The Terminator is one of the best films ever made. Not one of the best action films. Not one of the best sci-fi films. One of the flat-out best pieces of cinema ever crafted. It’s an idea that has spawned an entire universe of stories, including four sequels that represent the truth of diminishing returns. The last film, Terminator Genisys, was basically a toy commercial masquerading as a feature film. There was a plan to continue the story in that film, but its box office performance and critical failure dashed those plans.
Now, James Cameron has stepped back into the franchise in an oversight role and Deadpool director Tim Miller is also involved in getting the franchise back on track. This certainly sounds like it has potential. However, it has been announced that Arnold Schwarzenegger will also return for this new reboot.
And he absolutely shouldn’t.
The Same Movie Gets Made
Let me preface this by saying I LOVE Arnold Schwarzenegger. I have spoken at length about my appreciation of Commando and I will happily go to bat for the majority of his filmography. But, Arnold’s direct involvement has led to a majority of the franchise being the same movie told with just a few tweaks. It’s always a “time travel to kill Sarah/John Connor” plot that ends up getting more convoluted with each entry. The one time the series deviated from that format was Terminator Salvation. Unfortunately, that film was burdened with an egotistical leading man and a director who wasn’t up to the task of reshaping a series of this magnitude.
Unfortunately, the lesson the studio took from that was the wrong one. Instead of thinking people just wanted Arnold back – in more than a digital cameo (see above) – the studio should have realized that the story needs to go in a radically different direction. Instead, they made Terminator Genisys. It was a misguided move that reinstated all the same tropes and did so in the most convoluted ways possible.
With Arnold returning for another entry, it’s likely the series will not be able to grow past him. If the Terminator series wants to live on, it needs to branch out. Including Arnold only limits the kinds of stories this series can tell. And I hate to say it, but Arnold’s age is a factor. Not as far as what he can do physically but in a narrative way; they have to keep coming up with reasons why he’s older. Or they slap some digital de-aging makeup on him and… yeah, let’s not do that.
Pass the Torch
Since Arnold will be in this new film, there needs to be an attempt to hand the franchise off to a new cast of characters. Arnold’s glory days in the Terminator series have passed. It’s not a happy thing to say but it’s true. Do I hope I’m proven wrong and this new film is a fabulous swan song for him? Absolutely. Still, if the series wants to become more than an Arnold vehicle, it needs to let him go. Nothing is ever going to top the emotional ending to his character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but maybe we can hope for a sendoff that at least sets the table for something fresh and exciting later down the road.