5 Reasons The Terminator Franchise Makes No Goddamn Sense
With the release of Terminator Salvation (aka Terminator With Batman and Transformers!) we'd like to take a closer look at the franchise that has explored such pressing issues as our dependence on machines, what it means to be human and how utterly incredible it would be if Robert Patrick could turn his arm into a fucking knife.
However, in our exploration of this series, we have come across a few gaps in logic, which we felt compelled to share with you. Why? Because we don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and we absolutely will not stop, ever, until every movie you have ever loved is ruined.
Daddy Issues and Paradoxes
If you've found your way to this article, odds are you remember The Terminator, but let's refresh some key plot points. In the mysterious and distant future--1997, to be exact--Skynet, a highly-advanced artificial intelligence, is introduced to the world. Humans decide to hand over all military control to this system because in the Terminator universe the people have not seen The Terminator.
Decades later, the humans are at war with the robots and a brave warrior named John Connor takes charge and turns the tide. The machines strike back by sending the Governor of California back to the 80s to kill Connor's mom before he's born. The humans send Michael Biehn back to protect her.
Along the way, he makes it part of his mission to protect her vagina from not having his penis in it. And that, readers, is where everything in the space-time continuum gets "iffy."
As it turns out, when Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton sleep together, they conceive John Connor. And, as we learn in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the Terminator is destroyed in the first film, the microchip in its skull survives, falls into the hands of computer company Cyberdyne Systems, and allows for the creation of Skynet in the first place.
Therefore, the only reason either John Connor or the machines exist is because the Terminator went back in time, and the only reason the Terminator went back in time is because the machines and John Connor exist. Get it?
"I have to protect your unborn child, but first let's go ahead and get you pregnant."
Oh, and John Connor and our heroes spend the last act of the second movie trying to prevent said war, meaning John Connor is trying to prevent his own existence, by eliminating the reason for his dad to travel back in time to conceive him. And, if he does prevent his own existence, well, he certainly won't be around to prevent the war thus prevent his existence and...
Well, you get the idea.
Related: The Smartphone Owner's Paradox
If At First You Don't Succeed...
So, we've established that the first Terminator failed and was in fact killed by a waitress. Consider how embarrassing that must have been for it.
But neither Skynet or Hollywood give up on good ideas, they merely try them again when the technology improves. Hence Terminator 2, in which a highly-advanced liquid metal Terminator is sent back again, only this time it's the 90s and the target, being young John Connor, can barely tie his shoes.
Luckily, the original T-800, his balls now safely removed, is sent back to protect John after being reprogrammed by him in the future. They meet up with Linda Hamilton and once again, our heroes thwart the bad guy, despite his obvious technological advantage. Did we mention he can turn his arm into a knife? C'mon.
The third time around, Skynet throws a little something called the T-X John Connor's way.
The T-X has a liquid metal substance for skin, futuristic weapons built into its endoskeleton, and can make its breasts grow at will. Yet, once again an outdated T-800, Nick Stahl and Claire Danes defeat this wonderful creation. Is your disbelief still suspended?
If so, answer this for us: Can't Skynet just keep on trying until it gets John Connor?
We highly doubt that the time machine has an "only three assassination attempts per user" rule. And anyway, why do they keep on trying to attack John Connor at different periods in his existence anyway? Couldn't they send the T-X back to the 80s to deal with Linda Hamilton again?
Or even earlier? After all, why lose the element of surprise by traveling to a time when the targets know what they're up against? It'd make a lot more sense to send the Terminators to earlier in the character's lives, when they were still oblivious to the threat. Get Sarah Connor as an infant, damnit. Hell, even if it was just one day earlier than the first movie, it would still make all the difference in the world.
Honestly, who programmed this shit?
Breaking the Law (Their Own)
The Terminator series really only establishes two rules for its futuristic technology:
1. The robots cannot show emotion;
2. The time machine can't transport non-living matter.
First, the emotion thing. This one seems pretty easy to nail down, right (they're fucking robots)? And it's stated right in the second movie when Arnold says, "I know now why you cry, but it's something I can never do" (though some students of the franchise speculate that was just Schwarzenegger thinking out loud on the set and the microphone happened to be on).
So why then, at the end of that very film, does the T-1000 give us the world's greatest "oh shit" face just moments before his destruction:
Pictured: The clinical, calm detachment of a robot.
And he's not the only one. When the T-X discovers that she is on the trail of her main target John Connor, she displays an odd mix of excitement and what appears to be arousal, because hunting down the savior of mankind must be so damn hot.
Come on, lady, your one job in this movie was to not act.
And then there's the non-living matter time machine issue. As Kyle Reese explains in the first film, no advanced weaponry can be brought back from the future because the time machine can only transmit living tissue. That's why we had to tolerate naked Schwarzenegger ass for two films before somebody finally remembered to put a hot woman in the role.
