The Story of a Woman

James Cameron has said he woke from a dream about a relentless, unstoppable killing machine and wrote the first draft of The Terminator. That makes sense, except he didn’t write a story about a robot. He wrote a story about a woman.

We didn’t fork over our money and eat stale popcorn to watch the T-800 ruthlessly pursue a waitress from Bob’s Big Boy. We were there to experience the transformation of a girl into a badass warrior woman. In the process, Termintor 1 becomes one of the most emotional, transformative action movies ever made.

The ending as she sadly narrates her escape into the wilderness is so far from the girl who just couldn’t quite handle the pressures of waiting tables it’s hard to believe she’s even played by the same actress. And the impact of that ending is only increased by her appearance in the second film, now completely transformed into a monomaniacal crusader for the future.

Thinking about this, I was reminded that many of the action movies I love most have a deep, emotional narrative beneath the superficial violence. The only thing John Wick loves more than his dog is his vengeance. John McClean is dealing with a lot more than just terrorists trying to take over a high rise. Furiosa’s need to save the concubines from Immortan Joe drives Fury Road.

And, by the same token, many of the lackluster action flicks failed less because of cliched plots or a trope laden set pieces than the inability of the audience to emotionally connect with the story. The Last Action Hero hit all the high notes of an 80s action movie and no one cared. I Am Legend was so emotionally cold, not even Will Smith combined with cutting edge CGI could rescue it. (I’m still waiting on the good version of I Am Legend. It’s one of my favorite novels.)

So here’s hoping James Cameron and Tim Miller have made something to restore a once beautiful franchise.

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