Monday Morning Critic – On The Collective Story-Telling Failure of The Post James Cameron Terminator Franchise

MMC

The big to do about this weekend’s box office has been the fairly lackluster debut of Terminator: Genisys, which opened up behind the stalwarts of the past couple weeks: Jurassic World and Inside Out. To be fair the weekend’s other big sequel, Magic Mike XXL, wound up opening behind that but it was to be expected. Everything that was interesting about the original was eliminated in exchange for a road trip to a stripper competition. To be fair the male stripper film is not that far behind the original, box office wise, and rounding out the Top 5 was another underwhelming sequel (box office wise) in Ted 2. If you’re going to see a sequel in the immediate future, that’s the film you should be seeing.

But the key to all of it, reading the box office tea leaves, was that this was a game changer for its star. It was a final death blow for Arnold Schwarzenegger to recapture the drawing power that he had throughout his career and probably a death blow to the dreams of King Conan as well. It wasn’t even into pre-production when Arnold discussed it in the run up to the latest Terminator film, as it was still being scripted, and one imagines that part of the film’s funding was reliant on Arnold having a big box office opening with this latest film.

Legend of Conan or King Conan, whatever title a third Conan film winds up having, is going to be an expensive R-rated fantasy action film and will be reliant on its star to bring in people. And so far Arnold’s been unable to do so, leaving the following perhaps a dream as opposed to a reality.

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The one thing I’ve been wondering about, something that’s behind why we’ve had three different Terminator sequels since Judgment Day, none of whom have been able to capture the box office glory of one of the greatest action films of all time. None of them have been particularly noteworthy, either, but the one thing each had in common is that they brought something interesting to the table and managed to foul it up spectacularly. Thus I thought this week would be a good one to look back at how each one failed.


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The Film – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Historical Context: James Cameron was done with the Terminator franchise after Judgment Day but the studio was keen on another film. Thus his advice to Arnold was something along the lines of “settle for nothing less than $30 million” to do the film. Arnold was still a massive star at this point, as he entered production on it before becoming governor of California. He also spent a significant sum of his own money to keep the film in California, instead of filming in Canada, thus engendering some good will that he needed to take political office and alter the course of his life.

Jonathan Mostow was brought in to replace Cameron and Nick Stahl would replace Edward Furlong as the adult John Connor. Expectations were high as this was the first film in the franchise to not have the fingerprints of its creator on it.

Why it failed: The film took the usual “evil robots sent back to change the past” motif that Cameron had developed masterfully and tried to continue the evolution of the story. John had been a man trying to avoid his fate, thinking he had cancelled the end of the world, and winds up smack dab in becoming the guy he was fated to become. The problem is that Mostow isn’t James Cameron and the film has none of his influence. The one thing Cameron does besides his high level direction is that he’s also in the writer’s room. I think it’s the underrated portion of his career; he’s the last of the “event film” directors, the type where we stand up and notice when he releases anything into theatres, but he’s also a great writer. He’s been in the writer’s room for all of his biggest hits … and had a hand in shaping a number of other classic action films too. I think Rise of the Machines could’ve used Cameron, the director, but I think it missed Cameron the writer more. This was a film that at a minimum needed a final polish before production from Cameron.

This was the first film without his presence and while it gets one huge thing right, of John Connor the adult, it’s just not that good. The ending sets us up for Connor the military man, as that final moment where he grabs the radio to issue commands is chillingly good.

Final Analysis: It’s not a Godfather 3 scenario either, where the film is good but following two genuine masterpieces. This is a bad sequel, period, and is easily the worst film in the franchise. It’s not a bad film … it’s just not good. Particularly because the first film is great and the second was a certifiable classic.


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The Film – Terminator: Salvation

Historical Context: With the rights up in play to the franchise, Charlie’s Angels director McG (Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol) was brought in to revamp the franchise. James Cameron told him to “make the one with the war” and McG brought in Christian Bale and Sam Worthington to bring out a gritty war film in the franchise.

Why it failed: McG said in interviews leading up to the film that the reason the previous films had worked was because they were still science fiction. We were currently living in the future Cameron had imagined in 1984, McG thought, and as such the one thing that interested him was the battle for humankind. The great war against the machines is where he started and it was a bold re-imagining of the franchise.

McG envisioned Connor in the beginning of the military career that wound leave him in charge of the fight against the machines. It also tackled the sort of mythos behind him, as we openly acknowledge that people think of him as this fated leader when in reality he’s another military leader at this point. His radio addresses to those still out there, including a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), inspire people in the fight.

The franchise had previously been a series of chase movies, for the most part. McG dropped us right into the middle of a war film with science fiction flair to it. The future is here and coming up with new robots to send into the past was the easy route to take. McG opted to go into the next logical movie, of the war, following the conclusion of Rise of the Machines. People liked it, not loved it, and while it was fairly successful it had a huge nut to crack because of its huge budget and even international grosses couldn’t make this as profitable as it could be.

