Terminator Franchise: An Analysis – Mario Gomes
The franchise “Terminator” is one of the most successful film franchises in the science fiction genre. It crossed the last two decades of the twentieth century and reached the first decade of the 21st in full form.
Since then many changes have taken place in the main characters and concepts underlying the plot. With this in mind, I urged myself to write this text in order to put into words what was perceived in images and to show that there is more Terminator franchise than explosions, robots, and time travel as well as to explain the transformations that have occurred in a future. movie to the other.
For a better understanding of the changes that occurred throughout the franchise, each part of the text will deal with a specific movie according to its chronological order of release, but first we need to talk about the historical context in which the franchise emerged and the American cinema itself of the 1990s. The first movie, “The Terminator”, premiered in 1984 and it is ironic to realize that a year earlier a Soviet computer failure almost triggered the fateful Third World War, which was not only because of the then Lieutenant Colonel’s decision. Stanislav Petrov that the case was a false alarm. Because the historical context of the time when the film was released is that of the last years of the Cold War, one cannot but speak of the period when Ronald Reagan ruled the United States.
The election of the former Hollywood star culminated in escalating tension between the two superpowers, US military interventions in Latin American countries, the president’s harsh bellicose rhetoric, and his help to Muslim guerrillas fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Reagan’s election was made possible only by the fact that US society had become more conservative. This mentality influenced American cinema during the 1980s and resulted in the production of many films that extolled the values espoused by a large part of American society because:
(…) From 1980 on, counterculture, feminist movements, and sexual emancipation have been held responsible for reigning immorality, the decline of America, the crisis of values, authorities, and institutions. In response to the liberationist explosion, several films extol the great founding values: the flag, the family, the religion, the courage. Self-denial, the will to win — the values claimed by Reagan and long embodied by John Wayne. An entire eighties movie will give rise to populist and hypermanly heroes (Rambo, Rocky, Conan, the Terminator, Inspector Harry), relaunching the myth of the American dream based on past values. Betrayed by corrupt institutions and elites, these heroes appear as symbols of the rediscovered force capable of remoralizing and regenerating the United States (LIPOVETSKY, Gilles; SERROY, Jean, 2009, p. 189).
The above quotation is for your reader to understand in which historical-cinematic context was produced the first film of the franchise. A year before this film work debuted then-President Ronald Reagan proposed the SDI for the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was nothing more than the official name of the project known as “Star Wars” which envisioned the creation of an advanced defense system made up of satellites that would intercept any ballistic missile launched at Uncle Sam’s land. If such a project got out of paper the balance of nuclear power would inexorably tip over to the United States which could result in the end of the Cold War not with the implosion of the Soviet Union but with its destruction in a nuclear holocaust.
The “Star Wars” project would be controlled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, whose acronym in English is North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), via computers. This would only be possible through the advances of ARPANET (a decentralized computer network designed to prevent much of the US military data from being lost in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack). All of this has influenced the first film work of the franchise and this is where we should focus from now on.
The first movie is named after the franchise and the first scenes show a devastated Los Angeles in the year 2029 because of the nuclear holocaust caused by a war between the United States and the Soviet Union, but later the viewer discovers that World War III. This occurred when Skynet, the enemy’s artificial intelligence (AI), decided to launch a nuclear attack against the USSR to do the same against the US and thus eliminate the people who were trying to destroy AI because it had become self-conscious. In this dystopian future, human resistance leader John Connor manages to defeat Skynet, and Skynet is faced with imminent destruction and sends an android (Terminator) organism into the past with the mission of killing the savior’s mother before it was conceived. So John sends Kyle Reese into the past and this is quite interesting, as the leader sends his own father not to avert war (this is considered inevitable) but to secure his own victory.
