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What Went Wrong With… The Terminator Franchise?

What Went Wrong With... The Terminator Franchise?

The Terminator posterTerminator 2 Judgment Day posterEver since the T-101 wore Elton John-style, star-shaped sunglasses in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, the Terminator franchise has gone from bad to worse, becoming a lacklustre and extremely disappointing, self-referencing, joke of a series. The writers keep endlessly recycling lines (“come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back”) but they fail to live up to the standards set by the first two movies. The Terminator was a brilliant sci-fi thriller and its big-budget sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the greatest sci-fi action movie of all time (T2 is the only sequel in Hollywood history that’s better than the original – sorry Godfather Part II fans). Because of the pedigree of the first two films, it’s all the more aggravating that this franchise has declined so much in quality. If you’ve forgotten or are actively trying to shut-out the nightmarish memories of the terrible sequels, let’s recap. After the 1984 and 1991 originals we’ve had…

Terminator 3 posterTerminator 3: Rise Of The Machines in 2003: The Jonathan Mostow crap-fest where Sarah Connor is dead (boo), there’s a female Terminator called the T-X who wants to kill John Connor’s wife (yawn), and John has somehow transformed into a short, stocky, homeless bloke (huh?). The opening which re-enacts the future human resistance scene from the first two movies looks very unconvincing, like an albino ape has found some fatigues and supplanted John Connor. This film had potential (a Terminator that hacks computers and a chase scene involving a crane and a fire truck) but the movie seemed to veer-off into lame comedy (the zoom toward the “ladies night poster” followed by the Terminator taking his leather outfit from a male stripper and the line “talk to the hand” followed by the shite song “Dat Funky Man” by William Randolph III). There’s the contrived coincidence of Dr. Silberman somehow showing up at the exact cemetery where another Terminator is located and there’s also a scene where Arnie says “I’m back!” in a cringey, meta way. This was undoubtedly the first poor-quality Terminator movie.

Terminator Salvation posterTerminator Salvation in 2009: The overly depressing McG travesty that included cancer (a bald Helena Bonham Carter), a death row inmate (Sam “Generic American Accent” Worthington), and a dark, gloomy, and dusty post-apocalyptic landscape filled with rain, mud, fire, and gung-ho military types. It starred decent actors Christian Bale and Anton Yelchin but it was a clunky mess of a film. There was a scene with a digitally scanned, CGI face of Arnold Schwarzenegger stuck over a body double, another factory-set finale, and also a scene featuring a cyborg motorcycle (known as the “Moto-Terminator”) in which T2‘s Guns N’ Roses song “You Could Be Mine” played (which was completely nonsensical). And yet despite harking back to the best film in the series, McG and co. somehow managed to make an inadequate sequel. The bleak future that we intermittently saw in Terminator 1 & 2 wasn’t something we wanted to see for an extended period of time; Judgement Day was something to be avoided not something to revel in. It wasn’t just Stan Winston who passed during the making of this movie, this is where the franchise truly died.

Terminator Genisys posterTerminator Genisys in 2015: The utterly appalling outing courtesy of TV director Alan Taylor and starring Jai Courtney, Matt Smith, and Jason Clarke for a trio of mediocre performances. The film tries to follow-on from the original movie but it’s like watching a YouTube re-enactment of The Terminator; nobody looks like their 80s counterparts and John Connor has been transformed first into a crap actor and secondly into a T-3000 hybrid Terminator. Sarah Connor’s backstory has also been messed with: she’s now raised by a Terminator which means there’s no continuity with the originals… yeah, alternative timelines! (sarcasm). There’s also a T-1000 pratting about in 1984 which ruins the technological advancements made in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when compared to The Terminator. The overall tone of the film is also distinctly amateur, like a TV-made movie. Like Jason Clarke‘s face, this flick was somehow utterly bland yet completely annoying.

Terminator Dark Fate posterTerminator: Dark Fate in 2019: The worst film in the series directed by Deadpool‘s flukey hack Tim Miller. This film, like Genisys, tried to ignore all that came before and attempted to directly follow-on from T2 but as I mentioned in the full review, the opening scene made the original two films null and void. Given that an inferior sequel was essentially sneering at its superior predecessor, you wonder why almost the entire film referenced the original movies in terms of dialogue and storyline. In this appalling film, there’s also a few illogical ideas such as a character suggesting putting a smartphone in a foil crisp packet (to mask its signal) only to fling someone’s phone out of the car window. And oh yeah, a hybridised human can apparently take-on a cyborg killing machine by swinging a chain around like a 50s biker gang. Aside from the idiotic plot, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes, and even Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger all gave sub-par performances and Mackenzie “The Martian” Davis looked like she was both confused and bored (which was the reaction most cinemagoers had to this shit-fest).

All these films (from 2003 to present) have been completely disappointing. If I was reviewing each movie in the franchise, I’d give:

The Terminator 9/10

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 10/10

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines 3/10

Terminator: Salvation 2/10

Terminator: Genisys 2/10

Terminator: Dark Fate 1/10

Even if you want to tweak these scores, it’s obvious that this series is getting progressively worse. With a bunch of second-rate writers, directors, and actors involved in the franchise from part 3 onward, it’s clear to most fans that the makers of each of these films don’t care about the franchise they’re collectively destroying. What’s annoying is that James Cameron (the writer and director of the originals) sometimes pops-up during the pre-release media hype and bigs-up the latest disappointment. I recall him saying that Genisys was “reinvigorating”. More specifically he said: “I feel like the franchise has been reinvigorated, like this is a renaissance”. He goes on “The new film, which I think of as the third film [in the series], you see [Arnold Schwarzenegger] take the character even further… I had no idea what to expect sitting down, I had no involvement in making this film… If you like the Terminator films, you’re gonna love this movie”. What a crock. Overvaluing, over-praising, and overrating something just to make some money from its ruination; James Cameron should be ashamed of himself.

