Superman Returns wasn’t a terrible film, but it wasn’t great either. What it was, however, was the first reboot as a franchise that actually placed itself after a sequel and told you that the terrible parts of the franchise were now on the scrapheap.
There aren’t many people with a lot of love for Superman’s third and fourth adventures. The third film saw Richard Pryor wander in from one of his stand-up shows and make the film one big lesson for Eddie Murphy. “Here Eddie, stop swearing, lose your edge and make loads of money. Oh, and erase all of your credibility as a result!” Eddie was clearly listening back in 1983, as it wasn’t long before he followed suit.
The Terminator franchise is back in 2015, the same year that Star Wars: Episode VII and Avengers II will be hitting screens, not to mention a new Man of Steel film which will see everybody’s favourite pants-over-tights superhero face off against Batman in some capacity. It won’t be Bale as Batman though. He’s clearly watched Man of Steel and doesn’t fancy being thrown through 500 CGI buildings like everyone in Man of Steel was. It got boring of us too, Christian. You’ve made the right decision.
Arnie is back in the acting saddle now, and is expected to make an appearance in the new Terminator movie. This is already getting alarm bells ringing. As much as everybody loved Arnie back in the 80’s and 90’s, his career as a film star has been on the wane since 1996’s Eraser, and his last appearance in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines wreaked of “I’m here for the payday”. There’s no way he read that script and wanted to sign on. He was paid $30m and a 20% share of the profits. That might have eased the pain of having to say the line: “Talk to the hand”.
Terminator Salvation and Superman IV: A Quest for Peace have a lot in common. They are both fourth installments of a tired franchise that failed because of mass interference, albeit in different ways. Christopher Reeve said in his autobiography that the film was a disaster from start to finish, with shortcuts being taken everywhere. The film is barely watchable as a result.
Salvation fails almost entirely because of the director McG trying to “honour” the past and watering down the more adult themes of the original movies, making it a PG-13 video game rather than an adult action sci-fi movie. The other failure is Christian Bale’s John Connor. Sam Worthington’s conflicted man-robot is supposed to be the lead, but Bale’s JC tries to take over, but he forgets that in order to do this, he needs to do more than moan at everyone and talk in his Batman voice.
Both films suggested that the franchises had run their course, but Superman Returns showed that there is a way to make up for past discretions and re-entering a franchise at an interesting point of the franchise can work. In that world, Superman I and II exist, but III and IV don’t. We all wish we lived in that world.
Superman Returns is a mixed bag, but it showed that the experiment can work for other franchises. Terminator is one of them. It would take somebody who was very brave to attempt to do it, but how great would it be to see a Terminator film that takes place after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and forgets the horrors of parts three and four?
The Terminator franchise became so obsessed with Arnie that it forgot what made parts one and two so special in the first place: Sarah Connor. The fate of mankind is dropped onto the shoulders of a sweet but meek waitress who is working at Big Ben’s restaurant. Her story arc over the first two films is what keeps audiences coming back to the story, not how much carnage Arnie causes with his big gun. It is the reason the third one falls so flat. To just write Sarah Connor out of the series is a huge sin, one that the TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles attempted valiantly to atone for.
A really interesting concept for a Superman Returns-style Terminator 5 would be to show how Sarah Connor deals with the fact that she has stopped the apocalypse after T2. How would you deal with the fact that you had been through the ordeals of these two films – and saved the world in the process – yet nobody knew or cared about your achievements? You would be pretty messed up.
As for John Connor, the poor lad has been deprived of the chance to be the saviour of mankind, yet he has also been through a series of traumatic events and is watching his mother slowly driven insane by what she has seen and what she knows of this alternate future that Kyle Reese lived in.
The film could hark back to its indie roots, with this new, peaceful yet traumatic existence being broken up with the arrival of yet another time travelling cyborg killer…
How they could make this work, who knows, but it has to be more interesting than simply blowing stuff up and having robots fight and be thrown through buildings. People are getting bored of this style of filmmaking-meets-video games. Stories are what make great films, and The Terminator had a beating heart before it had explosions and Arnie in comedy shades.
Superman Returns tried to bring the Man of Steel back to his roots. It didn’t pull it off 100%, but it has to be respected for its gallant attempt to atone for two terrible sequels that took away everything that was great about the franchise. The Terminator should do the same, but it is unlikely it will be any more than an attempt to make more dollars out of a franchise that has truly lost its way.