The Terminator is one of the most celebrated, most popular film series of the last two decades. The first two films, directed by James Cameron, were some of the most inventive, insane action movies of the last 25 years. The last two movies, not so much. But still good flicks in their own right. The series has yet to face plant like Alien Resurrection or infuriate like Highlander 2: The Quickening (which I own and will talk of later-trust me) But it’s maybe lagging over the last decade.
Now people obviously associate Schwarzenegger with these movies, but the real protagonist is not the robot. It’s John Connor, the prophesied savior of the human race. You see, there’s this little war with machines in the future, and Conner is the go-to-guy. So the machines try to kill him. Over the course of these movies (and a TV show) John has been portrayed by many actors in many phases of his life. Let’s compare these performances and put together the life of mankind’s greatest hope, John Connor.
The Terminator (1984)The first film in the series is a dark and violent horror movie cloaked as a sci fi action flick. The machine known as the T-800, or Terminator, has been sent back in time by SKYNET, a self aware computer that has, in the future, nuked humanity and fights human resistance led by John Connor. SKYNET sends back a killing machine to destroy Connor before he’s even born. This means killing Sarah Connor, his mom. Resistance fighter Kyle Reese is sent,by JC himself, to protect her.
John Connor, JC, Jesus Christ? Could Cameron be going for a diety connection? Connor as the savior and a miraculous birth, Reese as the angel sent from God (aka adult JC, remember he’s both!) It makes sense. We never meet JC in this one, but we do see how he is, um, conceived(?) and we can see why his mom cracked so hard. Terminator is seriously effed up. Can you imagine a killer robot with red eyes hunting you relentlessly? Yikes. So, no Connor per say, but that’s ok. We meet mom and dad and set the stage for T2, one of the BEST action flicks and sequels and Schwarzenegger movies eva.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
I’m watching T2 as I write this, so its affecting my post, but this is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Top three maybe. I could watch this movie every day of my life and still love it. It’s just so…big and loud and dynamic. Every scene is incredible, every fight, every one liner, and each character is so alive and real and just so relatable, except maybe the T-1000. That dude’s crazy.
This time we get two John’s-a treat for us. Let’s discuss.
Michael Edwards as Adult John Connor in 2029.This is an honorable mention in our John Connor’s of the world tour here. Edwards gets about 45 seconds of screen time, but it’s a good 45 seconds. He looks very tough, very experienced, he looks like a leader. That scar tells stories we only imagine in our heads, and his steely gaze speaks volumes. In the opening of T2, we get a look at the war in 2029, and it looks bleak. We’re re-told the origins and then we move to John Connor, circa 1991.
He’s about, what eleven? Thirteen at the most. A scrawny little punk, living in a foster home and talking all kinds of shit. I love this kid. He’s learned some stuff from his crazy mom, but mostly he uses it for computer hacking and petty theft. He sports a bad ass Public Enemy Tee, listens to G & R on the stereo, and plays Missile Command at the arcade. Humanity’s savior you ask?
Well this movie is really about JC’s awakening to his role in the world and the coming J Day/ War against Machines thing. JC shows his true colors and real values when he orders the Terminator not to kill. Funny, would have thought they would take care of that before they sent him back. The robots like, “Yea. I kill people. I’m a terminator. ”
He also insists they free and save his mom, figures out the connection to Dyson, helps destroy the Cyberdyne systems responsible for creating SKYNET, escapes the T-1000, and learns a lot. And learning’s half the battle!
Basically, T2 has one of the best, if not THE BEST, child performance ever in Edward Furlong. The film is the perfect defining chapter in JC’s chronicle, the real stepping off point for the story.
There’s no fate but what you make. Remember that kids, cause the next few movies totally, completely forget this defining principle.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)After T2 prevented J Day and destroyed Cyberdyne Systems aka SKYNET, most people figured the story’s over. We won, JC never had to lead a human resistance, job well done.
Except the execs. No, they knew there was more story to tell. How? Scrap the shit from T2. That was ten years ago anyways. (Just curious if they even watched T2, or understood it. )No fate but what we make-except the nuclear holocaust. That’s inevitable.
So we meet up with JC at nineteen. He’s played by Nick Stahl, who kind of just moves along with the film, not really taking an active role, but basically ducking when he needs to duck and running when he needs to run. The plot is the same kind of re-tread of T2. Machines send a terminator to kill other resistance leaders, for some reason giving up the “kill John Connor” theory. The resistance agains learns of this, in the future, and sends back Arnie as the re-re-programmed T-800 model 101, blah blah blah.
"It's not a tumor!"
Basically, JC is alone, mom died(?), homeless. Stays off the grid. Why is never really made clear. He should think that J Day, since it never came, was avoided, and there’s no mention of him being wanted for blowing up the Cyberdyne building in T2. So why off the grid?
He’s less than surprised when Arnie comes back and they get into the same kind of troubles. Now, remember Arnie is programmed to “Protect John Connor”, and the other resistance members. (We meet his future wife, played by Claire Danes) So how does he do this? By placing JC in an underground bunker, so the bombs can go off. J Day happens and the movie ends.
