As New “Terminator” Movie Ramps Up, Has “I’ll Be Back” Become a Curse for James Cameron?

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James Cameron TerminatorGetty Images

I have a confession to make that I think might get me into some trouble with a number of you, but I have to come clean. I can’t hold it back anymore, and to do so would be dishonest with you all, and that’s not how I want this relationship to be.

I don’t care a thing about ’s new Terminator movie. Don’t care who’s in it, don’t care who’s making it, don’t care anything about it at all. Even if I happen to like , who was just cast in a key role, I still can’t generate any interest in this project. Even though Cameron himself is producing and helped shape the story, making this the first time he’s been involved with the franchise since he wrote and directed 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I simply have zero faith in this new endeavor.

Yes, I know that Deadpool director is helming the movie, and while that was one of my favorite films of 2016, I didn’t love its action sequences, plus there’s not a lot of comedy in these Terminator flicks. Sure, he’s a fresh set of eyes for the franchise, but it’s not like fresh eyes did the three non-Cameron films any favors, seeing as the offerings from Jonathan Moscow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), McG (Terminator Salvation), and Alan Taylor (Terminator Genisys), didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

It’s also fair to question how much freedom Cameron will actually give Miller. Cameron is an Oscar-winning legend who is unquestionably one of the most gifted and visionary filmmakers in the history of the medium, but he’s also a notorious control freak, and now that he’s involved again, you have to wonder how many key creative decisions he will cede to his director. True, most of his energy is spent overseeing the world of Pandora these days (and more about that below), but considering the first one of those Avatar sequels isn’t scheduled to hit theaters until Christmas of 2020, nearly three years from now, it’s not like he doesn’t have a little extra time on his hands to meddle with someone else’s vision.

And yes, I know that Cameron is bringing back and , which would then probably retcon the last three movies out of existence, but is there anyone who actually cares about this, either? I like both actors very much, especially their earlier work in these films, but is there an audience out there that will show up to see Hamilton reprise a role she hasn’t played in close to three decades? Furthermore, at what point does Arnold finally pack it in and retire from his signature role? I know he takes great care of himself, but the man is 70 years old. Are we to believe that there isn’t someone younger and more spry out there, someone who could be considered genuinely terrifying, just as Schwarzenegger was in the first film 34 years ago?

Dwayne Johnson comes to mind, obviously, as do Tom Hardy, Idris Elba and even Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who’s walking menace personified and isn’t without acting chops. In fact, why has there never been a black terminator? After all, when Cameron first conceived the project, he envisioned O.J. Simpson as the unstoppable cyborg. I will dispense with any jokes about that and instead wonder why that initial casting idea hasn’t been reborn in one of these reboots. There was a female terminator in Rise of the Machines, and a Korean terminator in Genisys, so why not a black or Latinx terminator? It seems short sighted, especially since Schwarzenegger has appeared in each installment (in some capacity) to increasingly diminishing returns. I know he only has a cameo in Salvation, but still, enough is enough. Interestingly enough, the new Terminator movie is rumored to be set in Mexico, and Cameron is currently searching for a young Latina actress to play the lead of what is intended to be a new trilogy. So maybe, just maybe, you will see a Latinx villain after all.

And no, and this as-yet-uncast Latina actress may not boast the star power of Christian Bale, or even Emilia Clarke, but who says this new film needs the same blockbuster budget as its predecessors. Rise of the Machines and Salvation each cost $200 million, while Genisys cost $155 million, yet no one seems to remember that the original Terminator cost just a little more than $6 million. Sure, that was back in 1984, but even factoring in inflation, it cost a fraction of its sequels, and it still holds up. That’s why it’s a classic. So what is it about this new Terminator movie that requires a huge, $200 million-plus mega-budget? Scale the thing back to a third of the price, and not only do you increase the film’s odds of turning a profit, thereby ensuring another installment, but you’re also potentially grounding the storytelling into something more accessible. [Editor’s Note: Let’s hope the producers of the new Die Hard movie are this right now.]

Any of these ideas, really, might reinvigorate a franchise which — let’s be honest — is right up there with Alien as a series that ran out of gas a long time ago, but continues to be flogged for all it’s worth because it is perceived as a valuable piece of IP. I could see trying to reboot it some years hence, when there is a good amount of distance between Genisys and whatever comes next, but this insistence on rushing forward with new installments and rebooting tired concepts only leads to audience fatigue and disappointing grosses. Or, if you’re going to actually go through with it, do a whole rethink, starting from the ground up. That would actually be intriguing, as it would be if Cameron was actually directing this new film himself. Sadly, he’s so embroiled in four Avatar sequels that he can’t dedicate the time to it, leaving us all SOL.

Which presents another problem for me — that someone like Cameron, who has such an astounding sense of futurism and whose work has been so revolutionary and technologically advanced, continues to look backward, rather than ahead to the future. One of the most inventive who ever lived is essentially stuck reliving his own past between the Terminator and Avatar franchises. And if he’s creatively content riffing on his greatest hits, then how much better and more fun would it be if he returned to the franchise that made him famous in the first place?

It’s sort of a crime that this isn’t in the cards, and so it’s a tad ironic that I’m disappointed that a cinematic pioneer like Cameron is more interested in continuing to tell stories in familiar territory than in mining something new. I fully expect to be impressed with the new parts of Pandora he plans to show us, even if I will assuredly be sitting in the audience wondering what might have been. What I won’t be doing is counting the days until our return to that world, nor will I be marking my calendar for whatever the next Terminator installment ends up being called.

There’s a reason that “I’ll be back” is one of the most iconic lines in movie history, and that’s because it still resonates today. Spoken by a literal killing machine who would go on to become a pop culture icon, it was meant to be a threat that this walking instrument of death was going to return, and there was no stopping him. Let’s hope that for Cameron and his fans, it doesn’t become a curse.


Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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1 Comment

  1. “…so why not a black or Latinx terminator?”

    Believe it or not, not everyone’s life revolves around proving to the world how politically correct they are.

    Some prefer (horror of horrors!) to honor those they’ve worked with in the past who have helped bring them great success.

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