Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Rank the Films: Terminator


As any regular reader of this blog will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

Under the microscope this month is the Terminator franchise, starting with James Cameron's 80's classic to Alan Taylor's most recent entry, Terminator: Genysis. Which film ranks as the best, and which the worst? Read on to find out where your favourite sits.

5th - Terminator Salvation (2009)


Remember Terminator Salvation? Yeah, me neither. Seriously, this film came out just six years ago, and I haven't thought about it twice since.

It's not that it doesn't have appetising ingredients thrown into the mixture - Christian Bale as freedom fighter John Connor makes for an interesting proposition, whilst a supporting cast that boasts Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin and Bryce Dallas Howard certainly has its merits.

And yet, on the flipside, there are a vast array of negatives. Firstly, Sam Worthington. Need I say more? For some strange reason, 2009 was the year of Sam Worthington; from this to Avatar and Clash of the Titans, the dude was everywhere. Think about it; that a really weird anomaly we'll have to explain to our grandchildren, that one of most uninteresting and uncharismatic actors in memory somehow appeared in not one, but THREE major blockbusters within about 12 months.

Anyway, that's enough Worthington hate for one post. Back to Terminator Salvation. In all honesty, it's not half bad. It might be bleak and unmemorable, but at least it did something different to the first three - no more time hopping machines this time around, just straight-up post-apocalyptic action. It's the kind of thing we'd been promised since 'Judgement Day' was first glimpsed at back in the first movie. Credit where credit is due, I guess.


4th - Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

Terminator 3 came perilously close to dropping into last on this list; upon revisiting this entry, it becomes apparent how much of a retread this film feels, and how little it advances the overall arc.

Set a decade after Terminator 2, this third entry explains how the Judgement Day hasn't been averted, only postponed; after all, the rise of Skynet is inevitable. With destruction looming once more, the T-800 must once again leap to the defence of future war hero John Connor with the addition of his future wife Kate Brewster (...).

However, it's this inevitability that really got to me with Rise of the Machines. We all know Judgement Day is coming - it has to for the whole series to make sense to begin with. So why delay it? Why not kick this film off with the 'end', rather than treading water and ending on a downer? How cool would that be? It'd flip the whole thing on its head. Instead we get another film where Arnie and co. are doggedly pursued across the country by yet another Terminator - big whoop, right?

Maybe I'm being overly harsh. Terminator 3 does have some merit to it. How many other films can claim to end with the complete and utter destruction of humanity? There are lots of different ways to read it, and some may say it was a ballsy move to end a summer blockbuster on a such a grim note.


3rd - Terminator: Genisys (2015)


Not since A Good Day To Die Hard has a summer tentpole film in a cherished franchise received such a toxic reception. Terminator Genysys (or however it is spelt) has been met with some of the most scathing reviews I've ever read, but I'm going to put my neck on the line and say that this is the least worst of the three non-Cameron Terminator films. That's not much of a recommendation mind you, but bear with me on this one.

Firstly, you've got the return of Arnie to the franchise that made his name. Salvation felt a little out of place without the Governator, so it was cool to see him back (and surprising that he wasn't the worst part!).

I also really liked the dynamic between Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor and Arnie's ageing T-800 a.k.a. 'Pops'. In a odd subversion of a similar relationship we saw between the T-800 and John Connor in Judgement Day, the two share a reall

Rise of the Machines was an uninspired retread; Salvation was a bland, unmemorable mess. At least Genisys takes a leap of faith by harking back the original film and taking it in a new direction. 60% of what they dream up doesn't work (or make sense) but at least they've given the series a new purpose and a new set of rules. The cast could've been better (Who keeps casting Jai Courtney in stuff? His agent needs a damn raise!) and the story was more confusing than my Year 12 Calculus class, but I think people need to cut this one a little slack.


2nd - The Terminator (1984)

The original Terminator film does something quite extraordinary - in its 107 minute runtime, it introduces us to an entirely original sci-fi world and covers everything from time travel to nuclear holocaust and intelligent cybernetic robots.

That may sound like a lot to take in, but somehow this film strips all of that back into a clever, cool and streamlined R-rated thriller that essentially turned Arnold 'Conan' Schwarzenegger into a household name and cinema icon.

For the first thirty minutes, The Terminator is an exercise in showing rather than telling; we're given very little detail or exposition on who or why Kyle and the Terminator are pursuing Sarah until a lot later in the movie, and it's really noticeable when viewed in 2015 when the cinema landscape is dominated by films that cram twice as much info, backstory and lore into just the opening prologue (we're looking at you, Genysis).

Anchored by two brilliant performances from Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, this is an 80's classic that doesn't pull any punches - and dat synth in the soundtrack is pretty sweet too.


1st - Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992)

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Sequels are never better than the original, right? You simply can't best the first film in a franchise, not when the it's a sci-fi classic.

Wrong. James Cameron's follow-up isn't just an improvement on the first, it completely reinvents the series and turns the whole premise on its head. What could've been a complete disaster is actually an inspired twist on the formula; you see, rather than have Arnie (now an established action star with Commando, Predator, Total Recall and The Running Man under his belt) return as the antagonist, Judgement Day sees his reprogrammed T-800 tasked with protecting the same child he was trying to kill.

But his character isn't the starkest change since T1; in another inspired piece of plot writing, Cameron reinvents Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, turning her from helpless waitress into a hardened, tough-as-nails warrior that doesn't take any shit. 20 years on and Hamilton's Connor is now the quintessential strong female in film, sitting alongside Ripley or The Bride.

When you add all this together and throw in some of the best action put on screen, it's hard to deny Terminator 2: Judgement Day takes the crown for best Terminator film so far.

And now, over to you - what is your favourite Terminator film? How would you rank the series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below!

2 comments:

  1. Hi, I like your blog and your terminator list. I love the terminator franchise so I was kinder than most about Terminator: Genisys. I personally enjoyed Genisys more than Salvation. Christian Bale screamed throughout the whole movie...he didn't act. I think that's the film he had some sort of breakdown on.

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    1. Yeah, I think you're right - something about a lighting operator? Haha, Salvation has its moments but it's mainly remembered for something that happened off screen. Thanks for commenting, I'm glad you liked my post :)

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