Final Analysis: The problem with the film, and the vision, is that it came in with a massive budget and massive expectations which it didn’t meet. Christian Bale was coming off of The Dark Knight, too, and this was a gritty re-imagining of the franchise that was supposed to kick start the war trilogy of the Terminator franchise. You can see McG’s vision of what would happen. The second film is the taking down of SkyNet, with Anton Yelchin being sent into the past to protect Sarah Connor. The third would focus on getting to the next time nexus machine, so that Arnold could be sent back. You could also work in the death of John Connor, as a throwback to Rise of the Machines.

Out of all the sequels I thought this had the most promise going in. A chase film would’ve been cliche and a war film was at least new and interesting.


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The Film – Terminator: Genisys

Historical Context: The only time a Terminator sequel gets made, it seems, is when the rights are up for grabs. This time Megan Ellison ponied up the cash; Ellison is the daughter of the guy who founded Oracle and founded a production company of her own. So far she’s been fairly successful at it.

Why it failed: I reviewed it here and Genisys had an awful word of mouth.

This film decides to play with the timeline and eliminate the events of the prior films, essentially giving it a reboot with the J.J Abrams’ Star Trek style alternate timeline type of story line development. It gets all crazy, as John Connor becomes the bad guy and the franchise winds up becoming less about John and more about his mother. That was an interesting move to make as Sarah Connor the character has been two things in the movies: the damsel in distress or the badass sidekick.

In the first film she’s there as the love interest of Kyle Reese, a step above the damsel in distress motif but not much. In Genisys the speech to Kyle before he gets sent back is telling; Sarah isn’t the badass warrior she’ll become in John’s youth, thus he needs to be her protector. It’s the same speech given to Michael Biehn’s version of Kyle before The Terminator, as well, and it feeds the way Kyle treats her through the first film and in Genisys.

In the second film she’s the maternal protector of her teenage son John, having been hardened over the years as this badass killer type. She’s hardened to the world she has seen in the future, teaching her son to be a great military leader by steering her life in support of it. It’s why Linda Hamilton was so great in Judgment Day; it was a physical transformation we remember but the innocent eyes she had in the first film are gone. She’s hard, like she spent the time between films in Pelican Bay to prepare.

Genisys was also radical in that the franchise turns into Sarah Connor’s story. This was John’s story starting with Judgment Day; it was about the backstory of the leader that led humanity to victory during the war against the machines. Genisys is the real feminist film of 2015 as Sarah Connor isn’t reliant on anyone to protect her. She has Arnold as her bodyguard but she’s not running from danger; notice she’s the one that killed the terminator in 1984, during the film’s opening act, as Arnold was more of the distraction.

Unfortunately it’s not connecting as box office receipts are usually the best indication of people’s like of a film.

Final Analysis: It didn’t open strong, as Jurassic World moving into the top 5 all time in terms of domestic box office grosses was the more noteworthy box office news, and this can’t be good for the future. At the most you can expect Genisys to clear $125 million domestically, based on the old 2.5-3 times opening weekend formula that’s right about 3/4 of the time, and unless a surge of foreign money propels the film one can expect a probably overall number around the $300 million mark. With a projected $155 million budget, and at least 2/3 of that in additional P&A costs alongside marketing, the film has a solid chance of losing a lot of money.

That’s not good for all involved, most particularly Schwarzenegger. This’ll be a film that’s heavily dependent on Schwarzenegger’s ability to bring in foreign box office dollars at this point in his career. So far the film is grossing similar numbers overseas BUT over the long run it may be the key to breaking even.


Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

The newest Terminator kind of sucked. Here’s why.

I wrote on the Blu-Ray of Sean Penn’s masturbatory opus about mercenaries with hearts of gold, abs of steel and veins potentially full of dubious substances.

Travis watched some man on man action.

And now on MMC … how not to Deadlift.


How NOT to Deadlift (Part 2) by InfiniteElgintensity

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

The Gallows – A bunch of kids get strung up by a crazed psycho.

Skip It – Another dead teenager movie.

Minions – A prequel to the Despicable Me franchise about the little yellow dudes.

Skip It – Prequels usually are awful, just saying.

Self/Less – Ben Kingsley is old and dying … then decides to buy Ryan Reynolds body to live forever. But all is not well, it seems.

See It – This looks like The Island in terms of quality; it’ll either be a great action film ruined with stupid science fiction or an interesting science fiction film that turns into a stupid action film.

The Stanford Prison Experiment – A thriller about the actual experiment, which is all sorts of interesting and gave us great insight into the prisoner/guard psychology. It’s also getting insane buzz and might be the first film to get prestige shine this year. In Limited Release

See It – It’s got a great cast and is getting great buzz so far.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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