Terminator 2 is one of the greatest movies ever made and that is a hill I’m not only willing to die on, but also take everyone who disagrees with me into the afterlife as well. There is not a wasted scene (not even in the extended version), it is well written, the stakes are high, you love — yes, love — the characters from John Conner to Freeman Dyson to the Terminator and, yes… you even love the T-1000. Terminator 2 isn’t just the greatest sequel ever made, it’s one of the best action movies ever made and, quite possibly, one of the greatest movies ever made ever.
Which is why every sequel after it was doomed to failure.
Call it serendipity… call it a universal fluke… call it God playing dice with the universe, but somehow… some way… the sequel to a cheap 80’s movie about killer robots from the future is amazing. It’s sequels… less so.
And now here’s more hills for me to die on:
Terminator 3… isn’t a bad movie. In fact, I would argue that it is more than a worthy followup. Is it as good as Terminator 2? Lord, no… not even the ballpark. Not even in the parking lot of the ballpark. Heck, I don’t even think it’s in the same city as the ballpark… but it is in the same county. It’s got some great action, the story is pretty inventive, and that ending took some chutzpah to pull off.
Terminator: Salvation… now that’s a bad movie. It’s ugly, generic, drab, and never fun. The characters are unlikable, there is nothing original about the action pieces, and the story is just… well, it’s dumb. This could have been the reboot that the Terminator series was looking for: Dump the time travel, the robots are evil, and humanity is barely able to fight them off. But no… it’s Terminator: Salvation and it’s awful.
Deep breath, Jason… you can do this.
Give me a minute.
I liked Terminator Genisys.
I know, I’m sorry… I’m sorry, but hear me out.
I thought it was inventive. Bringing the concept of parallel timelines into the story, re-wrapping Skynet into something new and personable, giving the Terminator a brand new mission and the time travel to the future was great. Most people complain about the movie making John Conner the bad guy, but you really can’t fault the movie for the stupidity of the ad department putting a major spoiler into the movie trailers. Imagine how amazed and surprised you would have been if you didn’t know that was coming.
Personally, I’m forever sad that we will never see liquid metal Arnie in action.
Terminator: Dark Fate? It ain’t bad. It’s a return to a darker, meaner, and more merciless Terminator movie. It’s got a hard R rating and the characters are likable enough. Sarah Conner is back, there is a lot of emotion, there’s a new spin on the formula, and the action is… okay.
As an action movie, Terminator: Dark Fate is more than serviceable.
The problem is, it’s a Terminator movie and the Terminator movies will always live in the shadow of Terminator 2 because it was just that good. No matter what Dark Fate did, no matter how inventive or amazing it might be, it would never be as good as Terminator 2. There is a very large segment of the population who is more than happy seeing Sarah and John drive down that dark highway together as the end of the Terminator franchise because it was a perfect ending. Every sequel messes with that ending and, therefore, every sequel is doomed to failure.
It doesn’t matter that I think Terminator 3 is severely underrated. It doesn’t matter if I think Terminator Genisys is inventive and fun. Terminator: Salvation… I’m sure there’s gotta be someone out there who likes it. It… doesn’t… matter. Terminator 2 was perfect and the rest are less so and will always be failures no matter what.
This movie was doomed before the script was even written.
However, let’s pretend that none of that matters even though it totally does. What about Terminator: Dark Fate?
Judgment Day has come and gone without any nuclear bombs but twenty years later, a new terminator arrives in Mexico to take out a random woman and, of course, a protector from the future arrives as well to keep that from happening. As the Terminator/Protector chase is happening, Sarah Conner suddenly appears and takes it upon herself to not only protect the woman, but also be as antagonistic to the protector as well because that’s the best way to boost team morale.
It’s always fun to see Linda Hamilton reprise her role as Sarah Conner after a… (looks at calendar) twenty-seven year absence!? She’s grizzled and cynical and every bit the unit we remember from the 90’s.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back too because, apparently, we can’t have one of these movies without him appearing no matter how ridiculous it gets. I’ll always have a soft spot for this guy… he was my childhood and teenage self’s personal hero and I love him. Yeah, it’s a little weird how they brought him back, but I will give them points for the inventiveness and the resulting philosophical questions it raises even though the movie brings them up and then forgets about them in the span of ten minutes.
Mackenzie Davis plays the enigmatic protector named Grace, an augmented human who is part machine, part human… and mostly useless after five minutes. I can understand giving Grace a weakness, but it’s a heck of a weakness given how powerful the Terminator is in the first place. It just made her look weak compared to her instances of psychotic awesomeness.
Gabriel Luna is the Terminator… a part robot skeleton, part liquid metal killing machine that can split into two separate units. I really wish the movie would have gone into a little more detail on how this works. Luna plays his Terminator like a true infiltrator which is both scary and apt for the story. When he is in reconnaissance mode, he is personable and charming… a chameleon blending into society where no one suspects. When he acquires his target, though, he has laser precision unless the script requires that he doesn’t. Looking at you, Act III.
Overall, I liked him as the Terminator and thought he brought a whole new level of menace to the game.
Finally, Natalia Reyes… the actress does her best, but her character is so oddly written. Weak and panicked in one scene, wizened, determined, and a crack shot in the next. There was no evolution to this character aside from, “Oh look, she’s going to talk to her boss! That’s leadership capability!” It just happens because the script needed it to.
Terminator: Dark Fate is decent. I liked it better than Genisys and a whole heck of a lot better than Salvation. Terminator 3, in my opinion, is a better movie, but I know a lot of people didn’t like that one either so I don’t care.
My point is, Terminator: Dark Fate is decent on a scale where decent might as well be terrible. It took no chances, did nothing incredibly original, and followed a formula that had already been taken out behind the barn and shot. I know that nostalgia is nice and seeing Arnie and Linda back was a lot of fun, but nostalgia was not going to carry this movie: It needed to break the formula and be memorable on its own as Genisys at least attempted to do. What is didn’t need to do was fall back and be derivative, which is exactly what it did.
It appears that Terminator is officially terminated after this one and maybe that’s for the best. As my mother said when my younger siblings were born… we already had perfection, why did we need these disappointing followups?