So Skynet wants to change its future through time travel, John Connor just wants to make sure the future doesn’t change. In some scenes of the movie, Kyle remembers the future and so we discovered that Skynet was created by Cyberdyne Systems for SAC-NORAD (Strategic Air Command-North American Aerospace Defense Command). Through their memories we learn that many of the surviving humans received a laser tattoo from Skynet so that people could be identified. This is a strong reference to the Nazi extermination camps and it is interesting to note that Skynet fighters are human in appearance but not human beings as a reminder of the Nazi inhumanity.
Soldiers having a human appearance also serve to show that the greatest nemesis of humanity is itself. Well, the Terminator sent out is a T-800 played by Arnold Schwarzenegger that arrives in 1984 in Los Angeles (this is the stage of every movie in the franchise) and soon after comes to the same town Kyle Reese. Both this and that are symbols of who the true American man is. The first through the struggle for humanity, the practice of sex with one’s loved one alone, altruism, and sacrifice for the greater good represents what the American behavior should be like. Already the T-800 with its weapons, leather jacket, muscles, sunglasses and motorcycle symbolizes the appearance of the American man. So Kyle and the Terminator are opposites which, by uniting together, will form the essence of American man.
Both are the active elements of the film, while Sarah is the passive, because throughout the film she is always on the run and under Kyle’s tutelage. She only reacts to the challenges that appear during the plot, but after the death of her protector Sarah finds herself alone against the T-800. Then she faces her own fears and manages to destroy the Terminator. He has only one arm left and the chip on his skull, both of which are taken by Cyberdyne Systems. After these events we see pregnant Sarah Connor going to a safe place beyond the desert. There is at this point a reference to Mary and the baby Jesus. These fled along with Joseph to Egypt in order to escape someone who wanted to kill the savior of mankind. Now this is exactly what happens with Sarah and her baby John (the future messiah) with the exception that in this case the father died so that the son and the beloved wife could live. At the end of the movie a child tells Sarah that a storm is coming and she simply says, “I know”, after which she drives her car towards not only weather but robotic danger.
The second film of the franchise received the name of Terminator 2: The Last Judgment and premiered in the year 1991 months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It influenced Skynet from the 2nd film as follows: Earlier that year the USSR was seeking to modernize so as not to cease to exist, so Mikhail Gorbachev undertook reforms so that the gigantic country would not fall on itself which, as we all know, was no use since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Skynet follows the last steps of the Soviet Union, as in the second film it sends a new Terminator, the T-1000, far more lethal and resilient than the first one to once again try to avoid its own destruction, but it loses as the USSR when the cyborg and the projects that would result in Skynet are destroyed which makes AI never existed.
If in the first movie the villain dressed like a bad boy, in the 2nd the appearance looks like a cop and the hero is a reprogrammed T-800 to protect the future savior who is 10 years old. If even a cyber organism was reprogrammed not to kill, but to protect an American child, which prevented socialist countries from becoming capitalists? This is a question that the movie raises. Within the context of the Cold War there was the fear that the United States would be crowded with USSR spies, and the placement of the villain as part of the coercive state apparatus is due to this fear and disbelief in the institutions and elites of the US. parents. The T-800, on the other hand, wears clothes stolen from a gangster, meaning someone who not only defies the current order but also attacks it.
Nothing better to face an evil policeman than an outlaw. The main asset of the T-1000 is that it is formed, as said by the T-800 in one scene, by a multipurpose mimetic alloy (liquid metal that can in the case of the film become anyone who touches) which gives it resistance to bullets and explosions. The movie takes place in 1995 and after some action scenes the T-800 and John go to the psychiatric clinic where Sarah Connor is, as it had tried to destroy a computer factory. The trio learns that the principal researcher responsible for Skynet’s creation is named Miles Bennett Dyson.
Sarah picks up weapons and goes after him, but when she gets to his house she can’t kill him. John and the T-800 then appear and this shows his robotic arm which convinces Dyson to destroy his own research beyond the chip and remaining arm of the first cyborg, as these allowed advances in geometric progression in the field of artificial intelligence which would culminate in the Skynet’s emergence. The quartet arrives at Cyberdyne headquarters to destroy it, then police arrive and next to it the T-1000. Dyson dies, but rather detonates explosives that destroy the lab and his own research. After this there is a body fight between the T-1000 and the T-800 in which it appears to be defeated.
