The news broke last week that Linda Hamilton would reunite with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the new Terminator film, to be directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool) with James Cameron producing. The stars are aligned for the first great Terminator film in decades—but what will it take to get it right?
Here’s what we already know about the movie everyone will inevitably call Terminator 6 (though Cameron would prefer we didn’t) until the official title is released. We first learned that Cameron (who directed the 1984 original and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) would be returning to the franchise, and teaming upwith director Miller, back in January. Schwarzenegger, whose performance was the only thing we liked about 2015's Terminator Genisys, revealed his involvement in May. Last week, we learned that Linda Hamilton would be reprising her iconic role as Sarah Connor, now a “seasoned warrior,” per Cameron, in part six.
That huge casting announcement also came with a few more tidbits about the sequel: it’s based on a story by Cameron, who assembled a writers’ room with Miller to script both Terminator 6 and, potentially, two more films to make a trilogy that will either “stand as single movies or form an overarching story.” The film (or films) will be direct sequels to T2, thankfully ignoring the many sub-par installments that came after, and while Hamilton and Schwarzenegger will anchor the story, it will feature mostly new characters with an as-yet-uncast young woman at its center.
Back in August, Cameron mused that some of the technology that seemed so outrageously scifi back in 1984 is now real—specifically mentioning “predator drones and actual discussions on the ethics of having a robot have its own kill decision possibilities”—and suggested that the new film might take on these themes, viewed through a modern lens. Cameron also did a separate interview where he ruminated specifically on Schwarzenegger’s character, hinting there could be a reason all the Terminators looked like the same guy: perhaps they were based on an actual human whose DNA was used to create the robot’s flesh-like outer layer. But who was this man, and what was his relationship to Skynet? Cameron himself said he wasn’t sure, and that means it could be a question explored in the new movie.
But those are just tiny hints that don’t really tell us anything about the movie; it wouldn’t be a Terminator movie if it didn’t contain some kind of warning about the potential evils of technology. (Even the crappier Terminator movies manage to do that.) Bringing back Linda Hamilton is a fantastic first step, but we have plenty of other suggestions for how Terminator 6 can save the franchise.
The first two Terminator films take place mostly in the present, with characters from the future traveling back to either prevent or protect the coming of Judgment Day. Yes, you see characters from different tim frames interacting, but overall, the films make a basic sort of sense. Obviously the new Terminator movie will also be propelling people through time—but it should make sure it happens in a logical way, as seen in the first two films. Don’t distract the audience from the action by making them puzzle through too many layers of time-machine continuity blunders. In other words, learn a big lesson from Genisys, which played so fast and loose with the idea of time travel it became confusing at worst and laughable at best.
The highly advanced special effects of Terminator 2 changed movies forever. Some of the press buzz around the film’s recent 3D re-release rightfully focused on that, including the fact that many scenes in the movie were storyboarded first—without anyone knowing exactly how, technically speaking, they’d make them come to life. The results were mind-blowing, and they totally hold up 26 years later. Things have changed a lot since 1991, but the team behind Terminator 6 should absolutely keep that “dream first, figure out how to do it later” attitude alive. With the relentlessly innovative Cameron overseeing the production, it’s easy to assume this philosophy is already part of its overall mantra. Not to sound too demanding, guys, but T2 showed us stuff we’d never, ever seen onscreen before. We’ll be expecting to be even more dazzled by Terminator 6.
The Terminator audience of 2017—or 2019, or whenever Terminator 6 comes out—is a lot more tech-savvy than the audiences of 1984 or even 1991, as Cameron mentioned in the interview quoted above. We all have smart phones, we’ve piloted drones, we’ve yelled demands at Alexa, we’ve seen weirdly lifelike robots do amazing things on YouTube. Terminator 6 could really harness the modern paranoia that maybe machines really are becoming self-aware, something the original films tapped into but that didn’t seem entirely worthy of genuine fear at the time. But that general unease about computers rising up against us isn’t all that unique; lots of cyber thrillers since Terminator have explored those themes. Terminator 6 should feel updated, but it also needs to have all the things we love about the classic films—a time machine that requires butt-naked travel, ridiculous chase scenes involving big rigs and motorcycles, and some corny one-liners for Arnold. But “I’ll be back” can take a break, please.
We know Sarah Connor and some version of the T-800 will be in the new film, but we don’t yet know if John Connor and Kyle Reese will be a part of the story. We do know, however, to expect characters from the future and the present; this will include a set of younger characters that will be the focus of the action. Whether these are next-generation recruits that join Sarah in her anti-machine crusade, or kids in the future kicking robot ass as part of the resistance, we don’t know—but it’s going to be hugely important that these characters are just as interesting and layered (and flawed) as the ones we already know so well from the series. The new blood needs to be characterized with care. They need to feel like they’re essential to the story, and they need to be worth investing in emotionally. Remember Marcus Wright, the potentially fascinating half-human, half-Terminator creation played by Sam Worthington in Terminator: Salvation? No? Don’t even remember he was in that movie? Barely remember that movie at all, to be perfectly honest? Exactly.
Also, just as crucially, the villains need to be memorable and unique. Judgment Day is an enormous, frightening concept—that T2 scene where Sarah imagines a nuclear strike on Los Angeles is incredibly disturbing—but having a smaller-scale threat targeting our heroes raises the stakes so much higher (as long as it’s an effective one; sorry, T-X from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). There needs to be someone or something that levels up Robert Patrick’s T-1000 in T2. That liquid-metal menace accomplished the seemingly impossible task of being even more formidable than Schwarzenegger in the first film. Nothing has bested him since, which is why Terminator 6 is perfectly poised to give it a shot.