Fractured Future: where the post-James Cameron Terminator films went wrong


*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.

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Review – Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys_Movie Poster

*SPOILER WARNING: This review discusses the identity and role of the main villain in Terminator Genisys. The identity of said villain was revealed in trailers and other marketing material for the film. However, if you have not seen the trailers and promotions in question, you might want to continue reading at your own risk. Aside from the antagonist, no other major plot details are spoiled in this review. Enjoy!

“I’m old, not obsolete.”

This line is repeated several times by Arnold Schwarzenegger, reprising one of his most iconic roles as the futuristic T-800 Terminator in the newest entry in the franchise Terminator Genisys.

This line is poetic in that it illustrates so many aspects of the film. It obviously represents the inferior and outdated T-800 battling newer and more sophisticated models. It can be a reference to Schwarzenegger’s career as an action star at the age of 67. It also illustrates the state of the entry Terminator franchise as it has been struggling to remain relevant among new and existing audiences.

Genisys is supposed to, in James Cameron’s words, reinvigorate the series and get people excited and talking about Terminator again. This is a tall order for the once great but now struggling franchise. While it is far from perfect and stumbles in key areas, Genisys is a fun and respectable entry in the Terminator mythology that might indeed accomplish its goal by creating its own new branching story.

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