo-jumbo pseudo-science, this rather knocks the paradox of Back to the Future 2 into a cocked hat.
Where credit is due is to the (vast) special effects team. Once again (with “San Andreas” in the last month) San Francisco gets it in the neck in impressive style in the opening seconds of the film. But the notable special effects moment is in the opening of the 1984 scenes. After watching the trailer, I wondered how on earth they had managed to cut (I assumed from stuff off the cutting room floor) so many clips of “young Arnie” to provide the required 1984 scenes in the new film. But director Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”, “Game of Thrones”) comments in this interview that the young Arnie is a fully digital creation! Quite astounding, and proof – if proof were needed – that video evidence should never be accepted in a court of law again! While much of the rest of the special effects we have seen before, it is for these scenes that I can see an Oscar nomination winging its way to them.
Lorne Balfe does the effective music (with Hans Zimmer as “Executive Music Producer” whatever that means) but without overlooking the importance of Brad Fiedel’s iconic theme from the original films.
In summary, as a standalone piece this might have been a solid ‘finale’ to the Terminator series that delivers the goods as an summer blockbuster, albeit let down by a convoluted mess of a story. However, although I say ‘finale’, a mid-credits “but wait” scene (that really makes little sense) makes it clear that there could be more in this series, which feels like it might rapidly get tiresome.
(By the way, some of the trailers I have seen gave away key plot points that I would have preferred to discover for myself. The one below isn’t too bad, but I suggest – if not too late – you avoid watching it ahead of the film).
Fad Rating: FFF.