Whenever another director decides to translate James Cameron’s ideas to film, we end up with Alita: Battle Angel – an unsatisfactory and unworthy translation. Terminator: Dark Fate is no different. Now that the rights to The Terminator franchise are back in the hands of James, it would have been great if he’d made a sequel himself but Cameron is in full-time Avatar-making mode (at least for the next few years) so everything that he created or was going to create has become a lesser director’s failure. What this franchise needs now is a reboot but only if James Cameron signs on as writer and director. That being said, Cameron is the one who thought a “learning computer” with a family and job was a good idea and look how Dark Fate turned out.

Since Terminator: Dark Fate is the newest filmic turd in the series, I might as well expand on why it’s the worst. Firstly, John Connor has been replaced by Dani Ramos, which means the mythology and lore of the entire franchise is undone. The film has also become a political vehicle. Okay, so the original film was anti-technology or anti-A.I. and the second was an anti-nuclear weapon or anti-war movie, but the sixth features scenes at the US-Mexico border and an obvious yet hollow inclusion of minorities.

The movie features a downtrodden Mexican woman (Ramos) who learns progressive concepts such as masculinity and feminism from two white American women (one from the present – Sarah – and one from the future – Grace). This to me, is the writers jeering at Latino culture and suggesting it’s people are unsophisticated and even backward. And whilst on the topic of Latinos, why send a Latino-looking Terminator back in time to Mexico when Skynet has previously sent an Austrian T-800 to kill people in the United States? They didn’t care that much about camouflage before. It’s an odd thing to do; tacking on empty issues onto random films. There’s a plethora of prejudiced Hollywood movies that could be re-written to right the wrongs of the past but The Terminator wasn’t a sexist or a racist film so why bolt fake-diverse and faux-liberal concepts onto it?

Ever since the teaser image for Dark Fate showed three female characters, we’ve had manly-morons decrying the movie (although similarly, we’ve also had the opposing side defending the casting and storyline decisions). All we’ve had over the past year is one side yelling “feminist” and the other screaming “misogynist” whereas the actual issue is: this movie is shite and the franchise is well and truly fucked. Are you really telling me that if all the female characters had been changed to males, Dark Fate would somehow be a better film?

Female characters in Terminator: Dark Fate

Aside from the inclusion of minorities (thanks white, male Hollywood) and the insulting and disrespectful opener, the T-800 in the 6th movie (known as “Carl” 🙄) picks up, hesitates, and puts down a pair of sunglasses in one scene which is yet another put-down of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I don’t understand, if you’re trying to sell something to an already established fan-base, why would you insult them? Zombieland: Double Tap was more respectful of the franchise (given their use of “T-800”) proving that the writer of Deadpool is the talent, not the director.

It’s strange that at the point where the rights revert back to James Cameron that the worst film is released. What’s the point in regaining control over something after it’s been destroyed? Hopefully when (and if) Gale Anne Hurd (the co-writer and producer of the original film and James Cameron’s ex-partner) becomes 50% owner of the franchise, something more respectful is made. Looking back, it seems that she was the one with the balls in the relationship; without her, Cameron creates “romantic” action films such as Titanic and Avatar (which gain awards but are a far cry from his 80s movies when Hurd was his collaborator).

T2-3D PosterSince I’m talking about the entire Terminator franchise, I also have to mention T2 3D: Battle Across Time, a ride at Universal Studios. This short film that was a sequel to Terminator 2, was written and directed by James Cameron. T2 3D was corny at times, the stunt actors in the auditorium didn’t look much like their counterparts on screen, the story didn’t make that much sense, and it wasn’t too serious (it was a ride after all) but in terms of actors, visuals, sounds, and overall tone, it felt like a genuine continuation of the series. The ride was set in a post-apocalyptic future but it wasn’t depressing, it had new models of Terminator (the T-1000000 and T-70) but they felt believable, and more importantly, it starred all the right actors and it was made by the film-makers who created the original movies. This 12 minute film was more faithful to the franchise than any of the movies that have followed. Imagine if in 1996, this was a full-length sequel rather than just a theme park ride. Battle Across Time was a precursor to not only 3D but also 4D cinema and had the script been fleshed-out, it could have changed the course of history.

So what went wrong with the Terminator franchise? Well, it’s the mediocre directing, the lacklustre scripts, the regressive effects, and the sub-par aesthetics that are to blame. Why as a studio, would you want James Cameron (director of Terminator 1 & 2, Aliens, Abyss, and True Lies) to hand the baton over to the directors of Surrogates, Charlie’s Angels, Thor: The Dark World, and Deadpool? Similar to the Die Hard franchise, there hasn’t really been a genuine Terminator ever since the original film-makers left and rights-holders and studio executives failed to re-hire them for future sequels. Let’s be honest: a true Terminator movie is James Cameron as director, Gale Anne Hurd as producer (with both of them writing the script possibly with William Wisher), Brad Fiedel as composer, Stan Winston doing the makeup and effects, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, and Michael Biehn starring in their respective roles. Anything less is not a real Terminator film and everything from the third to the sixth has therefore been a movie studio cash-grab, a soulless set of films made solely for profit that couldn’t care less about their legacy. With the ever-declining quality and the ever-ageing actors, this franchise is well and truly…

Terminated.

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