I’ll Be Back: The Diminishing Returns Of The Terminator Franchise


Seven years passed after the release of the first Terminator; then Terminator 2: Judgment Day came along. Already the franchise began showing signs of wear and tear. The naïve heroine Sarah Connor transforms into a lean fighting machine imprisoned in an insane asylum because she seems to think that nasty robots are going to come after her son. Drawing on Cameron’s original idea of two Terminators, the T-1000 appears: a cyborg made of a liquid metal that allows him to shapeshift in terrifying ways. But the T-800 is back too, this time with a heart of gold, and Sarah and her son have to turn to him as a surrogate father to help them along the straight and narrow path. With the loss of the father in the first film, John Connor gains a male mentor in the form of the T-800, and likewise regains the support of his mother, whom he also lost in the interim between the first and second film.

T2 is as iconic a film as the original, and it is also far cleaner, less gritty, much like the T-1000 itself. Robert Patrick was cast as the new Terminator because his appearance would form a contrast with Arnold’s musculature – Cameron likened the two as a Porsche and a Panzer tank. The whole film is slicker than its predecessor – in some ways a better technical action film, but without the adult undercurrent the made The Terminator so intense and so groundbreaking in its own right.

While still trading on some slasher film elements – including the unstoppable killer, this time one who can appear to be your best friend and then stab you with his arm – the film is more solidly in the action-movie/sci-fi genre, building on some of the major timeline alterations introduced in the first film and establishing some of its own.

In the final analysis, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day form a cohesive, single universe with a fairly (though not exclusively) clear timeline, moving towards a future where John Connor will have the resources to protect the world from the eventual rise of Skynet (if it ever happens). Too close scrutiny at either film will show holes in the structure, as plenty of fans have pointed out. But the films are not really made to be scrutinized all that closely: they are made as intelligent action movies, not art films or even particularly heady sci-fi entries.

The two movies form a whole, as the final girl grows up and gets muscles, as the future savior of the world finds a father in the very creatures created to destroy him. The films close off their own narrative, the future is assured, and the Terminator – all three of him – are properly destroyed. As a film and its sequel, there are few to measure up to the completed whole of the two first Terminator entries.

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