It’s been more than a quarter-of-a-century since she and Schwarzenegger last co-starred together in James Cameron’s 1991 Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator's Linda Hamilton shows age is no barrier
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s coming back, something he’s been telling us for years. But it was something of a groundbreaking surprise this week when James Cameron announced that Linda Hamilton will also return to the Terminator franchise. It’s now more than a quarter-of-a-century since she and Schwarzenegger last co-starred together in Cameron’s 1991 Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the series’ high point and a benchmark for Hollywood sci-fi.
Since then, the franchise has been diluted with disappointing sequels, including 2015’s Terminator Genisys, in which Schwarzenegger returned as the cybernetic killing machine, the T-800. Hamilton has largely stayed away from the series, apart from providing the occasional voiceover for her character Sarah Connor. But with Cameron producing and co-writing this untitled sixth instalment, alongside mooted director Tim Miller (Deadpool), the prospect of such a reunion is enticing.
Cameron was at a private function earlier this week celebrating the franchise, which has just seen T2 rereleased in a new 3-D version, when he spoke about Connor/Hamilton.
“As meaningful as she was to gender and action stars everywhere back then, it’s going to make a huge statement to have that seasoned warrior that she’s become return,” he announced. “There are 50-year-old, 60-year-old guys out there killing bad guys,” he said, in reference to ageing action movie stars, “but there isn’t an example of that for women.”
Indeed, Schwarzenegger – since the end of his spell as governor of California – has milked this thirst for watching action stars who were in their prime in the Eighties return all guns-blazing when they should be heading for retirement. He, along with Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, dusted off the cobwebs for The Expendables series, proving there is life in these old dogs yet.
Most fans on social media this week welcomed Hamilton’s return, with #ShesBack trending on Twitter. Sarah Connor, mother to John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance when the machines take over, is unquestionably iconic. But in an industry where ingrained sexism still lurks, asking an actress – who turned 61 yesterday – to reprise an action-oriented character is almost unheard of. Will audiences respond to a female in her Sixties kicking ass?
Certainly, the success this year of Patty Jenkins’s superhero movie Wonder Woman, which grossed US$819 million (Dh3008m) worldwide, proved that viewers are keen to watch female heroines. Likewise, Charlize Theron in espionage thriller Atomic Blonde and the upcoming Ocean’s Eight, the all-female reboot of the Steven Soderbergh-directed Ocean’s caper movies, hint that studios are aware of what women (and plenty of men) want. All very positive, but Hamilton’s return is an even stronger statement of gender equality.
Ironically, Cameron landed in hot water with recent comments made to The Guardian newspaper. “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided,” he said. “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.”
If that positioned Cameron as a Hollywood dinosaur, out of step with modern thinking, in retrospect it feels like the director was laying the groundwork for Sarah Connor’s return. Certainly his credentials in this arena are hard to question, given that even before T2, he was directing Sigourney Weaver’s ballsy Ripley in Aliens. That fellow writers, directors and studio executives never followed suit, bringing more female action characters to the fore, is hardly Cameron’s fault. Audiences need examples to root for, not occasional exceptions.
Can Hamilton’s return change things further? If anyone can do it, she can. Her transformation from waitress in the original 1984 film The Terminator to a muscle-bound mental asylum inmate in T2 was startling. Training under ex-Israeli commando Uzi Gal, Hamilton learnt gun-work, judo and military tactics – freeing hostages and coping with terrorist situations.
“I don’t believe any women have done what I got to do on this film,” she noted back then, the 171-day shoot leaving her physically and mentally drained.
Hamilton – who was briefly married to Cameron in the 1990s – didn’t make another film for three years, and her career never reached such a high again. She even stated that the franchise should have ended with T2, which – at the time – was the world’s most expensive movie with a budget of $200m. “I thought it was perfect with two films. It was a complete circle, and it was enough in itself. But there will always be those who will try and milk the cow.”
While she may now have to backtrack on those words, the impact her return might have on Hollywood is considerable. In a world where actresses in their middle years struggle to find good roles, where female characters are often sidelined by their male counterparts, and women in their Sixties are rarely shown breaking sweat, the thought of Hamilton packing heat for a further encounter with Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is to be celebrated.
It’s not entirely unique: Hollywood has played with ageing female action heroes in the past – notably Helen Mirren as a gun-toting agent in Red. But this feels more of a landmark. Could Hamilton’s reprisal of her most famous character lead to a glut of female geri-action movies? Only time – and box-office returns – will tell if this is a money-spinning fad or the start of Hollywood’s march towards female empowerment.