James Cameron’s 1984 breakthrough movie, The Terminator was a tight and lean scI-fi/thriller – a film that played much like a horror. Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable robotic force was a terrifying villain that couldn’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear – and it absolutely would not stop, ever, until you’re dead. Cameron’s film is a superb piece of filmmaking, tense and thrilling. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as the unstoppable cyborg killer is perfection, while Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton also impress as Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor.
The 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day played on it’s star’s heroic persona, positioning him as the protector who faces-off against Robert Patrick’s liquid metal T1000. Patrick was another casting masterstroke, his small frame a wonderful counterpoint to Schwarzenegger’s’ bulk. The film introduced audiences to CGI-fused action sequences but there was plenty of humanity amongst the battling machines. It was also a different type of film, a sprawling action epic with many intricate plot points that built on the Terminator mythos.
The Terminator franchise has been pretty uneven since Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released back in 1991. This shift in quality is because James Cameron jumped ship and no one with the same talent was able to pilot the series, with a revolving door of directors attempting to reboot the franchise without ever really getting a grip on the tone. Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines in 2003 was a valiant effort to continue Cameron’s narrative and the ending packed a pretty powerful punch but McG’s Terminator: Salvation lacked the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and its dystopian future setting made it more of a generic sci-fi action film than something that could stand toe-to-toe with Cameron’s first two films.
2015’s Terminator Genisys was a decent enough reboot of the James Cameron franchise. It riffed on Cameron’s movies (particularly the first) and it has some intriguing ideas, but Hollywood’s mantra of bigger, louder, better means that this lacked the heart of the first two instalments.The best moments in Terminator Genisys come from the mind of James Cameron but it ultimately feels like blockbuster scriptwriting 101, ticking the box for the odd character moment until the next set piece.
Genisys was supposed to kick-start a new trilogy but disappointing box office saw those plans scraped by David Ellison and he decided that what the Terminator franchise was lacking was James Cameron – and he reached out to its creator who came onboard Terminator: Dark Fate as an Executive Producer. Deleting all previous entries save the first two films, Dark Fate reset the narrative and brought back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since T2. It’s not as good as Cameron’s two instalments, but we all knew that going in – it’s an honourable continuation to those masterworks and it serves as a solid bookend to that story.