For the second time an attempt to reboot the Terminator franchise has been aborted. As dull as the last two films have been, that’s not actually the problem. It’s that a franchise that will never work because there should have never been a sequel to the original Terminator.
The original film is a quasi-Hitchcockian thriller where an average woman is thrown into a high stakes battle for the future of mankind. It didn’t create any characters that we wanted to see what would happen to them next, or a universe where there was the possibility for new stories to be told.
Thus, like so many sequels, Terminator 2: Judgment Day or T2 is essentially a remake of the first but with a substantially larger budget. The premise is exactly the same with some reshuffling of the primary characters.
Frankly, T2 isn’t that great of a film.
It’s way too long with the pacing coming to a dead halt between action scenes, and the man vs. machine dynamic of the first film is tossed out by making the T-800 a good guy — and there’s no doubt that the humans will succeed with Arnold Schwarzenegger on their side.
But the film was a huge success because of timing. Schwarzenegger was at the apex of his popularity — he was arguable the most popular actor at that time — the special effects were groundbreaking, and the action scenes made almost all previous action movies feel quaint by comparison.
Since then, all of the Terminator films since have been trying to reproduce the success of T2 without any thought of why that movie worked so well.
The subsequent sequels keep telling stories about the same group of people who aren’t all that interesting or iconic. Think of it this way: you can keep making Batman movies over and over again because Batman is a great character.
But does anyone really care about the continuing adventures of John and Sarah Conner, and Kyle Reese?
There’s nothing unique or charming about them like James Bond’s bravado or John McClane’s abrasiveness. They’re nondescript.
Similarly, there isn’t even a villain or monster that has captured the audience’s imagination.
The robots in the films look like humans, have no personality, and do not have any kind of unique ability (they just have superhuman strength). Even when you see their exoskeletons exposed there’s no coolness factor to them — such as there is with the xenomorph in the Alien franchise.
While Schwarzenegger turned the T-100 into an iconic character, it only works if he plays the part — you cannot just slot someone else in like you can with Batman or James Bond. And, his star has substantially fallen since the early 1990s. He cannot carry a film like he once could.
The other major problem is that there wasn’t much more to Terminator than its premise: a robot in the present day trying to kill a woman to ensure a world dominated by robots in the future. I mean that in the sense that the film didn’t create a universe where other stories could be told and new characters introduced, which is why the films keep coming back to the same characters and plot.
To its credit Terminator Salvation attempted to chart a new path by setting it entirely in the future.
But given how little the previous films actually dealt with the future, the filmmakers would have been better off by just making a completely independent film about a dystopian future rather than contort and twist the script to link everything back to the previous movies (not mention that the whole premise of a future where robots have killed off humanity has become rather passé).