*SPOILER WARNING: This feature contains spoilers for the plots of all the currently released Terminator films and the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series. This feature is intended for those familiar with the franchise, its characters, settings and stories. If you are unfamiliar with Terminator, read at your own risk.
In my recent review for Terminator Genisys, I made note of how the franchise has struggled in recent years critically, commercially and among fans of the franchise. I also noted that while Genisys has the potential to jump-start the franchise again, it too failed to really capture and live up to what made the first Terminator and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day (both directed by James Cameron) such memorable films.
Why is that?
Why have all the films following Judgement Day failed to positively capture the attention of fans and critics? Why is the franchise struggling so much?
There are many reasons for why these films have failed to find success (including just flat-out being bad films). However, I theorize that there are two essential ingredients the sequels are lacking that made the Cameron films so compelling: strong character interaction and an overarching theme of what it means to be human.
The post-Cameron Terminator films retained many of the elements of past films. They all feature killer cyborgs disguised as humans hunting flesh and blood humans. An element of time travel is always present. The mission is always to destroy Skynet. They all, with the exception of Salvation, feature Arnold Schwarzenegger in a title role, and he mostly does an excellent job. The films even stick fairly close to the established lore.
These elements are indeed important in their own right, but they are not what made the first two films so extraordinary. Killer cyborgs, time travel and a muscular Austrian are just anchors that let the audience know this is a Terminator movie. These are not the elements that make the Terminator series interesting or even entertaining.