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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.0 2020.06.21|
On a recent rewatch of its direct sequel, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, it occurred to me that John Connor is the moral center of this film. Which is striking, because usually it is the youth in a movie that go wayward, and the experienced elders are the ones that provide the moral leadership to get them back on track. Edward Furlong got the portrayal down just right, and his performance goes a long way in showing how John Connor ends up becoming a great leader in the future.
Of the versions of this film that I've seen, the extended cut that includes the subplot depicting the reseting of the Terminator's CPU chip is the better version. That story arc has two scenes that transform this film into something sublime. The first one, where the heroes remove the chip from the inside of the Terminator's head, has got to be one of the better choreographed scenes in film. Despite knowing how it was made (5 actors, 1 animatronic, and mirrored sets to portray the 3 principals in a single shot), it's still mind boggling that they pulled it off without any visual effects! The other scene is between John and Sarah Connor, and is not only about the immediate fate of their Terminator protector, but also depicts John displaying a surprising level of maturity, and his first steps on the road to becoming a great leader. Recommended.
The best way to approach this movie is to turn off your critical thinking, just go with the flow, and unplug from the world for a while. In some ways, the movie is a satire on the previous two films. Almost, but not quite.
The movie has a couple of drawbacks - the first is that it doesn't obey the rules set out by the first movie regarding time travel and its restrictions on bringing hi-tech weapons into the past (it works a bit better if you approach the film as a parody). The second one is is the John Conner character - his portrayal is quite different from the one in T2 - almost like they are different characters. The differences aren't only because of the different actors or directors; it's mainly the difference in the role the writers gave to the character in the plot.
Which leads into the genius of the Terminator series - if you consider this movie to be occurring in a different parallel timeline than the first two movies (that's even IF those two are the same one!), then things start to make a lot more sense. Each 'version' of John Connor has experiences that build upon his incarnation in the preceding parallel timeline, and the events in that preceding timeline shape the events in this one (Eg: Kyle Reese has slightly different parents, neatly explaining the change in John Conner's actors, erm, appearance in each movie). Of course, you could use that as an excuse to excise any offending movies from the Terminator series, too, to preserve your head-canon!
The film goes back to the roots of the series, both literally and figuratively. Highlights in the early parts of the film are revisiting iconic scenes in the first movie (even remaking many of the key shots), with a couple of twists - namely the T-1000, the villain of the second movie, showing up in them! On top of that, the film continually defied expectations on how the scenes would turn out.
And then we get the highlight of the film - they actually start dealing with using time as a weapon - to the extent that I could see the hints of a temporal chess match developing. Ultimately, I wish that they could have gone a bit further in exploring that, but I can appreciate the limits that they set for themselves (this is an action movie, and Arnold spewing scientific jargon is, well... they made the right call in the script). Nevertheless, through it, I found the contrast in real-world technology between the 80's and the 2010's startling. Oh, for simpler times!
The film has some memorable sequences, with equally memorable scenery chewing. Most of the film is just as relentless, if not more so, than the better entries in the series; but as the characters aren't as developed or as sympathetic, there isn't as much tension in it. Nevertheless, if you check your expectations at the door, this film is an entertaining diversion that puts its own spin on key events in the series, while taking it in a new direction. The only drawback was that the T-1000 didn't feel anywhere near as threatening as it was in T2. Odd, as they got it right with the 80's T-800.