(A montage of Kyles. I’d probably be happy if any one of them came through time for me, but Michael Biehn, you will always hold a special place in my heart.. although, Jai Courtney, you’ve recently started dancing around the periphery of my romantic fantasies, and I’m conflicted about it.)
Before I launch into this, I just want to make one thing totally clear: I LOVE the Terminator franchise. A lot. It’s something that’s been with me throughout my entire life pretty much and I’m heavily invested in it. Sometimes I think that James Cameron is some kind of new aged prophet and that Terminator is more of a warning than a mindless action/adventure ride through time. When the machines do take over, and realistically, it’s only a matter of time, I think we’re all going to have that moment when we think back to this franchise and say ‘Crap. How did we miss this?’ I’m so serious about Terminator that it’s one of those things that I use to bond with people, similarly, it’s been a friendship ender. Any time I meet someone who says they don’t like Terminator or ‘Big Arnie’ movies in general, I just know we are fated to NEVER be friends – because there is something wrong in their cyborg circuitry. So, just to clear up any confusion, this post is from a place of love. But back to the topic at hand.
Kyle Reese: Battle scarred warrior of the future. Time travelling saviour. Fatalistic romantic hero.
To my mind, there are few men in the sci-fi world that even come close to Kyle Reese. I’ve often been asked, if I could pick any fictitious man to have a romantic entanglement with, who would it be? Kyle Reese. Hands down. ‘I travelled through time for you… I love you… I always have.’ Come. On. The only thing more romantic than that would be if my name were Sarah.
Another part of what makes Kyle such a loveable character is the fact that he is the every man, the boy next door in a post-apocalyptic world. He’s almost an anti-hero, doing what needs to be done for love, not prestige. Michael Biehn owned the role. He was strong enough to be believable and handsome enough not to seem ridiculously out of place, but not so commanding that you invested in his story above Sarah and her forthcoming mission. The only thing that has always bothered me about Kyle is his perfect teeth. In a post-apocalyptic world, where are we getting access to toothpaste, running water and dentists… let alone a balanced diet. But anyway.
Along with the general news of the Terminator reboot, the casting of Kyle Reese was something that was always going to be a major issue for me. Kyle can make or break the movie. For the record, I disliked Anton Yelchin in the role (Terminator: Salvation). It would almost be fair to say I dislike him in everything except that one episode of Criminal Minds he did though, so there is certainly bias there. In fairness, he had a tough job ruining that film considering he was competing against Christian Bale as John. I found myself so livid about that performance that I hardly had time to invest in Kyle. I was a huge fan of Kyle when he popped up in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I feel like if there’d been a season three we might have had the opportunity to see more of him. Which would have been a beautiful thing. (I’ll be devoting a whole different post to a rant over why the cancellation of SCC was a travesty). Jonathan Jackson’s Kyle was much younger than any of the others, but he managed to have the same kind of emotional strength that Michael Biehn gave to the character. He loved Sarah, but he wasn’t afraid to push her when she needed it. It pained him when she was injured, but he wasn’t going to let her use her pain to shift focus from the larger mission, he helped her to focus her strength (The Good Wound). Which brings us to the latest instalment of Kyle Reese…
As I’ve said, part of what I love about Kyle is his boy next door vibe. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone that looks like Jai Courtney in the really real world (and I’m from his native land) let alone next door… If I did see someone like him next door I can guarantee you, I’d be out in the yard right now, peacocking to get noticed, not sitting inside in my dressing gown reading this to my cat as I type it). Jai Courtney, you beast of a man (I mean that in the nicest way) where the hell did Kyle Reese get that kind of a body? Yes, he’s been in combat his whole life, but this is not a man with the option of a balanced diet or supplements, let alone ready access to a weight room and personal trainer. Of the four Kyles we’ve seen (Michael Biehn, Anton Yelchin, Jai Courtney and Jonathan Jackson ) the most recent is certainly the most physical, he’s almost taking on Big Arnie in the muscle stakes. He’s totally changing the game. Which I know is sort of the point of a reboot – but don’t mess too much with Kyle Reese and kill it for me and all the lady (and gent) fans of the average Kyle. The whole Terminator world kind of hangs on him. Don’t get me wrong, Jai Courtney, you won me over, I loved you and I thought the change of narration in the film from the POV of Sarah or John to Kyle was genius (kind of like Outlander doing the same thing after their mid-season hiatus … Jamie Fraser good grief!) because it gave you a chance to inject some softness into the role, as if you knew we’d be distracted by your muscles. Maybe I could have overlooked the change in appearance, but then… you lived. Sorry Kyle, but for this whole thing to work, you’re going to have to die, and that’s killing me inside all over again.
(WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go and watch it and then come back and finish. I’ll wait.)
See Kyle, I know that you love Sarah Connor and I, like most fans of the franchise I expect, are always rooting for you. Our hearts speed up when you show up in her dreams (T2, Sarah Connor Chronicles) and they break when you ultimately die. That’s the thing though. For any of this to work, you have to die. If you don’t die, Sarah can never be strong. You can never become the mythological hero to young John, the warrior who gave his life for Sarah and to father the saviour of the human race. If you survive this mission then your relationship with Sarah will not only be a point of weakness, it will be a distraction from the objective of saving the world. You can’t fight off killer cyborgs while you’re having an epic romance and constantly trying to protect the woman you love. Something has to give. And what about the romantic aspect of this new Kyle? I’m not saying that Jai Courtney can’t play romantic, but I feel like he never got the chance. He started off strong with his narration, but he never had the opportunity to really tell Sarah how he felt… she already knew, which isn’t the same thing. In that final scene of Terminator when you realise that in the photo that Kyle ends up with of Sarah, where he wonders what she is thinking, she is actually thinking on him, it’s tragic, but it completes the Kyle Reese story. He becomes the ultimate hero to Sarah (and eventually to John) because he is dead. Sarah has no choice but to become the warrior mother of the future. Kyle’s gift to her is that strength.
The newest film ended with Kyle, Sarah and Pop’s driving off into the sunset, which we all know won’t be the happy ending they imagine because Judgement Day is, of course, inevitable. But we also have a further issue here: John. Seriously, Sarah and Kyle need to get around to business and have sex (or mate as it were) so she can conceive John, cause at the moment he is dead – they’ve killed him – but he still hasn’t even been born in this timeline. Sarah and Kyle won’t be young enough to lead the resistance forever (and Kyle needs to die anyway) so you know… the clock is ticking. And speaking of John… We know that because Kyle dies, John is fixated on him and as a result seeks out Kyle in the future to protect and, in doing so, ensure his own existence. If Kyle is still around, that’s going to make that whole plot point really weird. Imagine young Kyle meeting his much old self… imagine young Kyle finding out that he is going to be John’s father BEFORE he goes back in time. Wow. Way to put pressure on a young guy (the fact that Genisys Kyle finds out that he is John’s father before John is conceived is pressure enough. I feel for you, most recent Kyle, I do, talk about performance anxiety). Which leads us to Sarah… Sarah, sorry, you have to die too, eventually, before we get too far into the future, because we don’t want young Kyle running into old you, which will ruin the fantasy of the photograph that hasn’t been taken yet because he’s still alive, so you can’t be remembering him fondly, Similarly, Kyle can’t go turning old Sarah into some kind of mother figure and developing some kind of Oedipus complex. That would be foul.
All these issues aside, the worst of this whole dilemma, for me at least, is that now that Kyle Reese (the Jai Courtney version anyway) has lived through Terminator: Genisys, I’ve begun to become attached. I can feel it already, he’s rewriting my current timeline and stealing the focus off of the original Kyle. I’d made peace with that Kyle and his death. If and when modern Kyle dies in the sequel (assuming that there is one), I’m going to be heartbroken. It’s going to be worse than saying goodbye to Michael Biehn’s Kyle. It’s going to be worse than ‘I know now why you cry, but it’s something I could never do.’