Nobody is going to deny that the Terminator film franchise is, and always has been, big money. People still talk about “Terminator 2” as one of the greatest movies of all time nearly thirty years after its release. When news is announced that there’s a new entry in the franchise about to happen, it makes headlines in major news outlets. But should we, as the movie going public, still be getting excited about further installments in one of science fiction’s greatest ever brands?
I know on one level we can’t help ourselves. It’s Terminator, for crying out loud. The original two films are seared on our consciousness. There’s a whole generation who grew up believing that Arnold Schwarzenegger, on a motorcycle, with a leather jacket, was as cool as cool could ever be. The catchphrases are still used in common conversation even today. Nobody ever says “I’ll be back” without knowing they’re directly referencing that iconic scene. You still get the line “Hasta la vista, baby” popping up in other TV shows, put there by writers who know their audience will definitely get the reference. The problem is - when we sit back, look at it, and force ourselves to be really honest - has anything that’s come afterwards actually been any good at all?
We’ll make a little bet with you here and now. If we asked you to describe the plot of the first ever Terminator movie, we don’t think you’d struggle. We think you’d be able to tell us that an evil Terminator from the future came back to murder Sarah Connor before she could give birth to her son, John. We think you know, without looking, that John Connor would grow up to lead the resistance against the machines. We think you’d smile at the 80s fashion, and some of the model work, but you could recall entire scenes from that movie inside your head with a minimum of effort.
Similarly, if we asked you about Terminator 2, you’d be just as comfortable. You’d remember that Arnie was the good guy this time. You’d probably be really enthusiastic about how many years ahead of their time the special effects were. You might even remember the name of the actor playing the T-1000 (it was Robert Patrick, if you’re struggling). You might even recall Edward Furlong as the actor behind John Connor. You’d remember the scene when Arnie lowers himself into the fiery pit of molten metal with a tear in your eye. For a lot of people reading this article, you can picture everything we’re talking about, and you can remember it like it was yesterday. Your memory of the first two Terminator movies isn’t in question. And that’s not the bet we’re making with you.
We bet that if we asked you for a detailed summary of Terminator 3, you’d start to struggle. We suspect that if we told you that the forthcoming Terminator movie was actually the sixth one, you might even be surprised, because you don’t remember the names of the next two movies. If pushed, you might recall that Christian Bale had a meltdown on the set of “Terminator: Salvation”, but you remember the audio clip of the meltdown being in the news far more than you remember the film itself.
If you do remember all of those movies in detail, we lost the bet. We bow to your encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, and declare you to be a super fan. But if you don’t, and we won the bet, then why are we still treating a film franchise that hasn’t made a memorable movie since 1991 as a big deal? And are the people involved in making it actually guaranteed a hit, or would they be better served putting all their money into slot games such as Fluffy Favourites and seeing if they can get a better financial return that way? In short, isn’t spending huge money on yet another Terminator actually a huge gamble?
Tim Miller, James Cameron and their team - who sit at the helm of this endeavor - have promised us something that will appeal directly to our sense of nostalgia. Schwarzenegger is back. Linda Hamilton is back to play Sarah Connor for the first time on the big screen since 1991. What’s being advertised is a direct sequel to “Terminator 2”, with thematic content that should ensure anyone who loves that film will love this one. The general belief at the moment is that everything that’s happened since - all three films in between - will be retconned and disregarded. Our big concern with that is that it’s already been done.
”Terminator: Genisys” pretty much dismembered the continuity of the first two films. That was the whole point of the movie. That film, too, brought back Arnie. It also brought back the character of Sarah Connor and gave us the wildly popular Emilia Clarke playing the role. By the time the credits rolled on “Genisys”, the established world of the earlier Terminator films had been ripped apart at the seams and trampled into the ground. A plot revolving around time travel had left the heads of the audience spinning, and established a completely new canon timeline. Now we’re being told that everything we’ve just seen never happened at all. It’s a retcon of a retcon, and it feels like a further muddying of a path that’s already knee deep in mud.
In walking the path right back to 1991 yet again, the writers are in danger of doing two things. Firstly, they’re at risk of flouting the conventions of timelines in the way that Steven Moffat was regularly criticized for when writing Doctor Who. It feels lazy and indulgent. Secondly, by wanting to tie in so closely to those earlier films, they’re in danger of openly admitting that even now, after the best part of thirty years to think about it, they still don’t actually have a viable idea for the future of the franchise. So they just cannibalize the past until there’s no more of it left to chew on.
We love Terminator. We’d love to see a fantastic new Terminator movie. But we’d also like this to be the last shot anyone takes at making it happen. For the people working to bring us the sixth installment, the future of the brand is in their hands. “Terminator 6” is death or glory.