With Terminator: Dark Fate’s underwhelming performance in the box office, it leaves the state of the franchise with an uncertain future. It’s hard to believe the franchise is 35 years old. Here is Bleeding Cool ‘s ranking of the Terminator films.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Directed by Alan Taylor and written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, Terminator Genisys looked like something that came out of a bad alternate comic universe. All the characters involved from the T-800, Sarah Connor, John Connor, and Kyle Reese the film completely sabotaged.
Let’s start with how the attempted reboot nearly ruined everything canon from the 1984 film The Terminator and its 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Since the franchise attempted to stay within its mass market appealing PG-13 demographic, Genisys attempted to recreate both films while removing the genuine danger, soul and emotion.
The story began with the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger started in time traveling back to when Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) was a child. Another terminator killed her parents and the protector “raised” Sarah into the hardened soldier instead of Kyle Reese in the original timeline. When Kyle (Jai Courtney) travels in time to protect Sarah as was in the events of the 1984 film, he gets a pseudo-déjà vu where things he thinks are supposed to happen don’t.
Sarah is now her hardened soldier-self rather than the meek waitress in the 1984 film. Already, the film ruins Sarah’s beginning making Kyle irrelevant making him just some bumbling comedy relief. It also places him in an awkward position the fact he’s the future father of Sarah’s son and humanity’s savior, John.
Such a Waste
Speaking of John (Jason Clarke), since they failed making him the leader he was meant to be, Taylor and company decide to make him the primary villain. Because f*** you that’s why. Nevermind that a former time lord (Matt Smith in a woefully wasted appearance) turned John evil injecting him with nanobots as Kyle started the time travel process, the audience doesn’t hear from him again the remainder of the film. Don’t get me started on how they also wasted Byung-Hun Lee as the T-1000.
Blending in the plot from T2, the three amigos now try to stop an app called Genisys from activating making SkyNet operational while evil John tries to stop them. The ridiculous premise even for a Terminator probably cursed Dark Fate from ensuring its success. It also didn’t help that it possibly compromised James Cameron’s credibility when it comes to films that aren’t his own with his “endorsement.”
On a positive note, the film was awful enough driving the campaign to bring back Linda Hamilton to the franchise.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Riding off the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Christian Bale seemed like the obvious choice to be the franchise’s best John Connor, but long fell short of expectations. Directed by McG, Salvation brought Terminator’s future to the present as the human resistance is far from organized. Rather than just being an ominous ruthless killing force, McG and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris put too much thought into what SkyNet is.
The film tries to turn one of the film’s main characters in Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) into some walking and plodding exposition device as SkyNet’s secret plan to figure out how to make the human/cyborg terminator hybrids. For some reason, Wright retains his mortal conscience and is part of some elaborate plan by SkyNet to draw Connor into isolation. The film’s climax as convoluted as the film itself again ruined anything that made John special from the resentment of him within the resistance to the silly final fight death trap he found himself in.
Rather than becoming a giant payoff film for the franchise, we saw a dragging nonsensical plot from those who didn’t seem to understand how SkyNet operated or how the previous films worked. Bond villains and Dr. Evil had plans that were less convoluted.
It’s depressing if you splice all the war scenes together from the first two Terminator films and Dark Fate, it made a far more cohesive war film than Salvation.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
The first of a rush of Terminator films that purposely milked the franchise rendered the ending of Judgement day meaningless. Nick Stahl became adult whiny immature drifter John Conner instead of accepting his destiny.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow and written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Saraflan, Rise of the Machines became too self aware how it can never stack up with its predecessor. Since Hamilton refused to have some meaningless death in this film, they writers killed her off-screen from cancer in this first attempt at a follow up to T2.
Without Hamilton as lead, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 pushed the narrative with Stahl and introduced as Katherine Brewster (Claire Daines) to “fill” in that gap. Kate also took action the way John didn’t in the film, which was another wasted opportunity.
With the bar set significantly lower, Schwarzenegger infused more humor and Kristanna Loken got the opportunity to play the T-X. Instead of creating stabbing weapons with her liquid metal exterior, she can hack other machines and create energy weapons. Rise of the Machines is a serviceable sequel and unapologetic cash grab.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Most people can guess what the major early spoiler is by watching the advertising for Dark Fate. The future hinders on Dani Ramos’ (Natalia Reyes) survival with Grace (Mackenzie Davis) comes from the future as her sworn protector. Grace’s mission parallels Kyle’s in the 1984 film to protect Sarah. Upon hearing how Grace and Dani factor In, Sarah joins in their cause.
The new evil terminator is the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), who can split itself into an endoskeleton and liquid metal bodies. With Grace’s limitations as an enhanced human, the trio turn to “Carl,” who has a past with Sarah. Carl is another T-800 model who found renewed purpose beyond his programming living among humans.
Director Tim Miller and writers Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray created the strongest follow up to T2. There’s enough distinctive depth among characters to not be simple carbon copies from previous films. Miller and Cameron’s instinct to refocus the films on Hamilton and Sarah was a wise decision.
Was It Necessary?
It’s hard to ignore the McGuffin at the beginning of the film. John Connor’s (Edward Furlong) death felt meaningless given the investment. The sacrifice felt unnecessary with the same destiny given to Dani. By leaving any relevant information about SkyNet’s replacement in Legion out and the film’s ending, guess Cameron felt it gives Sarah her proper closure.
Regardless of what happens once the film leaves theaters, Dark Fate ends on a high note.
The Terminator (1984)
While many identify The Terminator series as an action franchise, Cameron’s The Terminator is more a horror film. As the franchise since T2 made Schwarzenegger’s character the good guy, the first film made him an indiscriminate killing machine. Think Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger.
The sequels reflected the actor’s positive image while “evil incarnations” were often CGI doubles. The Terminator offered real danger with humans vs. machine with Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and Sarah Connor. The film’s primary appeal is the audience’s empathy with Sarah. And she tries to accept the prospect of a horrific future coming from Reese.
What also made it special is how the film relied on emotion more than special effects. That’s a testament to Camreon, William Wisher and Gale Anne Hurd. Emphasizing the human element to offset the special effects of science fiction is a delicate balance often maligned.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2 is arguably Cameron’s best sequel and finest work. It’s even better than Avatar and Aliens. Fight me! The story picks up years after the events of the first film. Unfortunately, Sarah finds herself locked up in a mental ward for trying to carry out Reese’s work to stop SkyNet. A reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) travels through the time portal to protect her teenage son, John (Furlong). SkyNet sends a robot made of liquid metal in the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) to kill John.
Aside from the revolutionary effects, the film explores the philosophical issues between the duality nature of humanity and its creations. It explores the relationship’s symbiotic, yet paradoxical nature. How do we know if what we create becomes our undoing. Can things grow beyond intended? Are our creations extensions of ourselves and can we separate from them?
Director Cameron and Wisher returned and achieved the rare perfect balance of performances, effects and writing in synergy. It was a complete story with complete ending. Every “sequel” created since then further tarnish’s the film’s legacy. None of them needed to be made. Anyone who wants the best the franchise offers stick to the first two films.