Tom Jolliffe looks at Terminator: Dark Fate and the prospect of further films…
James Cameron approaches most of his projects with a certain confident swagger. He is the King of the world after all. When he left the Terminator franchise, with Arnold Schwarzenegger being slowly lowered into cyborg retirement he’d left behind two genre defining classics. The first film a relentless and wonderfully orchestrated B movie monster horror-come-action film that took the historically goofy (the kind of thing you could imagine Ed Wood producing decades previously) and made something chilling. In much the same way as Ridley Scott gave us the brilliantly confined space terror of Alien and took a potentially goofy idea, injecting it with pure nightmare.
By Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron was no longer a freewheeling, low budget maverick, he was big league. The film was mega budget and forgoes much of the horror of the original, in place of more action. He also recast Schwarzenegger from villain to cybernetic hero. Throw in some ground breaking CGI (which has yet to be bettered in the modern continuations of the Connor fable) and it was a winner.
Cut forward through Rise of The Machines, a lightweight photocopy that bordered on spoof, never quite ‘getting’ the mix of seriousness and pinches of humour, then Terminator: Salvation which was a total mess (and featured Christian Bale in probably his worst performance), before finally coming to Terminator: Genysis which seemed to all but terminate the whole franchise. T-Gen which appeared out the locker room like that lame kid trying to be like one of the cooler kids (lets call the cool kid Marvel) but failing dismally, only bringing forth mockery his way. Attempting to recreate that Marvel formula it came over like trying to concoct your own version of Coca Cola in your kitchen and barely managing to make it taste better than Asda smart price.
So here we are in 2019. There’s another attempt at rejuvenating the franchise. Such is the belief that this will be a success, there is talk of Dark Fate beginning a new trilogy. Much was talked of with T-Gen too of course. The stamp au-Cameron doesn’t quite have the same majesty it used to. Like Ridley Scott’s revisits to the world of Alien, there can be no guarantee that going back to a career defining franchise is nailed on for success.
Dark Fate sees Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Conner. That seems a more worthwhile returning character to this franchise than Arnold Schwarzenegger returning for the 3rd time and beyond ever was. After all, she was the heart of the first two films. If one casts their mind into wondering what Hamilton has been up too for the last 20 years, at least it would seem she’s stayed sharp. Whilst her role doesn’t appear (from the trailers) to carry quite the complexity or intensity of her previous outing as Connor, she at least seems ‘on it.’ That aside the trailers don’t seem a whole world away from the ‘Marvel-lite’ jelly mould blockbuster stylings of Genysis. Lazy made for the trailer lines, awkward humour and so many po-faces and above all…over design. The new terminator of the piece seems overly complex, in that constant misguided battle to try and up the ante on the T-1000. It may seem more inspired if the CGI didn’t look a little second rate (particularly compared to the cream of the blockbuster crops). Where shots aspire for cool, they come across as a bit unimpressive.
Much has also been made of the decision to go R-rated. That’s not quite as important as making sure the script passes muster, so hopefully they don’t fall into the trap of cramming in swearing for the sake of it and ditto the violence. Cameron’s first two films always had feeling behind the swearing, a place for it and the violence always carried impact. The problem is, much of what we see in the trailer suggests a film following generic 21st century, default setting blockbuster archetypes. There’s no hint that this might be Logan for example. Again there’s a reach to follow certain beats laid out by Marvel. There’s also that need to mimic the drum fills and solos that Cameron rolled out perfectly in the first two. The thing is, you need to maintain the right rhythm to give yourself the platform for the fills and solos. None of the sequels after Judgment Day managed to get that balance. Indeed what the trailers evoke is the kind of film that will appeal more to younger boys than perhaps the over 25 crowd that may still find the franchise to have some draw. So potentially, by going for that R rating, they’ve risked alienating a potentially important demographic, whilst following patterns of films the over 25’s may find galling.
Whether the film turns out decent or not remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, whilst it seems disappointingly (modernly) formulaic, it does at least seem potentially fun and at least where T-Gen misfired in all its humour and was miscast, this at least has the gravitas of Hamilton (even if Arnold seems somewhat out of place again). The likelihood of further Terminator films of course rests more on the returns. The buzz suggests another disappointment on home soil for the film, and probably key western markets. Much, like the last film, will rest on the Asian market (particularly China). The R rating in itself may prove someone troublesome on that count too, potentially requiring significant cuts to appease the Chinese market. The Chinese response to Sci-Fi is erratic too. There’s no guarantee that this will have the draw of T-Gen. For one thing the Chinese marketing push will need to more significantly rest on Arnold.
I don’t foresee enough success to continue this into the pencilled trilogy. Does that mean termination for The Terminator? Well if the cinematic landscape in 10 years is still heavily focused on remakes/reboots etc then no. There is a chance they could hit restart and take things completely back to the lithe simplicity of the original and recast the roles. Nothing is sacred in cinema sadly. My own approach would have been to go for the monster horror angle again, to get something with that relentless pace of the first and try to imbue it with some modern relevance. If you want the best ‘Terminator’ since T2, it’s probably the references in the most recent season of Stranger Things with Hopper being pursued by a stoic, almost robotic Russian hitman. Just in an episode of TV they nailed the aura of Terminator better than any of the post Judgment Day sequels managed to.
Do you think there’s life left in the Terminator franchise? Are you looking forward to Dark Fate? Let us know in the comments below or on social media @flickeringmyth…
Terminator: Dark Fate is being directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool), with James Cameron producing, and sees Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Edward Furlong (John Connor) reprising their roles alongside new cast additions Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049), Natalia Reyes (Lady), Diego Boneta (Pretty Little Liars) and Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The film will be released on October 23rd in the UK and November 1st in North America.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has several features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019/2020 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/