Timothy the Talking Cat: Ah Terminator: Genysis! I thought you said you weren’t going to watch it.
Camestros: I’m not. I’ve absolutely no interest in seeing it and..
Timothy: oh, groan, not another ‘sequels ruined my childhood memories’
Camestros: No, and please don’t interrupt. I’ve got some very specific thoughts on the issue and I wasn’t a child when Terminator 2 was released.
Timothy: So why are you reviewing Terminator: Genysis? Is it Mat Smith? It’s Mat Smith isn’t it?
Camestros: No, look read the bloody title. This is a review of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Timothy: OK, I’ll indulge your desire to review a movie-sequel that has been superseded by 3 sequels and will listen patiently as you explain how movie sequels are bad except Terminator 2.
Camestros: Thank you. So Terminator 2 is a brilliant film and it is natural that people enjoy it and that movie makers want to make other movies like it. However, it is also notable that subsequent Terminator movies have been a bit bad.
Timothy: They really shouldn’t have given away the big twist to Genysis in the trailer.
Camestros: Funny you should mention that because the first time I saw Terminator 2 I wasn’t paying sufficient attention at the start and I thought the actor who played the T1000 was the actor who played John Connor in the flash forward to his future as the leader of the rebellion.
Timothy: I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Robert Patrick…
Camestros: yes, well I know that now. I just thought at the time that it made sense for a Terminator to look like John Connor.
Anyway back to Terminator 2. What I like about it is that it shows how sequels can work well and the later movies show how they can work badly.
Timothy: Be my guest…
Camestros: Consider Terminator 1 and 2. There are a few core characters defined by those movies that are essentially the franchise. The Arnie-shaped Terminator, Kyle Reese the time traveling soldier, John Connor (as a kid and as a future rebel leader) and Sarah Connor. It is actually a fairly small set of characters.
Timothy: yeah but Arnie is cool!
Camestros: He is and scary in the first movie but that really limits his role as a character. He is a remorseless killing machine with deadpan one-liners and occasionally he is comic relief. Essentially he is a character with no capacity to have a character arc.
Timothy: Granted, we all want Arnie to be Arnie and say ‘I’ll be back’
Camestros: We do, we do very much so but from such material great movies are not made. Sequels would just make the joke wear thin and any remorseless killing machine becomes less scary the more it is seen. So the Arnie-terminator is entertaining but not actually an interesting character. That leaves just three other people.
Timothy: John Connor gets to lead an uprising against the machines!
Camestros: True but I’d argue that ‘the great general’ is not that interesting as a central character. It is more of a character that an action hero interacts with or who sends a protagonist on a mission. Notably in Terminator: Salvation the character is demoted somewhat to try and keep him interesting and even then it doesn’t quite work. And young John Connor doesn’t quite work as a character either because he is only relevant if the machines take over. If disaster is averted he doesn’t get much of a story and if it isn’t then he ends up in a deterministic story in which his decisions don’t matter. ‘John Connor’ is more like a plot device than a character and hence the movies have him played by multiple actors who don’t even look that similar.
Timothy: So Kyle Reese – a more conventional hero (and yes we can all see you are leading up to Sarah Connor)
Camestros: Reese is more rounded character than John Connor but he is still a bit dull. He knows what is going on and he knows what he has to do. Even falling in love with the woman he is sent to protect adds no additional complication – it just gives him even more reason to save Sarah Connor. Reese is dull because his motivation is emotionally uncomplex – save Sarah.
Timothy: Miles Dyson…
Camestros: Yes – he is potentially interesting because his scientific curiosity is at odds with his humanity and his desire to make things right conflict with the love for his family. But we don’t get to see much of Miles in T2 and he isn’t in T1. I think he has potential as an interesting character but he wasn’t a core part of the franchise.
Timothy: the psychologist guy in the hospital…
Camestros: You are clutching at straws. The only truly interesting character in the franchise is Sarah Connor and Terminator 2 is a great movie that is better than the original precisely because of Sarah Connor. The genius of the movie is that Sarah has been changed by the events she witnessed. She is a disturbed person whose mental healthy is rightly doubted by those around her. She is plagued by nightmares and finds it difficult to pretend to be normal even though getting released from the psychiatric institution is vital for her goals. She finds it difficult to see John as a child rather than as something to be saved to protect the future. Rather like the audience she struggles to see John as a real person rather than as a plot macguffin.
Timothy: also she has biceps.
Camestros: Everybody has biceps – even cats.
Timothy: she has big muscles and can punch things
Camestros: True but the movie isn’t about how she is a big mean bad-ass with a gun. She acts out of desperation and breaks down when she tries to assassinate Miles Dyson. She is a person trying to take control over her destiny.
Timothy: and she wins! yay!
Camestros: And yet every sequel robs her of her victory. The message of Terminator 2 is that fighting to control your own destiny is worth it. Every sequel after it makes the fight look a bit pointless.
Timothy: I still don’t really see what that has to do with Mat Smith?
Camestros: It doesn’t. Look, the point of Terminator 2 is to make a movie about how real people would be transformed by the experiences we saw in Terminator 1. There isn’t a sensible story that can follow from there.
Timothy: So how would you fix it other then never make another sequel ever again.
Camestros. Miles Dyson is interesting. Secondly you can’t keep fighting Skynet and Terminators in the sequels. Which makes sequels tricky because without Skynet there is no reason to have Arnie. I’m not sure it is possible. The correct thing to do is to ensure that the franchise is pushed into a molten vat of iron so that it can’t be reversed engineered into awful sequels.