The Terminator’s Dark Fate
In news that shouldn’t surprise anybody, the most recent Terminator sequel has come and gone without making a dent in the box office.
Alright, that might have surprised you if you didn’t know there was another Terminator movie being made, but those who were aware had probably seen the trailers, shrugged and stayed home. This is certainly what the box office receipts are telling us, with “Terminator: Dark Fate” grossing a woeful twenty nine million dollars.
Twenty nine million dollars! I mean, honestly. I don’t even get out of bed for that.
I get out of bed for about eighty dollars a day, if my maths is right. And if I don’t they’ll repossess my house and car, so I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current problems are relative, but still: “Terminator: Dark Fate” didn’t do very well. At all.
This is actually perfectly normal, because the Terminator franchise as a whole now contains one good movie, one very enjoyable but logically flawed sequel, and then four other films that came in varying shades of shit. That’s a two-to-one ratio of bad-to-good movies in this franchise. If someone asked you to predict whether the next Terminator film would be any good, even if you knew nothing about it, you’d bet those odds.
I say “next” because, perhaps ironically for a franchise about unstoppable robots that can’t be reasoned with, the nerdiverse is already churning out think-pieces about whether or not the franchise is really dead and what might happen to it next. “Just let the fucking thing die” doesn’t ever seem to be an option with brand names in modern Hollywood.
Fortunately for everyone involved, I’ve got a solution to the problems with the Terminator franchise. Sure, it’s unfortunate that none of them will ever read this, but I’ve done my part and if they don’t turn up then I can hardly be blamed. Without further ado, here’s what’s wrong with the Terminator franchise:
…There’s no follow-up sentence, here. That’s it. That’s what’s wrong with the Terminator franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator.
“The Terminator,” as Michael Biehn’s character explains in the first movie, “is an infiltration unit. Part man, part machine. Underneath, it’s a hyper-alloy combat chassis — micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it’s living human tissue — flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs… The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy. But these are new. They look human. Sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait till he moved on you before I could zero him.”
The Terminator, as played by Arnold, might be the worst character at his or her job in all of fiction. Sure, James Bond is terrible — he’s the world’s most famous and therefore least successful spy, to the point where his catchphrase is saying his real name, twice — but the Terminator is meant to blend in with a crowd and it’s a hulking bodybuilder with a funny accent.
It’s worth pointing out that when James Cameron wrote the first movie, he initially invisioned Lance Henriksen in the title role, and the Terminator itself as an average-looking human. Y’know. For infiltration. When Cameron met with Schwarzenegger, he decided that Arnold could play the robot with an unstoppable, tank-like quality. Which looks cool, but makes no sense from a plot perspective. Looking cool but making no sense became a theme in Cameron’s work, but let’s stay on topic…
Even in the scene in which time-lost human bodyguard Reese has a nightmare about the future, the Terminator in his dream is played by Franco Columbu, who was also a bodybuilder. There’s a non-zero chance that in the post-nuclear wasteland where Reese originates, the radiation has made everybody dangerously stupid, because it seems like spotting a Terminator is as simple as figuring out who looks like they’ve been spending six hours a day at Gold’s Gym when everyone else is on starvation rations.
Therein, however, is how we fix the Terminator franchise.
Someone, somewhere, needs to take the premise back to its roots. The Terminator has gone as far as it can as a slam-bang, effects driven action franchise. What it needs to do is overhaul itself and focus on the terrifying idea that anyone in a crowd could be a human-looking robot intent on killing you.
They could even do a Terminator story as a post-apocalyptic, zero-budget locked room mystery, with a group of survivors who don’t know each other holed up in a bunker and rumours of a T-800 on the loose. The franchise has already established that in the future, the human resistance has weapons that can kill the “fully armoured combat chassis” underneath the flesh exterior, so the Terminators of the future would actually have to infiltrate human strongholds and work through stealth. Imagine a Terminator whose whole modus operandi is to separate you from your weapon so that your frail human body stands no chance, and then crush you to death. Pitilessly. Silently. And then go back to the other (armed) survivors and blend in again, looking as shocked as anyone else when the corpse is discovered.
At this point, the Terminator franchise begins to look more like “The Thing,” which it to say that it becomes a mixture of sci-fi and horror.
Crucially, that’s exactly what a film about a murderous cyborg relentlessly hunting humans should be. Not this CGI bullshit they keep trying to make us pay for.
But what do I know? I only make eighty dollars a day…