Top 10 Things The Terminator Franchise Has Taught Us About Life

by Warren Cantrell on June 30, 2015

in Top 10s

The world is having a fun time rebooting the 1990s by all accounts, for there’s a Clinton and a Bush running for President, a Jurassic Park movie is #1 at the box office, and now we’ve got a sequel to Terminator 2:Judgment Day. For those of us who lived through the early 90s, this seems like a strange case of déjà vu, yet (amazingly) it is all entirely real. Indeed, we have indeed lived through all this before, and as a result, we are able to predict with some degree of certainty what will happen in many of these re-imagined scenarios. Indeed, a Clinton always beats a Bush, dinosaur amusement parks invariably lead to death and destruction, and when doing business with a Terminator… well, there are a few hard-and-fast givens.

Today’s list is an exploration of all the known truths of the Terminator universe, for while the quality of each installment has varied over the years, certain commonalities have not. Only time will tell if this week’s franchise reboot adheres to the familiar points listed below, yet if the last two woeful installments didn’t totally ruin the formula, it’s hard to imagine how Terminator: Genisys could. One quick point of clarification before we kick things off: today’s list limited its consideration of the facts at hand to the four official Terminator motion pictures released up to this point, and did not consider evidence from the television series (The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Today’s list is a movie-themed one, and although the Terminator TV show did conform to many of the life lessons listed below, notably our first point listed at #10, we had to keep it cinema-based so as not to confuse the readers who didn’t watch the show in its entirety (and by the ratings and show cancellation, that would be the majority of you)…

10. It Sucks to Be a Connor: In Any Time, Place, or Universe 

In a future where there’s a war between humanity and deadly, sentient A.I. enemies, having the last name “Connor” is one hell of a liability. This was made abundantly clear in Terminator: Salvation, where it was revealed that Skynet hatched a complex plan to lure John Connor into a trap via Marcus (Sam Worthington), who represented the evil machines’ fourth attempt to kill mankind’s savior. Terminator 3 was nothing more than another attempt to go back in time using an even more advanced model of killer to assassinate J-Con (Nick Stahl) years after his mother had died, so again, the notion that being a Connor blows holds. The fact that the third installment came after the passing of momma bear was important, for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was a battle-tested, no-bullshit warrior who was a match for the very best that the future could send at her.

This was proven fairly definitively in Terminator 2, when John (Edward Furlong) insisted that his mother be sprung from the looney-bin so as to help out on the mission. For a pre-teen punk with little more than a dirt bike and a barrel full of attitude, the kid at least had sense enough to realize that having another Connor on Team Humanity was a wise thing, yet demonstrated that there’s no rest for a Connor in the world. Whether it is in the looney bin, working as a waitress, robbing ATM’s while bouncing between foster homes, leading the human resistance in the future, or living off the grid and on the good graces of veterinary clinics: the family name catches up to these people. That might not seem fair, and that’s because it simply isn’t. But hey, despite what Sarah Connor says, this next life lesson more or less illustrates the family motto of the Connor Clan…

9. The Future Is Totally Written  

Judgment Day is coming, bitches: just accept it. Terminator: Salvation more or less gave up on that point, and set itself in the fucked up future where Skynet had already become self-aware, and launched its assault on humanity; yet the first three movies toyed around with the idea that the apocalypse might be avoided. Indeed, in the first installment, there was some hope, fleeting perhaps, that the events of the film might have been enough to provide Sarah Connor with enough knowledge to prevent Judgment Day.

In Terminator 2, it was revealed that Sarah had been locked up for her efforts to do just that, and artifacts from her first encounter with the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had actually (somewhat tragically) jump-started the whole end-of-the-world thing. Some damn fine work that included fending off a mad-deadly Terminator upgrade, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), not to mention taking on an army of cops, delayed the war, yet as Terminator 3 explained, did not prevent it. One way or the other, Skynet was going to come online, and when that happened, humanity set a new standard for our species shitting the bed. Now, some people might call this fatalist line of thinking pessimistic, or even crazy, but remember…

8. You’re Not Crazy: THEY’RE Crazy

This is a running joke within the series, and one that gets a lot of well-deserved mileage. Indeed, if someone showed up on the scene and claimed that they were from the future, or otherwise informed from such a person about the coming war between mankind and a militarized internet, they would likely get themselves a one-way ticket to a padded room. This is pretty much what happened to Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the original Terminator, for after he was taken in by the cops, he was about one interrogation away from the psych ward when Arnie busted in and interrupted his travel plans.