This John Connor disappointed me. He never advances his leadership attributes, he more just fumbles around. I just didn’t care about him in this movie. Again, good action, just not so much happening in the way of character development.
Now we have another honorable mention. That goes to John Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2007-2009).
This short lived TV series ignores T3 all together (nice!) and puts JC and mom in ’97. Then it time travels them forward to ’09, right before the new J Day. There they attempt to take down Cyberdyne Systems once and for all.
I have only seen the pilot of this, but intend on watching more. It acts very much like an actual sequel to T2, with winks and nods to the film galore. The kid who plays John ( Thomas Dekker) is good, a little pre teen, high school musical, but decent overall. I’ll get back after seeing more maybe.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Now we all know I’m writing this beacause of Terminator Salvation. So let me just get my whole theory about the war with the machinces thing out of the way first.
Now time travel is a sticky situation. It complicates plots and timelines, obviously. The main point here being, SKYNET never would have existed if the original Terminator had never been sent back.
We know this because it was that Terminator’s machinery that propelled Cyberdyne systems to begin work on SKYNET to begin with.
If that Terminator had killed Sarah Connor, not only would John Connor not have existed, but there would be no machines.
In T2, the plan was to stop Cyberdyne from going through with creating robots, but it was too late. The process was already in motion. The J Day was only postponed. It happened, we’re fucked. Cut to THe War already.
Now the latest film, Salvation, has the most problems with the timeline set up and confuses itself and me to extreme frustration.
Namely, Salvation proposes that SKYNET knew of JC’s and Kyle Resse’s importance before they became the real leaders of the resistance. This means that before SKYNET sends back it’s first Terminator, it knows that Kyle Reese will be sent back and defeat their assassin.They know this because it happened in 1984 and presumably SKYNET obtained this info when it became self aware.
SKYNET also knows that John Connor is the proposed savior, and the movie takes place a whole decade before the events of 2029 that sees the time travel stuff happening. So SKYNET can not only see into the future and predict events to come, but it knows of every thing that occurred in the first three movies.
That kind of gives SKYNET an unnatural advantage. In fact, I would say that in Salvation, SKYNET has no, zero, plans of killing Kyle Reese, simply because it knows Reese goes back in time ten years from now to help Sarah Connor kill the terminator, and thus give birth simultaneously, to it. If SKYNET kills Reese, it will never exist. Thus, the whole movie is kind of a cheat. The humans win because SKYNET must let them win in order to exist and continue to exist.
Wait. Now I confused myself. Anyways, where were we?
Oh yea! Now JC is more or less a grunt in this film, becoming a leader after his whole squad and everybody gets blowed up real good. He takes his life pretty seriously by this time. It’s a bleak world, and JC is jusT as dark. Lost is all the funny or light hearted moments from the first three. Its’ all a pale colorless desert. Christian Bale plays the role with as much brevity as he gave the Dark Knight last summer. Just not a very easy going kind of guy. His JC comes across as a loud and dangerous maverick in this film, risking all kinds of lives to ensure his fate is sealed by rescuing the imprisoned Kyle Reese, who is now teenager. “We have to rescue this kid so he can bang my mom!” This feels kinda weird, almost dirty. Time travel is messy stuff.
I guess the main problem with TS is that we hardly even follow JC at all. Our time is mostly spent with Marcus, the robot of the piece. He thinks he’s human, but is a machine. Wow. I didn’t figure that one out. For the first hour or so, JC is spotty at best. Mostly sitting behind a tabletop arcade machine a la this guy in Star Wars.
General Dodonna: "You're fucking amateur."
There’s all kinds of robots more akin to Transformers than Terminators, there’s explosives rigged to every building, it’s just all a wee bit strange. Kate Connor, the missus, is played by Bryce Howard, only two years older than Danes, who played the character as ten years younger (that’s really just a fun fact and commentary on how Hollywood detests actresses over forty unless they’re playing the grandma). Marcus is the undeniable hero of the film, his character taking on all of the developments as far as sacrifice and salvation, while John is the guy that Marcus saves in a weirdly abrupt ending if i do say so. In fact, I’m not really sure what “Salvation” the title is referring to?
Overall, another good action flick, but what have they done to my little Johnny boy? I remember loving this little guy and wanting to see the rest of his story. But it’s all gone wrong. The Machines are still winning, and if TS has one main drawback, it’s that nothing really gets accomplished in this movie.
Terminator had the conception of John Connor.
T2 had his awakening to his journey and beginnings of his journey.
T3 had J Day and the real acceleration of JC’s role for humanity.
TS has…no real event, save some battles and rescue missions. There’s a plan to eradicate the machine threat with a radio wave, but not much really is resolved or explored or even advanced. JC becomes a leader in ways, but I feel his growth in this movie is considerably stunted by comparison.
Who wins then, in the battle of the Johns? I’d say it’s a close one between Stahl and Bale, but Furlong leaves them all in the dust. I doubt any John Connor can be cooler than this guy.
There will probably be another Terminator before long, and probably soon. Let’s hope they actually focus on the hero this time. Can’t wait to see old John Connor, badass scar and all.