When Arnold Schwarzenegger uttered the words “I’ll be back” in the first Terminator film, he didn’t know that they would become the reigning catchphrase in a career littered with them. He’s repeated the line – with variations – in every subsequent film in the franchise, in a dozen other movie roles, and in speeches when he was governor of California.
He’s signed it in the concrete next to his foot- and handprints in front of the TCL (once Grauman’s, then Mann’s) Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, but let’s hope he doesn’t end up having it carved on his tombstone; that would be weird.
The wonder of Terminator Genisys – the fifth film in a franchise that also includes a TV series, video games and a theme park ride – is that Arnold gets to come back several times, all at once, as the youthful T-800 Terminator villain of the 1984 original, for instance, battling himself as the T-800 Model 101 from that film’s 1991 sequel. With a time-traveling plot that bounces from the dystopian future back to 1984 and forward again to 2017, Arnold is back so many times that viewers might need a chart.
Some people don’t get to come back, however, including Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese (upgraded several times over the course of the franchise, and played by Jai Courtney for Terminator Genisys,) Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor - replaced for the new film by Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones – and Robert Patrick’s “liquid metal” T-1000 from Terminator 2, now played by Korean action star Lee Byung-hun.
You can’t help but wonder that while our personal electronics – our cell phones, tablets and laptops – have become closed systems, upgradable only by voiding warranties and cracking open sealed cases, our movies are now full of infinitely swappable components, replaced when actors age, new ones plugged into old roles with digital seamlessness.
On the topic of personal electronics, the storyline for Terminator Genisys – hell, the title itself – comes from the idea that our networked present will lead to a nightmare future when all of those devices and the code that runs them is finally linked by one huge operating system that achieves sentience and decides that we need to be deleted like an old, buggy app.
It’s not a new idea; it was at the heart of the original 1984 film, back when portable phones were as big as paving stones and nobody thought taking photos of their food was a great way to enhance their personal brand. What’s a wonder is how audiences will fiddle with their feature-packed phones, even playing games on it with the theatre screen while waiting for the trailers, while settling in to watch a movie where those phones are the harbingers of our doom.
There might have been a day when stories about the end of the world as we know it caused genuine fear, but that seems like a long time ago now, and today we can spend a summer watching films where cities are destroyed and mankind made extinct every other weekend. We live in a state of extinction fatigue, enervated by endless visions of Armageddon. The people retailing global warming have discovered this, after spending two decades trying to scare us with stories about dried out reservoirs and rising seas; in the end, it was probably our own jaded sense of anxiety, worn down to a callous by too many doomsdays, that made the climate change scenario fade to the bottom of opinion polls, rather than any widespread unease about its logical inconsistencies or the motivations of its salesmen.
You might want to think about this as you turn your phone to airplane mode as the lights dim before watching Terminator Genisys this summer. You probably won’t worry about Arnold and his continued employability. After over three decades and five films, you know he’ll be back.
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