‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ – Arnold Schwarzenegger Makes Less Sense In Each Sequel
Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now and Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the original terminator, the T-800. It is his fifth full movie as a terminator out of six, so really it’s a bigger deal that Linda Hamilton is back as Sarah Connor. Many fans are enjoying the latest film and that’s great. For those who were may be a tad disappointed by Dark Fate, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s continued presence in these movies may turn out to be one of the problems.
This article contains spoilers for all the Terminator films including Dark Fate. This is an analysis to read after you’ve seen the new film, but it’s just possible that one of the major flaws in the sequels is their reliance on the terminator himself.
‘The Terminator’ established the ultimate killing machine
Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast as the terminator. After a career of playing heroes, including turning hero in the Terminator series, it can be jarring for new fans to discover him as a villain. The terminator relentlessly pursued Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who only had the human Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect her.
The Terminator established what a T-800 is. It had skin to blend in with humans, until it sprung into action where it could break through walls and survive bullets and crashes. It could even survive burning all the skin off as the metal endoskeleton kept going.
‘T2’ was the ultimate twist
At one point there was a plan to keep the twist of Terminator 2: Judgment Day a secret until audiences saw it. They dropped that plan and revealed the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator was a good guy in the trailers. Still, making the T-800 the protector of young John Connor (Edward Furlong) was a clever twist. 13-year-olds in the 90s could imagine being on an adventure with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Having a terminator on your side certainly helps battle another terminator. The new enemy, the T-1000, was so advanced even the T-800 was an underdog. T2 also beefed up the action exponentially, since there were no limits to what these killer machines could do.
‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ starts to repeat itself
Once John Connor is an adult (Nick Stahl), sending another T-800 to protect him is kind of a retread. Presumably John still sent him back to protect him and perhaps that’s the only model they know how to reprogram in the future. The film doesn’t spend too much time dealing with John meeting a new terminator who looks just like the one he bonded with as a kid.
It’s relevant that he has different needs as an adult, and this is an entirely different robot who had none of the bonding experiences they shared in T2. They also started going way overboard with the comedy of a terminator adopting modern day slang. “Talk to the hand” was intentionally dated when T3 came out but even more so now.
We learn it’s actually Kate (Claire Danes) who sent the terminator back. That gives it the twist that he doesn’t have to follow John’s orders this time, which also tests their relationship. Ultimately, the film is mainly interested in action, which is fine. This was the last Terminator movie to really feature practical stunts, and the T-X (Kristanna Lokken) could battle the T-800 metal on metal, versus the liquid metal of T2.
‘Salvation’ has minimal Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California when they made Terminator: Salvation. He wasn’t even acting so he only appears when they put his face on a terminator body. At least it’s not another protector model again.
This time John Connor (Christian Bale) is infiltrating the Skynet factory and a fresh T-800 steps off the assembly line. They haven’t had time to reprogram it so John Connor has to fight a robot just like the one who protected him as a child. It’s a short scene that doesn’t go too into depth with that but I’m happy to read that depth into a brief beat in a lesser sequel.
‘Genisys’ is the biggest stretch
Terminator: Genisys had to start explaining how a robot could age like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s convoluted but it leads to interesting ideas. Someone sent a T-800 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) as a child. By 1984 it aged to Arnold’s age in 2015 when he filmed it.
By 2017 in the film’s timeline, the terminator got older and grayer. The theme of “old, not obsolete” gave him more vulnerability and seeing Sarah attached to a terminator was different and fun. There are much bigger holes in Genisys but the hoops it jumps through to keep Arnold involved at least pay off in rewarding ways.
‘Dark Fate’ doesn’t try hard enough
Whatever issues one may have with the way Genisys bent over backwards to include Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is no reason for a T-800 to team up with the good guys in Dark Fate. This terminator actually went back to kill John Connor and succeeded. When Sarah (Linda Hamilton again) teams up with a new target of the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) she ends up forced to work with the terminator who killed her son.
The explanation is that once his mission was complete, the terminator had nothing left to do but learn about humans. And he turned good. Okay, so the learning computer can learn values without being reprogrammed. That’s pretty thin so they’d better have more than just jokes about running a carpet/drapes business.
They just don’t need him in this movie. The terminator can take more of a beating than Grace (Mackenzie Davis) can against the Rev-9, but then all he is is a big metal bodyguard. If Sarah has to learn forgiveness that could be something but she doesn’t really. He sacrifices himself so she’s off the hook for learning to cope with a terminator after all this.
I know they don’t want to make a Terminator movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger, they can’t even go back to making him the villain because he’s proven so easy to kill in 3, 4 and 6. As a hero there’s no more connection to the protagonists. Arnold Schwarzenegger created the terminator and deserves to be included as long as he wants to be, but the movies have to figure out more to do with him. We’ve now seen six different T-800s in each movies.
In Genisys he actually fought his 1984 self so maybe the next thing to do is have multiple T-800s as main characters in the same movie. Two T-800s who don’t like each other may be the next frontier. Or it might just be time to let Sarah and the humans take it from here.