In an article written last year, it detailed information about how the Terminator franchise may have unofficially become terminated due to the lazy efforts from the over-push of sequels. It has been eighteen months since Dark Fate was released, and it seems my thoughts have proven true. Today, I wish to re-examine why the franchise took a huge dip and that the sixth installment (with a returning James Cameron, who directed the first two) could never correctly save this series. (Note, SPOILERS AHEAD.)
The first two films played up wonderfully, taking inspiration from slasher films, and Cameron projected a high-level cat-and-mouse game onscreen. The protagonist would find some way to succeed, and audiences reveled in the storytelling and direction in getting toward the climax. In the 1984 film, Sarah Connor had to learn how important she was to the future and how her rise would pave the way for her son, John, to take the mantle when Judgement Day came. In the 1991 sequel, her teenage son John bonds incredibly with the cyborg protecting him, showcasing that artificial intelligence may have a heart indeed. The characterization of the heroes is phenomenal, demonstrating how they are fighting for a more significant cause than themselves and learning more about each other along the way.
And to top it off, the villains in both stick as cold-hearted, stoic fellows, driven by one mission only: to end the existence of the future resistance leader. Notably, Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a revelation of sorts, as he stood as a knife-wielding, creepy-faced police officer. The CGI done for him was excellent, as it illustrates how intrusive this technology came in the early 90s and watching his character morph through metal bars or turn his arm into a knife was horrifying. Cameron and Co. kept it limited, pushing that desire for audiences to witness more without leaving them bogged down or oversaturated by these effects. And that is what made Terminator 2 so memorable because of its storytelling, character interactions (notably between teenage John Connor and the T-800), and that suspenseful atmosphere where anything could go wrong.
The sad part is that most of the sequels following it wished to emulate it almost every manner (aside from Terminator: Salvation). While it may have worked in theory, it failed to do so in execution. The issue with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Salvation, Genisys and Dark Fate is they pushed a little too hard on the CGI button when it came to the screen. Everything feels discombobulated and inorganic at times, leaving it difficult to continue enjoying what unfolds. The villains are also primarily forgettable. The plot structure is a rehash or jarringly jumps to the past excessively to try to make up for the appalling futuristic setting.
Dark Fate was not a bad film, but it was not a great one. It brought back the gritty, fun action many enjoyed from the first two but stays too derivative of them regarding storytelling and plot structure. Schwarzenegger and Hamilton returning were intriguing, and both made use of the situation. But their presence overshadows the newcomers’ Grace (Mackenzie Davis), Dani (Natalia Reyes), and Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). These three stories are lacking and do not give insight into why many should sympathize, let alone care, for their presence. Dark Fate is Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Genisys combined: it has some innovative sequences but no proper stakes and an obfuscating narrative.
The ultimate decision to kill off John Connor in the first few minutes renders the first two installments moot. His mentioning (or presence) was the backbone of their existence and why the characters existed in the first place. With Sarah Connor in the sixth installment, it makes her direction primarily immaterial, and since Skynet is nonexistent too, that makes it even more farcical. Dark Fate is the worst offender to John Connor, and it undercuts the potency of the first two installments disturbingly (not to forget, the 1991 sequel is one of the greatest sequels of all time).
In an interview, the director Tim Miller believes that audiences were predisposed to disapprove of the film after Salvation and Genisys’ mediocre performances. Hollywood should be making originals and not repeats. He is right because audiences wish to see something fresh and invigorating in a franchise. Why do you think people continually want to watch franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and more? The films in their canon do not repeat the same formula every time and push themselves to become more ambitious with themes and narratives. The Terminator series falls into the same boat as the Rocky (excluding the Creed films) and Transformers (minus Bumblebee) series: one formula that works and then retells it almost in the same way within its core. The monotony and prosaicness of them become stale and challenging to re-watch.
Even with nostalgia and the significant returns, Dark Fate had an enormous task to restore prestige to the franchise. It did not get the job done and lost the studio over 130 million dollars. The studios have no initiative to try for a seventh installment (which would be ludicrous at this point). What was once one of the most enthralling science-fiction action series of all time ended on a whimper, leaving Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, and others to acknowledge the Terminator story has run its course. Sure, it will continue to stand relevant in pop culture, but it does not carry the same weight it once did thirty years ago due to it being watered down in recent memories.