As mentioned earlier, Sarah Connor was in a mental facility when audiences caught up with her in Terminator 2, and she did little to dissuade people of the pants-crapping-insane diagnosis her doctors had saddled her with. Terminator 3 dabbled in this territory as well, for Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen) made another appearance in that installment, and again reinforced the notion that regular, non-Connor folk just don’t have the stomach or psychological wherewithal to handle the Judgment Day truth. Terminator: Salvation also touched on the notion that John Connor wasn’t considered 100% mentally trustworthy amongst his peers, despite the fact that he was a second generation Terminator warrior, yet the best of this trope came in the previous installments, where this next franchise generality was proven beyond a reasonable doubt…

7. Arnold Makes Everything Better

This one seems so obvious that it almost feels ridiculous writing it out, yet it’s true: Arnold Schwarzenegger makes everything better, Terminator films included. Ever since this magnificent son of a bitch broke onto the scene about 40 years ago, movies and the strong-man hero archetype have never been the same. Sure, there were yoked movie stars before Arnold (Steve Reeves, Johnny Weissmulleur, etc.), and many to follow, yet the Austrian Oak set an all new standard for movie bad-assery. Despite the fact that he was the bad guy, Arnold was the most interesting thing about the first Terminator film, and absolutely ran away with the second picture, which came out during the peak of his popularity.

The third film suffered from a number of unfortunate developments, not the least of which was a failure to keep Arnold front and center for a majority of the flick. To be fair, the guy is getting older, and as time goes on, it’s getting harder and harder to explain why a cyborg from the future, part of a specific series of machines cobbled together from scratch, keep aging, yet the fact remains: Arnold makes everything better. Indeed, to leave the man out of a Terminator flick is like going to the carnival with dirty underwear: you can do it, but it won’t be pleasant. For more evidence, see Terminator: Salvation (or, don’t…you won’t be missing much). Still, seeing is believing; say, speaking of which…

6. Never Trust in Just a Voice

Oh man…this one comes up quite a bit in the Terminator universe. Arnold pulled the trick off in the first Terminator, when talking to Sarah Connor as Sarah’s mother over the phone (a classic rookie mistake). Sarah would later learn that things aren’t always as they seem when talking over the phone, a lesson she obviously didn’t share with her son, who nearly fell into the same trap in Terminator 2, when he spoke to his foster parents from a payphone. Luckily for him, Arnold was there to take on John’s voice and trick the trickster, a slick move that threw the T-1000 off their trial for a short while.

Perhaps because it is something of a tradition for the franchise now (or because it is a cheap effect to pull off with a little clever dubbing), but this voice-copy move has become a staple of the franchise, and is a frequent tool in every Terminator’s (regardless of model) bag of tricks. They’re sneaky bastards, Terminators, and pushy to boot. Which brings us to another hard and fast rule as it concerns dealing with the deadly cunts…

5. If a Cyborg From the Future Asks You to do Something, Do It

This might seem obvious, and if people knew exactly who/what they were dealing with when running into a Terminator, they might well comply; yet too often, it’s not clear who/what these people are, and mayhem often follows. Young Bill Paxton learned this lesson the hard way in the original Terminator, when Arnie rolled up on Paxton’s gang of punks and demanded to have their ringleader’s clothes. Paxton didn’t fare well in this encounter, just as the biker in #2 didn’t when “good-guy” T-800 rolled into his dive bar and demanded his rig and motorcycle. This led to a nasty tussle where the poor biker dude ended up going for a ride from the pool hall into the kitchen, right onto a hot grill, which was actually a decent outcome when considering some of the other instances where people ran afoul of a Terminator looking for a favor.

Consider the helicopter pilot that ran into the T-1000 in Terminator 2, who wisely complied when told to “get out,” despite the fact that it meant a leap from a flying helicopter at least 100 feet off the ground. The list goes on and on (remember the big rig driver from #1?), but it should suffice to mention that when put in a spot where a Terminator asks you to do something, one should consider themselves lucky that they were asked at all, and just comply as quickly as possible. Still, if one MUST go up against a Terminator, if one is forced to defy them, it is crucial to remember that…

4. Kill The Fuck Out of Cyborgs, Or They WILL Come Back

This one seems pretty obvious, for we’re dealing with sophisticated killing machines from the future, here, yet folks consistently turned their backs on Terminators in the franchise before establishing that they were indeed 100% dead. Nothing that has survived an inter-dimensional time jump should be easy to kill, and true to form, Terminators never are. Arnold was in a truck that exploded in the first Terminator, yet this only served to slow the prick down, not kill him (what’s a little skin, anyway?). It took an industrial metal press to put the thing out of commission in #1, and even more muscle to pull off the same trick in #2, where a savage beating at the hands of the T-1000 didn’t do the job, despite what Arnie’s foe thought (again: rookie mistake).