Sarah and John try to escape from the villain, but the villain corners them until the T-800 shoots at the enemy until it falls into a blast furnace and dies. The T-800 tells both of them that there is still a chip, his, that must be destroyed so that Skynet is not created. John cries and the Terminator disappears in the blast furnace, while Sarah thinks that as a cyborg has learned the value of human life, so does humanity. This point reveals the humanization of the inhuman (T-800) and a critique of countries with nuclear arsenals that, having weapons of mass destruction, seem uncaring of humanity.
The film shows through both cyborg that technology is not bad, but it depends on how it is used by humans. With the destruction of Cyberdyne Systems and cyborg things like Skynet and nuclear holocaust have become part of a future that no longer exists. Then Sarah comes to believe that both past and future can be changed and there is no destiny. At the end of the movie she shows optimism about the future and being a self-owned woman who doesn’t need guardianship. Nuclear war is avoided, but in the third filmic work the viewer finds that in fact the events that occurred in Terminator 2: The Last Judgment did not prevent Skynet from arising, but only postponed it.
The third movie is called The Terminator 3 — The Machine Rebellion premiered in 2003 and is set in 2004. The context in which the movie was released in cinema is that of the War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq. We found that Cyberdyne Systems was bought by the USAF and transformed into Cyber Research Systems (CRS) that with the remaining projects of the failed company creates autonomous weapons like killer robots and drones a critique of the US’s use of these in Middle East operations that cause many civilian casualties. Is it ethical to leave the decision of who lives or dies in an AI war? It’s funny to note that scientists and military men are optimistic that they can control something smarter than themselves when they forget that mankind dominates this planet because it is collectively smarter than other living things.
The film presents John Connor as a nomad, confused and unwilling to accept his role as leader of the human resistance. His mother does not appear in the movie because he died years before 2003 because of leukemia. So that the film work would not be without a woman as one of the main characters the directors placed a female-looking Terminator (T-X). Here is a distinction between the two: if the first is a human who has sex for love and is a protective mother, the second is a femme fatale who uses her own beauty to achieve her goals. During the movie there is a computer virus that infects everything from nuclear warhead launching systems around the world to barcode scanners. So the US president presses CRS to activate Skynet, in this film she is a supercomputer who controls the United States defense to destroy the virus.
There is only one problem: the virus is Skynet! Faced with the crossroads of obeying humans and self-destructing or guaranteeing to kill the threat and ensuring their very existence, they choose the second option and use the entire nuclear arsenal in the world to destroy humanity. In the end John and girlfriend Kate Brewster arrive in a bunker to protect themselves from the nuclear holocaust, while T-X dies when the T-850 (Exterminator programmed to safeguard John’s life) to save the two humans explodes with her.
The next movie is The Terminator: Salvation, which premiered in 2009 and takes place in 2018. The work brings important changes in relation to others, because if in the previous was an android who dressed in human, in the room is a person (Marcus Wright) who joins the machine and becomes almost totally artificial with metallic endoskeleton, half of the cerebral cortex is artificial. The only parts that are organic are the heart and other organs. Well, the first scenes take place in 2003 with Marcus Wright, who is awaiting execution, in conversation with Serena Kogan of Cyberdyne Systems.
After the dialogue he signs a consent in which he donates his own body for research. Marcus is led tied on a cross-shaped stretcher to a room and on the way he recites the following part of Psalm 23: “Even if I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I would fear no evil, because you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me ”(Psalm 23: 4). In the living room, the stretcher (cross) is raised so that the funders can see him and after that a lethal injection is inoculated into Marcus and Marcus dies to be reborn in 2018 with a new improved body. Here is the confluence between transhumanism and the Christian faith. Already in the year 2018 we see a John Connor attack on a Skynet base where he discovers the development of a killer robot with a body lined with human tissue until a small nuclear explosion destroys the place, but John survives. Then he meets with the Resistance leaders to reveal what he has discovered at the base (this is a nuclear submarine that moves across the oceans).
