The movie industry has become a franchise machine. There are still modestly budgeted comedies, small independent films, and extravagant awards season contenders… But their main stream of revenue comes from the juggernaut multi-film franchises that bring audiences to the theater in droves. There are some great franchises (Marvel, Bond, Mission: Impossible), but for every great franchise there are several bad ones. Some of these franchises just need a little clarity of vision and love to rehabilitate them into franchises worthy of turning up at the theater for.
Like the TERMINATOR franchise.
The first two TERMINATOR films are the best example of a fantastic, simple first movie and a wonderfully heightened, action extravaganza sequel. They could have stopped with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. In fact, they should have stopped with that movie. Instead we got three more mediocre to downright terrible sequels. The worst part is that they could have made an amazing one if they had just gone back to the basics.
The only thing left in the appetites of TERMINATOR fans after the second film was to see more of the war against Skynet. That was something glimpsed fleetingly in the first two movies and could have been the stage for an exciting and devastating third installment.
Let’s get to it.
The movie opens the same way that the first two films do: A valley wasteland made up of human skeletons. An army of Terminators comes roaring through the valley and crush the bones underneath their robotic feet. One of them steps on a skull that is shattered to reveal a land mine. It’s explodes, taking out a large group of the T-800s. A squadron of human soldiers then converges on their location and begins blasting the remaining Terminators to hell. Before they are all destroyed, a Hunter Killer (Sky Terminator) soars into their airspace. It begins to fire on the soldiers. One of the soldiers, a young man named Kyle Reese, scrambles up the side of a nearby hill made up of human skulls. He has a bazooka. Once at the top he aims his bazooka and fires at the HK and misses. The HK immediately begins to fire on the hill of skulls. A large chunk of the hill is blasted to smithereens, but they manage to miss Reese. He aims for the HK and hits it. It comes crashing down on the skull hill and Reese jumps out of the way before it hits him. He lies on the ground for a second to catch his breath. A fellow soldier extends a hand to help him up. Once Reese is standing he tells him that General Connor needs to see him in the south bunker immediately.
From there the movie plays out as a war movie that is a downtrodden futuristic riff on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The mission that John Connor has for Kyle Reese is to get him deep within enemy territory to use a time machine to go back in time to save his mother. They have gained intelligence from a reprogrammed T-800 behind enemy lines that they have developed the technology to send beings back in time. They need to get in there and send one of their own back to save his mother before the resistance is wiped out before it even begins.
While the movie will revolve around getting a soldier safely to a time machine, time travel will play absolutely no part in this movie. It is a 100% linear film that is set completely during the final days of the war against Skynet. While Kyle Reese and John Connor are the leads of the picture, there will still be a diverse ensemble ragtag team of soldiers whose mission is to get Reese to the machine. Most of these characters will die, picked off one-by-one, but that will not stop them from being fully fleshed out individuals who have all lost something in the war. There is humor too! This movie, while being incredibly violent and grim, will have great levity. When the stakes are as high as can be, the only way to deal with that pressure is to crack jokes.
The enemy is a real threat. We will see every possible incarnation of Terminator. The T-800s are the foot soldiers. The T-1000s are their generals. For every T-1000 there are hundreds of T-800s. The sky is filled with HKs and worse. The landscape itself is a villain, always threatening to remove a player from the field. There is an infiltrator as well. One of the squadron is a Terminator passing itself off as a human. The Terminators have no conscience, no remorse, and no letting up. There are moments where it is by luck alone that the soldiers are able to escape from hordes of these monstrous robots.
But there is also hope. The main crux of the movie will also be the relationship between Kyle Reese and John Connor. They meet for the first time in the beginning of the film. Connor knows Reese is his father, but has been operating as General in seclusion, only emerging every so often for a major tactical reason. Reese is also keenly aware of Connor. In fact, John Connor is his hero. When they meet, there is a feeling of destiny at play. They are meant to be a team. Kyle Reese would die for John Connor… but it is John Connor’s destiny to die for Kyle Reese.
The movie would play up until the last moment before THE TERMINATOR begins. John Connor, dying, saying goodbye to his father, who is the last human alive and their only hope for stopping this future from occurring. Kyle Reese goes back and that is where the franchise ends. You don’t know if this is a prequel to THE TERMINATOR or the most devastating sequel to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. The movie just is. It’s up for you to decide where it belongs.
After all… There is no fate but what we make.