From what I am able to glean from the various reports, the news is this: James Cameron, who exited the franchise after dropping the mic with 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is back. Not as director, as a producer who will oversee a writers room charged with dreaming up a brand new Terminator trilogy.
Stepping in to direct is Tim Miller of Deadpool fame.
As the killer/savior T-800, Arnold Schwarzenegger is again on board, as is Linda Hamilton, who will return as Sarah Connor after her own 26 year absence.
What is especially interesting is that this new trilogy intends to completely ignore everything produced after T2, which includes three sequels and a Sarah Connor television series that ran for two seasons (2008 – 2009).
Then there is the whole Force Awakens approach. In the upcoming features, Schwarzenegger, who just turned 70, and Hamilton, who is 61, will anchor the series, but their iconic characters will not be the central characters. In the same way the original Star Wars cast anchors that new trilogy, younger actors (Cameron mentioned finding an 18-year-old actress) will be the actual leads.
As they hand off the baton, Arnold and Hamilton will be there to reassure fans that not too much has changed — at least not until we get used to the new faces.
The coming trilogy will mark the third attempt to reboot a franchise that has produced nothing of note for more than a quarter-century. Accepting the fact that I represent a small minority, I loved 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Nevertheless, one has to admit the story lacked the intellectual and existential heft Cameron brought to his original dynamic duo, and after the finality of T2’s elegant ending, the whole idea of a follow-up felt forced.
Rise of the Machine’s decision to remove Hamilton from the saga (we learn Sarah Connor died of Leukemia in 1997) was a mistake, and Nick Stahl (as John Connor) is a bit slight for an action hero. Overall, though, thanks primarily to a narrative that brings us full circle while at the same time opening up the possibility of a continuing story (be careful what you wish for), Rise of the Machines is a kick-ass action movie and a perfect bookend to the trilogy (but again, a bit of a cheat).
Unfortunately, with a mammoth $200 million budget (add at least $35 – $50 million for promotion), Rise of the Machines almost certainly lost money with only a $433 million worldwide haul (on average, theaters take 50% of the gross), and fans were not exactly clamoring for more. Still, Hollywood thought it knew better with 2009’s Terminator Salvation, which ended up being a catastrophe on every level.
Set in 2018, thirteen years after Judgment Day (which is set in 1995), Christian Bale stars as John Connor. The setting is post-apocalyptic, the story is breathtakingly uninspired (man, it sure is easy to break into Skynet!), and other than some laughably bad CGI, Arnold is nowhere to be found (at the time he was governating California even further into the ground).
A $371 million box office return on what was probably a $250 million investment means that Salvation lost a fortune.
Reboot number one had now failed … twice.
Some six years later everyone would try again with 2015’s Terminator Genisys, which brought back Arnold’s T-800 and Sarah Connor (though not Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (though not Michael Biehn). While Schwarzenegger is excellent and the story has some interesting ideas, the plot is too clever by half and there is never any real sense of jeopardy, just spectacle. The result was another box office fizzle.
With Cameron now back in charge of reboot number three, no one should underestimate the potential of what comes next, and the reunion of Arnold and Hamilton pretty much guarantees a resurgence in audience goodwill. The problem, though, is that if you look close enough at the Terminator franchise, there is not a whole lot to work with.
Way back in 1984, Cameron’s vision of an unstoppable killer cyborg was exciting and fresh. Although not as good as its predecessor (that soggy middle), the sequel was also a mind-blower, our first look at the real potential of CGI.
As a concept, though, what is there? Only the now played-out idea of time travel and a cyborg. Marvel and Star Wars and even Harry Potter have a whole universe to play around in. That is just not the case with Cameron’s creation. Unless some attempt is made to add blue smurfs or something, the Terminator will remain a concept, a brand, something that can only world-build within the realm of reality.
Moreover, the story is over. The Terminator and Terminator: Judgment Day told the story, all of it, beginning to end. Anything else will again feel like a cheat, which is a big reason the sequels failed to generate much excitement. Also, this new Terminator franchise will not release its first chapter until 2019, more than 20 years after the year 1997 — the year in which we were told (in the first two films) the apocalypse happened.
Sure, Schwarzenegger still has his potent starpower and it will certainly be good to see Hamilton back in action again, but this franchise felt wrung dry 25 years ago. Nostalgia will only take you so far.