After giving someone else’s movie the perfect sequel with 1986’s Aliens, James Cameron gave his own movie the perfect sequel with 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But since T2 provided the saga with a conclusive, action-packed ending, Hollywood has continued to beat sequel after sequel out of the franchise. Even Cameron himself couldn’t make a satisfying sequel to T2.
While Rise of the Machines, Salvation, Genisys, and Dark Fate are all generally bad movies, they’re not entirely devoid of artistic merit. They didn’t come close to matching the greatness of the first two Terminator movies, but they did a few things right.
10 Right: Rise Of The Machine’s Explosive Action
The plot of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines may be flimsy and inconsistent, but the threequel has explosive action sequences in spades, from a firefight in a cemetery to a car chase in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is dragged through a row of buildings.
There are no set pieces in Rise of the Machines that compare to the truck chase or the steel mill shootout in T2, but there are plenty of dazzling sequences.
9 Wrong: Sarah Connor’s Off-Screen Death
Set a decade after the events of Terminator 2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines picks up with a John Connor who’s grown up to become a loser. It’s disappointing, but it’s nothing compared to the disappointment of finding out the legend that is Sarah Connor died off-screen between movies.
The revelation that Sarah got sick and died before the events of Terminator 3 is on par with Alien 3’s revelation that all the fan-favorite supporting characters from Aliens died in between sequels. Big Hollywood studios can’t help killing off iconic James Cameron characters and expect fans not to complain.
8 Right: Salvation’s Future Setting
After it became clear that no Terminator movie set in the present day could ever top T2, Terminator: Salvation was conceived. Set entirely in the future after the machines have taken over, Salvation focuses on an adult John Connor leading the resistance. It ended up being a pretty generic blockbuster, but it started out as a great idea to shake things up.
Unfortunately, after the critical and financial disappointment of Salvation, the studio decided to stop taking risks with the franchise and went back to the familiar formula.
7 Wrong: John Connor’s On-Screen Death
While Sarah Connor’s off-screen death in Terminator 3 was insulting, John Connor’s on-screen death in Dark Fate — which erased every post-T2 sequel from the canon — might have been even worse. In the opening scene, John circa T2, played by a de-aged Edward Furlong, is killed on vacation by a new time-traveling Terminator. This immediately negates the perfect conclusion of T2, because they didn’t prevent Judgment Day after all. Yet another Schwarzenegger Terminator was just going to come along and kill John when Sarah wasn’t looking.
This is hardly a step up from Sarah’s off-screen terminal illness in Terminator 3. If Terminator 3 had opened with Sarah on her deathbed, it wouldn’t have made the movie’s treatment of her character any less egregious.
6 Right: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commitment
The Terminator franchise helped to make Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, and despite how badly written some of the post-T2 sequels have been, Schwarzenegger has always brought his all to each movie.
He commits wholeheartedly to the physicality, no matter how old he’s gotten. His passion for playing Terminators apes Bruce Willis’ waning dedication to the role of John McClane.
5 Wrong: Carl
After the opening scene of Terminator: Dark Fate saw a T-800 killing John Connor, the second act begs a pretty intriguing question: what happens to a Terminator stuck in the past if they actually accomplish their mission without being destroyed?
Apparently, the answer to that question is: it gains emotions, integrates into human society, falls in love with a single mother, and establishes a tranquil suburban existence under the name “Carl.” It was really dumb.
4 Right: Bringing Back Linda Hamilton
While the terrible script of Terminator: Dark Fate ultimately wasted the potential of her return, erasing the off-screen death of Sarah Connor and bringing back Linda Hamilton for another action-packed Terminator entry was a smart move.
No matter how interminable the plot of Dark Fate becomes, it’s always a delight when Hamilton is on-screen and back in the role of Sarah.
3 Wrong: Everything About Genisys
There are glimmers of merit to be found in the third, fourth, and sixth Terminator movies, but the fifth one, Genisys, is a complete artistic failure. The script is a thinly veiled mashup of all the memorable moments from the first two Terminator movies but without those films’ substance. Genisys is more of a greatest hits album than a movie, but all the classic Cameron tracks are covered by Alan Taylor. It’s like The Force Awakens, but with an even less coherent plot.
What’s worse is that the few original ideas in the script — like Sarah Connor being raised by a Terminator called “Pops,” John Connor being half-Terminator, and a human embodiment of Skynet being played by Matt Smith — are so mind-numbingly terrible that they make you wish the movie was 100% derivative.
2 Right: The T-X
Terminator 3 copied its predecessor’s formula by having a Schwarzenegger Terminator once again protect John Connor from another, more advanced shapeshifting Terminator, called the T-X (and, weirdly, in some cases, the Terminatrix).
Kristanna Loken’s portrayal of the franchise’s first female Terminator both recaptured the coldness of Robert Patrick’s performance as the T-1000 and offered a counterpoint to his distinctive physicality.
1 Wrong: Endlessly Copying The T2 Formula
What made T2 such a great sequel to The Terminator is that it tweaked the formula. Instead of a human protecting a human from a Terminator, a Terminator protected a human from an even more advanced Terminator. It raised the stakes and resulted in a completely new story.
Unfortunately, the post-T2 sequels have just copied T2’s formula instead of trying to evolve it. Salvation’s change of setting was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t quite find its feet or realize its premise’s potential.
NEXT: The Terminator: Why Sarah Connor Is A Perfect Protagonist (& The T-800 Is A Perfect Villain)
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