And speaking of the T-1000, killing that prick was also one hell of a chore. The bastard’s liquid-metal composition made him more or less indestructible, for a freezing and blasting didn’t put the guy down for any real length of time, and necessitated stronger measures in the form of molten liquid metal. That icy, hand-cannon wielding bitch from #3 was no less trouble, and again proved the point that a Terminator cannot be killed by conventional means, and generally requires at least two or three tries to get the job done properly. Hell, even that chick made the tragic mistake of leaving “good” guy T-800 alive after a virus, which, again, only did about half the job. So, if REALLY serious about taking one of these bastards down, one ought to remember that…

3. Victory Is All About Establishing a Firepower Advantage

In the original Terminator, pretty much the first thing the T-800 did after scoring clothes was to roll a gun shop owner after getting its hands on every slick, big-shit blaster in the house. Near the end of the film, Reese countered with a devastating I.E.D. response, which damn-near did the trick. In #2, Sarah Connor and “good” T-800 were always on the lookout for bigger and better ordinance: a search that culminated in the unearthing of the desert stash. Even the T-800 couldn’t help but to express its entire satisfaction with the find when inspecting this gear, which included a mini-gun and a grenade launcher (amongst many other nasty items).

In #3, the film established that Sarah Connor had a coffin filled not with her remains, but rather a motley assortment of high-end, heavy-duty weapons. These were buried instead of her bones, for the woman (correctly) supposed that a gnarly weapons stash in a convenient location was far more useful to her son than a physical reminder of her existence. Hell, even in the woeful fourth installment, Terminator: Salvation, the resistance’s headquarters were on a fucking nuclear submarine. It doesn’t get much burlier than that. Still, if the Terminator movies have taught us anything, it’s that firepower is only half the battle; invariably, when a person realizes they can’t brush a Terminator off, they run, and when it comes to running away…

2. Having a Good Wheelman Is Crucial

It’s obvious that a salty adulthood dodging and fighting Terminators and Skynet formed the basis for the magnificent wheelman that was Kyle Reese, who went toe-to-toe with Arnie’s T-800 on the road on several occasions in #1. These were good showings on Reese’s behalf, for he out-drove or otherwise frustrated his cyborg foe on both occasions, which subsequent Terminator installments demonstrated was no small feat. In #2, “good” T-800 proved himself a dynamite wheelman during the psych-ward escape, and later, during the run from Cyberdyne Systems and the T-1000. A fierce chase ensued when John Connor and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) made a dash to freedom in #3, and Terminator: Salvation felt like one long series of chases (let’s just be honest).

In all instances, the fact that a dynamite driver was behind the wheel proved critical, and kept the heroes alive just long enough to get away and fight another day. Hell even young John Connor from #2 was a savage operator on his little dirt bike, and might have perished were he a lesser young man and future hero. Sure, the kid’s mom was a warrior, and he had all kinds of help from the future in the form of Terminator helpers, yet the world was after his ass from day one of his conception, and just kept coming back for more time and again. As far as traditional assistance, one thing was for sure: the Connors weren’t getting any help from the Fuzz…

1. The Police Are Useless

Let’s just be honest, here: the cops don’t have the best track record in the Terminator universe. Arnie’s T-800 tore through a whole fucking police station in #1, and didn’t seem all that scratched up for the trouble. In #2, “good” T-800 took on the full force of a multi-district response, including multiple S.W.A.T. teams, hundreds of uniformed officers, and a chopper. In this instance, yes, Arnie got a little roughed up, yet still, the machine took everything the L.A.P.D. could throw at it, grinned, and more or less asked for seconds. The cops in Terminator 3 didn’t fare much better, yet didn’t get the same kind of collective ass-whooping that they absorbed in the first two installments.

Naturally, in Terminator: Salvation, there weren’t really any cops to speak of, which is saying something all by itself in a subtle sort of way: like, these clowns never could protect us, so look at what happened. Is this a fair assessment? No, probably not. Yet again, if the Terminator movies have taught us nothing else, it’s that it takes more than a cop to stop a killer from the future. Indeed, it usually takes another killer…who’s a good wheelman, and also appreciates the importance of a good weapons stash, and understands how touchy, hard to kill, and tricky Terminators can be.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed June 30, 2015 at 9:06 am

FANTASTIC list, Warren. Love it. I was ready to come with you (if I want to live?) at the outset when you gave the news that they are ignoring #s 3 and 4 in this reboot. I thought the third was OK, mostly due to a good performance from Nick Stahl. The fourth was an abomination which left no alternative but to be ignored and wiped from the story’s history.

On your #10, also all those random Sarah Connors who met the Terminator first didn’t even have anything to do with the future leader of the resistance, only unfortunately sharing his mother’s name.

One stray thought: Given that her coffin was filled with weaponry rather than her bones, is there a chance that Sarah Connor was actually still living during the storyline of T3? I had never thought of this until just now, but there could have been a worthwhile twist in there if competent people were manning the tiller.

And just because I’m a Terminator obsessive (who also never watched the TV show like most of humanity), here are my offerings in case you or anyone else has the time and interest:
T1 – http://fightingtheyouth.blogspot.com/2007/02/schwarzenegger-sunday-terminator.html
T2 – http://fightingtheyouth.blogspot.com/2007/06/schwarzenegger-sunday-terminator-2.html
T4 – http://fightingtheyouth.blogspot.com/2009/06/to-b-back-and-forth-review-terminator.html

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2 warren-j June 30, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Ha! Nice, Reed! Your Terminator kung-fu is second to none!

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