Before breaking box office records with the likes of Titanic and Avatar, visionary filmmaker James Cameron burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1984 with a time-traveling sci-fi thriller called The Terminator.
Pushing the envelope with award winning practical effects as well as stop-motion animation, Cameron melded action spectacles with an emotional human story to enormous success. In 1992, Cameron performed the rare feat of topping his original film with an even more ambitious and action-packed sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
T2 is unanimously heralded as one of the greatest action films of all time. While building upon the first film, T2 laid the foundation for additional, multilayered storytelling, which is why the franchise is still currently going strong with Terminator: Dark Fate premiering on November 1, 2019.
More Than Meets the Eye
Peel back the skin of the epic car chases, groundbreaking CGI, and hectic fire fights of either of Cameron’s first two Terminator films and you find stories deeply rooted in human emotion.
What Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator: Genisys storylines were severely lacking was heart.
On the broad surface, we have a young woman desperately fleeing a killer cyborg. As the story progresses, we begin to dig deep into a star-crossed love story that challenges what we understand to be our fate or destiny. Running parallel to that narrative, we also see a scared, young waitress who literally transforms into the brave battle ready warrior we see in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Balancing the spectacular action pieces with a story we could feel is precisely what makes James Cameron so successful away from the Terminator franchise, but it is also why the franchise suffers without him.
Cinematic Tin Men
Without Cameron, the other Terminator films were as cold and lifeless as the cyborgs we see in them. Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines was directed by Jonathan Mostow, who at the time had only directed two major releases. The film had some exciting action sequences and a surprisingly powerful ending; however, it was more or less a retread on the aspects we already experienced in T2.
Terminator Salvation had so much potential and hype leading up to its release. We had a bankable, talented lead star in Christian Bale portraying the infamous resistance leader John Connor and a post-apocalyptic storyline viewing the remains of a floundering humanity.
Unfortunately, Salvation was helmed by McG, whom at the time was famous for music videos and the misguided Charlie’s Angels films. When all was said and done, the overall execution fell flat minus some brilliant performances and fantastic action.
Another instance of hype gone terribly wrong, Terminator Genisys had the blessing of Cameron himself and Alan Taylor of Game of Thrones fame in the director’s chair.
Due to an awful marketing campaign that spoiled a huge twist in the film, questionable casting, and an overall muddled screenplay, this was another entry that just missed the cinematic mark.
What the Future Holds
We are once again in a familiar place as Terminator: Dark Fate is set to open.
For the first time since Terminator 2, James Cameron is returning to the franchise (albeit in a producing role). In addition to the acclaimed filmmaker who started it all, we have the return of the original Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) leading the charge.
Trailers so far have been mysterious but intriguing. It’s hard to tell what exactly to expect but it could ultimately come down to Tim Miller of Deadpool fame. Deadpool broke the box-office record for an R-rated film and overall was a crowd-pleasing action romp that finally did the character justice.
The film was also hysterically funny, which begs the question: “Can Tim Miller handle the dramatic weight and heavy subject-matter the Terminator saga entails?” Only time will tell and we will find out soon enough on November 1.