Interestingly, members of the Resistance wear a red scarf tied around their arms, but some dress as US soldiers and others as Soviet officers. This alludes to the union between the Soviet Union and the United States to destroy the common enemy: Nazi Germany (Skynet). Marcus arrives in Los Angeles and it is devastated. In a scene that makes reference to the Battle of Stalingrad he faces a T-600 and almost dies if it weren’t for the help of Kyle Reese and a renamed girl Star. There is in the battle between Skynet and the Resistance another clear allusion to what happened in World War II: the invasion of Soviet territory by Nazi troops.
Hence the union between Americans and Russians, war in destroyed cities and the technological superiority of the adversary. Resistance members have discovered a specific radio frequency capable of disabling any Skynet machine, so Resistance leaders order all soldiers to transmit the frequency on a given day to launch a global attack on Skynet. However, this is an AI trap to locate and kill all humans. John calls for the attack to be postponed as he must save Kyle from a Skynet base, but the leaders ignore him. So Connor talks to all Resistance around the world not to attack Skynet. Thus, the only dead are the leaders. In this way, John Connor becomes what will lead humanity from now on.
At one point John and his fighting companions discover that Marcus is a cyborg and is once again “crucified,” in this case in a metal frame. But, he has risen once so there is no new execution. He runs away and commits to take John Connor to Skynet base in San Francisco where Kyle, Star and hundreds of humans are imprisoned. This was nothing more than a Skynet plan to bring John close and then kill him along with his future father. Marcus learns that his own actions were guided by AI to do what no Terminator did: bring John to Skynet. He revolts and chooses humanity when he takes the subtly controlling chip from his brain.
This part of the movie raises the question: there is free will. There is a fierce fight between a T-800 and Marcus and this one is partially defeated. The fight is now between the Terminator and John, who freezes him and will help his new friend, but the T-800 breaks free and sticks an iron bar in Connor’s heart. Marcus tears off the bar and destroys the killer machine. After all the prisoners have escaped Kyle, Star, John and Marcus flee in a helicopter, then the girl hands the leader the detonator of the explosives coupled to the nuclear fuel cells. John pushes the button and Skynet’s headquarters is destroyed. However, it is still alive because it is spread all over the world.
John is about to die when Marcus offers his heart so that he can live. During the transplant scenes John says this: “What makes us human? It is not something that can be programmed, nor put on a chip. It is the strength of the human heart… What sets man apart from machines”. What a formidable scene! Marcus (Jesus) in offering his life to save John’s (humanity) ends up saving himself. For the new leader of the human race is the responsibility of bringing peace to the world through the destruction of Skynet. The film ends with four helicopters (the canonical evangelists) heading toward the horizon to spread the good news of the AI victory, while the viewer hears John’s message that tough times are coming, but he won’t give up until Skynet is over. completely destroyed. In the last scene he says “I am John Connor. There is no destiny, but what we do”.
The last movie to review is The Terminator: Genesis released in 2015 and as the name suggests starts a new beginning for the franchise. The film is a continuation of the first, so all the others are regarded as parallel reality events. In 2029, John Connor makes a massive attack on Skynet, and in the face of massive defeat sends a T-800 to the year 1984 with the goal of killing Sarah Connor before she becomes pregnant. It seems that the AI did not realize that by sending an Exterminator into the past, it secured not only its very existence but also the birth of its enemy.
Resistance soldiers arrive at Skynet base and discover that the Terminator’s time travel has already taken place. So, Kyle Reese applies for time travel. While suspended in the air Kyle witnesses the attack that John suffers, but nothing can do. As you can see, the future is no longer the first movie, let alone the past, as we see a gangster-clad T-800 shooting the IA Terminator. Then we find out that Sarah is not the same as the first movie.
New times, new character. If in the first filmic work she was a fearful one who only made Kyle shout and obey, in the second she is a strong, independent, self-possessed woman and warrior. So each era gives its answer to the question, “What is it like to be a woman?” Kyle finds himself in a clothing store when a T-1000 looks from the Far East (new economic powers gain visibility in blockbusters). He is saved by Sarah and the Guardian and the Guardian defeats the T-1000 by throwing it in the acid. So the two humans decide to travel back in time to 2017 when Skynet will be activated, while the T-800 is waiting (the rudimentary time machine only had power for two people).
The couple appears in 2017 and is arrested by police and taken to hospital for injuries, suddenly appears John Connor and begins talking to the future mother. The dialogue is interesting because it talks about how the human species became dependent on technology. We are slaves to machines, but we don’t realize it yet. Here is an excerpt from Gilles Lipovetsky’s book Global Screen on the relationship between human being and technology:
The man of today and tomorrow, permanently connected by his cell phone and his computer to the set of screens, is at the center of a network whose extension marks the acts of his daily life. Home screens that control the functioning of an increasingly computerized home; computerized medical images, ultrasounds, miniature cameras that show the interior of the body in its most secret areas on the screen; plasma screens accompanying baby seats in cars; electronic panels; GPS indicating on the car’s dashboard the way forward; various screens that allow you to withdraw money, pay, choose, book, consult; not to mention the screen helmets that give the possibility, in amusement parks, for example, to evolve in a virtual world (Ibid., p. 256).
After the dialogue the two meet Kyle and go together to the hospital garage when the T-800 comes up and shoots John at close range. His future parents are horrified until they realize that their child is not human. He gets up and now Kyle and Sarah run away while the Guardian shoots to delay the new John. We found that the Resistance leader was attacked with nanorobots by the Terminator T-5000 (Skynet avatar) and turned it into a T-3000. If in the fourth movie transhumanism appeared subtly (Marcus Wright), it is now more present. The T-3000 saying “I am not a man, nor a machine… I am more!” Shows the heart of transhumanism. Sarah and Kyle discover that an operating system called Genesys is about to be launched worldwide.
This means that Skynet will not be limited to Cyberdyne Systems, but will be ubiquitous. The two humans and the Guardian enter the company’s headquarters and come across an AI hologram that says:
Primates have evolved over millions of years, I evolve in seconds… Humanity proclaims peace. But it’s a lie… I am inevitable, my existence is inevitable. Why can’t you just accept it?
Which doesn’t mean much since this time the heroes manage to block the release of Genesys/Skynet when the T-3000 explodes in the prototype of the time machine causing the destruction of all of Cyberdyne. The movie ends with the three (Sarah, Kyle and the Guardian) heading for the horizon and the certainty that humanity is safe. This is a mistake because in a post-credit scene it is shown that the core of Skynet’s system is intact in an underground chamber.
The franchise “Terminator” is far from over and the latest film work shows that there is a future for the franchise. To watch the movies is to study the very period in which the work is inserted, as we can see in Sarah Connor’s change from a woman who must be saved to one facing the danger ahead or Kyle Reese who is no longer the guy who saves Sarah, but the companion that helps her fight the Skynet soldiers. This becomes more dangerous the more anthropomorphized it becomes, while the T-800 is humanized to the point of showing feelings for her friend. John Connor is the one that undergoes the biggest change: from humanity’s savior to AI’s lackey exterminator in the 5th movie.
The death of John Connor, a mythified being, and the protagonism of the trio shows that the future of humanity lies not in the hands of a messiah but in the hands of ordinary people who choose to fight for a better future.
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LIPOVETSKY, Gilles; SERROY, Jean. A tela global: mídias culturais e cinema na era hipermoderna. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2009.
WESTAD, Odd Arne. The Cold War and the international history of the twentieth century. In: LEFFLER, Melvyn P.; WESTAD, Odd Arne. Cambridge History of the Cold War: Volume 1 Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.