Now, technically, the first Terminator is a machine with living tissue layered over its endoskeleton, so it gets a pass, we guess. Enter the T-1000, the second film's liquid metal Terminator that can take nearly any shape and recover from nearly any wound. Oh, and it can turn its arm into a knife.
The problem is, this Terminator is composed entirely of liquid metal. No living tissue, no flesh, just 100% mimetic-poly alloy (thank you, James Cameron). That means, according to the rules clearly established in the first movie, it cannot travel back in time.
But, it does. Same goes for the T-X in the third movie. That Terminator is liquid metal on top of a heavily armored endoskeleton. It shouldn't be able to venture to the past either.
Now, the whole point of adding that rule in the first movie was that it closed the "why don't they just send back a nuclear bomb?" plot hole. Fine. But just to further piss all over that logic, we find out in the third film that, in fact, the T-800 has the equivalent of little nukes stored in its abdomen. That's how he ultimately defeats the lady Terminator. So... why didn't he use those against Sarah Connor in the first movie?
As if the time travel paradoxes weren't complicated enough, the narrow thread of continuity holding this franchise together frays into two completely different--but equally disappointing--directions after the second movie.
According to the third movie, once Terminator 2 ends, Sarah Connor dies, John Connor becomes a migrant worker, and mankind gets blown to smithereens in 2004. Terminator Salvation will follow from this course of events, with Batman, new Chekov and the blind girl from The Village fighting off the machines of Skynet in a bleak, post apocalyptic landscape without sweet laser guns.
Not the John Connor these robots want, and not the John Connor they deserve, but the John Connor they need.
Alright, we can live with that. If we need to see a continuation of this series, might as well be with Christian Bale taking charge.
But then there's a television series out there.
According to The Sarah Connor Chronicles, our heroes stay on the run after Terminator 2. Sarah Connor is sick, but she ain't dead yet (and is surprisingly badass for someone who's supposed to be on her way out). More Terminators have been sent back to kill John and inexplicably fail at something a barely competent hitman should have no problem with. Summer Glau, another reprogrammed Terminator, has been sent back to protect him.
According to this timeline, Judgment Day doesn't happen in 2004, although odds are it will strike in 2011.
So... the two futures are obviously incompatible (the different Judgment Day dates completely change all subsequent developments, from the war to the resistance to the invention of time travel itself). So is this all in an alternate reality, like the new Star Trek movie? Does it mean that one course of events is legitimate, and the other isn't?
Or does it mean that none of the outcomes really matter, since no matter what happens, there is invariably some other alternate timeline where the opposite has occurred? Is there some timeline where the machines are friendly? Where the Terminator is a sassy black kid? Where the human sent to protect mankind is Zach Braff?
No Fate But What We Make Up As We Go Along
Huge sci-fi franchises often revolve around a central philosophical conundrum. For instance, The Matrix ponders existential questions like "what is reality?" and "should the sequels exist?" For the Terminator franchise, it has always been the question of determinism: Can the future be changed, or is it set in stone? Luckily for viewers, it's one of the very few franchises that has the balls to have an advanced machine from the future objectively answer the film's central question. Unluckily, it's also the only one with the balls to have the exact same machine give the exact opposite answer later on.
At first glance, the fact that the Terminators are sent back in time to kill John Connor would suggest that clearly the machines think they can alter the course of history so that they won't have to deal with his crap once they take over the world. A major theme of the second film is that the apocalypse can be avoided, that there is indeed "no fate but what we make."
By the end of that movie, it seems clear that Judgment Day has been avoided, and we can all rest easy, knowing that at least one pressing question from the franchise has been cleared up. And then Terminator 3 rolls around...
Arnold shows up again to protect John Connor, who insists that he and his mom prevented the destruction of mankind in the last film. Arnold clarifies things for the little twerp by confirming that Judgment Day cannot be prevented, only postponed. In his words, it is "inevitable."
Which is kind of funny, since he said the exact opposite in the second movie. You might remember the scene. Linda Hamilton has just woken up from the collective subconscious nightmare of every Cold War kid on earth...
IF ONLY I HAD HIDDEN UNDER MY DESK.
...and is dead set on killing the guy responsible for creating Skynet, hoping that his death will prevent the nuclear war. Little John Connor flips out annoyingly as is his tendency, at which point Arnold tells him that killing Dyson might actually prevent Judgment Day.
Got that? The objective, all-knowing machine just gave two different answers to the question "can we stop the end of the world?"
So... if Judgment Day can't be prevented, then the war and mankind's ultimate victory of the machines can't be prevented either, right? If fate can only be nudged a couple of years in one direction or another, then nothing any character does at any point in any of the movies makes any motherfucking difference at all.
Enjoy Terminator Salvation, kids!
Before you go dismissing the franchise, just remember that it could come true, as evidenced by the movies in 7 Completely Unrealistic Movie Plots (That Came True). Or check out some more mind-boggling bad guy schemes, in The 6 Most Pointlessly Elaborate Movie Murder Plots.
And go to our Top Picks if you want to live.