I have always liked a good Schwarzenegger movie, mainly because even the bad ones manage to be good out of hilarity and because the dude, despite having a lack of acting talent, is still very entertaining and paradoxically charismatic in his own way.
But The Terminator is a film he’s actually good in. As in, he is legitimately a great actor and perfectly cast because all he has to do is look scary, and speak in a monotone voice. In fact, although the first Terminator film isn’t my favourite of the bunch, I’d still say it’s the one Schwarzenegger is the best in.
The plot goes that he, Schwarzenegger, is a cybernetic robot sent back in time to kill Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), the mother of a man who will one day lead humanity to victory in a war against many other cybernetic robots, before the man is conceived. After realising this, the human resistance send a soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect her. Both land slap-bang in the 80’s and battle over Sarah’s fate and the future of humanity.
What I like most about the film is that it doesn’t linger on all the time travel nonsense – it’s treated as a framing device for the story rather than as a crutch of it. As a result, you get to have this larger-than-life sci-fi story without having twenty scenes of the characters all scratching their heads trying to figure out the logistics of it. Because, sure, you can pick the film apart rather easily, for the same reasons you can any time travel movie, but you’d be missing the point by doing so. Case and point: Many of the modern Terminator films dwell too much on the time travel and, as a result, fall into a pit o awful writing because they linger on the one part of the franchise that never needed explaining. And by trying to explain it, you ironically require the audience to suspend their disbelief more than you would if you just didn’t.
Instead you should probably be thinking about the characters. Kyle Reese is a PTSD wreck of a man who took a time travel mission because he got a crush on Sarah after seeing a picture of her in the future. Michael Biehn gives a bit of a 50/50 performance here. In some scenes it really feels like he’s acting his socks off, and in others he falls a bit flat. Sarah is probably the best character, in large part due to Linda Hamilton’s performance. Watching her go from scared waitress to hardened, Terminator-fighting soldier yelling orders at Reese in the finale is great.
Then there’s of course the action; my favourite scene is probably the whole sequence in the police station. Starting with Reese being called a loon by a criminal psychologist, Sarah being assured the man Reese claims is a Terminator is just a guy with body armour, and all of that culminating in an invincible robot killing thirty cops in cold blood while Reese escapes their custody and improvises a safe escape for Sarah is just great. The whole shoot out, mercilessness of the Terminator and disbelief of the cops is just a sight to behold.
I think the most famous scene in the movie is obviously when Arnold gets blown up and we get to see the Terminator for what it is; a spooky metal skeleton with red eyes. Admittedly it does look pretty dated both when it is alone in the spotlight and when it has to interact with the actors. When Reese blows it up we get the version of it crawling along the factory floor, it does look a lot more real – probably because it was a lot easier to puppeteer. And even having seen this film ten times, I still wondered if it was dead when Sarah crushed it, so I guess it goes to show that the tension of the scene is still there even if the effects are no longer the best.
Although a little dated, The Terminator is still a reliably entertaining action movie and one I’d definitely recommend. It’s one of those movies that should be on everyone’s bucket list, I think.