With Terminator: Genisys set to resurrect/destroy-what’s-left-of the Terminator franchise’s credibility (delete as applicable), maybe now’s a good time to look at why such little credibility is left and why long-time fans are not optimistic about the re-boot’s chances. Cue the sound of fingers being pointed at Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
When James Cameron declined the T3 director’s chair, fans feared the worst. Those fears seemed confirmed when self-confessed Terminator fanboy and journeyman director Jonathan Mostow was appointed in his place. Mostow’s uninspired appointment really just left the franchise for unrestrained studio executives to do with what unrestrained studio executives do: in this case they gave the franchise Elton John sunglasses and self-inflating breasts. The resulting film winks and nods through two hours of in-joking and self-reference that make you feel like Mostow is personally nudging you in the ribs and saying “Geddit? Geddit?” If this seems unfair, consider that each of T3’s Arnie one-liners is followed by a pause for the other actors to look at each other (it’s as if they’re wondering why a terminator is saying Arnie one-liners); or consider Arnie’s “I’m back”, which is not only a terrible in-joke but — in light of Arnie’s long hiatus from the big screen — a triumphant affirmation of the actor’s return both to acting and to the Terminator franchise that falls flat largely because the return is not triumphant enough for emphatic affirmation but also because it comes OVER AN HOUR INTO THE FILM (more criminally, it’s one of three times in T3 that somebody turns and looks into the camera). I could go on and talk about cartoon sound-and-practical effects, or about how the terminator fights look like cartoons throwing each other around; I could talk about how at any one time Claire Danes looks like she doesn’t know how she got involved with the film. None of this needs to be said: the contempt the film makers have for their audience is right up there on the screen.
But then, despite much evidence to the contrary, Mostow and co. apparently had the self-restraint to know that there was a step too far, and that it’s name was Chief Master Sergeant William Candy. If Candy’s name is not familiar, it’s because he failed to make T3’s final cut. If he’d made it to final cut there’s a good chance that any last vestige of Terminator credibility (assuming any credibility remains — the jury is still out) would have been wiped out long before Terminator: Genisys got the chance to finish the job. Candy’s scene is either the brainchild of a studio executive or one of those late night/early morning throwaway ideas the scriptwriters forgot to throw away. It’s a Paul Verhoeven-style infomercial which introduces a Texan-dubbed Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T101’s (T800’s?) soldier archetype. Various executive heads (who might as well be Terminator franchise executive heads) watch while patriotic Verhoeven music plays and a voiceover explains that Candy is the blueprint for the robotic soldier of the future. What’s strange is that the scene does not explain why Candy is clearly much older than Terminator’s original cyborg killer, or why, if T3’s terminator is a more advanced version of T1’s terminator, Candy is here posited as the model for the original terminator. In other words, the whole thing’s clearly a very bad and not-well-thought-out idea, and in some weird way it’s tempting to congratulate Mostow and co. for having the restraint to leave it out of a film that thought Elton John sunglasses and self-inflating breasts were good ideas. Arnie’s badly-misjudged Texan is so bad it’s not even laughably bad, and yet it’s not as bad as the dread of realising where the scene’s going when one of the executive heads remarks that he doesn’t like Candy’s cartoon-Texas accent. And then another actor in the scene is dubbed with Arnie’s own voice and the feelings of dread are horribly confirmed. Weirdly, the Arnie-dubbed actor looks more like Arnie than Arnie does. What it’s all supposed to mean is anyone’s guess. Is it a throwaway joke? Are its Verhoeven-esque qualities meant to be satirical? If so, what is the scene a satire of? Did the unrestrained studio executives think that this scene would provide the origin story that long-time fans have been waiting for? Did they think that since 1984 the one question those long-term fans have been asking of Terminator is why the T101 (T800??) has an Austrian accent? Take your pick.
It’s possible that Candy’s excision came from a need to cut the film’s run time. Whether he disappeared because of time constraints or because of Mostow and co’s hitherto unseen restraint is irrelevant: we should maybe just cling to the thought that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines could have been even worse than it was. All that’s left now is to hope that the Arnie actor’s assertion that “We can fix it” will apply to Terminator: Genisys, and that TG will not be just one more nail in the Terminator coffin (because we’ve got at least two more of these re-boots/re-imaginings/sequels to look forward to). With that in mind, it’s worth noting that the TG trailer provides ominous evidence, so far confirming only that TG will contain T3’s in-joking and self-reference. And if that sounds unfair, consider that Emilia Clarke’s face, after Arnie announces that “he’ll be back”, looks a lot like the T3 actors’ faces after every T3 Arnie one-liner; or listen to poor Clarke, after the camera takes time to zoom in dramatically, rework T1’s “Come with me if you want to live” (Geddit? Geddit?). There are other omens that have nothing to do with the unfortunate and clearly mis-cast Emilia Clarke: consider that the trailer resembles T1 and T2 mashed into one film that’s then been mashed into another film about alternate timelines for reasons that can only be described as ‘financial’. There’s the computer generated Arnie from which nobody who watched Terminator: Salvation learnt any lessons. And then there are the ageing biological tissue conceits to justify Arnie getting old, conceits which the Terminator franchise was using back in 2003 and which still can’t explain why ageing biological tissue makes cyborgs look like they spend a lot of time in Hollywood.
The jury, of course, is still out. At this time all that’s certain is that even if the audience’s worst fears are confirmed and TG destroys what’s left of the Terminator franchise’s credibility, we can take solace from the fact that nothing in Terminator: Genisys can be worse than Chief Master Sergeant William Candy: