spoiler free review
I went into the movie expecting men fighting machines, lots of guns and explosions. I wasn’t disappointed. A lot of critics have talked about how the movie doesn’t “examine the human condition” as well as the previous 3 but really? It seems nostalgia has clouded reviewers’ eyes as they’ve forgotten the earlier Terminator movies were mostly men fighting machines, lots of guns and explosions. In fact, the only Terminator you really need to have watched for this movie is the first one. Plus there’s Christian Bale who is incapable of NOT kicking ass.
Robocop vs the Terminator
Yeah, the plot has a lot in common with that. But I’m not here to pick apart the plot but 2 problems with it. One which is endemic to post-apocalyptic stories in general, the second to the Terminator series specifically.
A pivotal point in the movie comes when the humans think they’ve found a way to take out Skynet and are getting ready to attack its central headquarters. The only problem is that there are human prisoners there. John Connor tries convincing them not to attack because he’s learned Kyle Reese is there and he doesn’t want to not exist. However, nobody brings up the obvious objection to this attack. A fact particularly important to man vs machine futures but one that is never addressed (yes, not even by the Matrix): soldier production. For those who have forgotten, human beings take 9 months to make. They are limited to an average of 1 per female and even after those 9 months, you have another 5-20 years before the human is useful as a soldier to your cause. Compare to machine who can produce a dozen soldiers a day and you realize the logistics problem for humans as well as the wisdom of letting women fight in this world. Every female soldier that becomes a casualty reduces your ability to have more soldiers later. (one wonders why there’s no fiction where only barren women are allowed to fight – or any that examine what a total war against humanity might entail to fight, like… breeding farms that successful soldiers are allowed to visit etc) More so than ever, each human life is of incomparable value. John Connor shouldn’t have to argue with the leaders of the resistence to save the prisoners, there should already be rescue plans in place.
But that brings us to a problem that has always plagued the Terminator series and the ending that wasn’t. It is a conceit of resistence movements (particularly when fighting against totalitarian systems) that no one person is invaluable. Strike down the leader, another will rise to take his place. So what makes John Connor so important to humanity? When I brought this up to my pal Asahel, he provided the fascinating concept of “machine logic” (one which would have opened up intriguing posibilities for the franchise but was spoiled with the sequels). The idea being, John Connor leads the humans to victory, so the machines send a terminator back in time to kill him. Imagine they win. Then in the future, another leader is victorious. So the machines send a terminator back in time to kill the new guy, etc. Thus, the machines are always destined to lose because they fail to realize that it’s not the leader that’s defeating them.
But the franchise didn’t take this road so we’re stuck with the idea that John Connor is key to human victory without explaining how. Thus, the alternate ending: John Connor becomes a cyborg. Earlier the film had been exploring how John is vital to the future because he has his mother’s tapes and is a “prophet” (of sorts) though his foreknowledge is running out. In was with interest then I watched the last act of the film, the cyborg Marcus acesses and Skynet and is able to force it (or does he?) to do his bidding. For a moment I thought the movie had pulled a sleight of hand and only made us think John’s importance was his foreknowledge, but it would actually be due to the fact that he would be transformed into a nigh indestructible warrior that could strike at Skynet’s heart. But no, the ending to the movie was changed and we are still left with the question of why humanity needs John Connor.
That is what I ultimately hold against the movie. An underlying theme throughout it was the debate about becoming the enemy to defeat the enemy and John becoming a cyborg would have tied it all together as well as give viewers much to talk about and make us eager to see more films about this world. As it is, the movie is just… average.
P.S. Christian Bale has portrayed characters named “John Connor” and “Bruce Wayne” which, if you put them together, becomes “John Wayne.” Think about it.