So I finally got around to watching Terminator: Dark Fate the other night, the sixth in a series of films that have been going since I was 13 years old. I am now pushing 50.
And it was … fine. Good action, bit of Arnold and Linda Hamilton, hitting all the right Terminator beats. But was it essential?
It’s not like this is any startling revelation, but the field of genre films is littered with unnecessary sequels that are only there for one reason – cash and “protecting the brand.” So many of these sequels fail to pass the pub test – do they tell a story that is worth telling?
Terminator and Terminator 2 together tell a concise apocalyptic story, one that has been exhumed every few years with diminishing returns ever since. Instead of it becoming a story of humanity changing a dark future, seen over six films it’s actually a tale of how no matter how many robots you kill, everything is still going to go horribly wrong somehow in the end.
Take the Alien movies. I had to do a double-check to actually see how many there have been now – eight if you count the spin-offs! Yet the story of Ellen Ripley is actually told pretty well through the first two or three movies alone, and all else is papering in cracks and investigating corners that didn’t turn out to be that interesting in the long run.
Or Predator, one of those franchises that they just can’t let die. One perfect bloody brawler of an action movie. Five increasingly nonessential reboots, sequels and prequels.
And, as I said, Terminator: Dark Fate was fine. It was certainly better than the fourth and fifth Terminator movies, not quite as good as the rather underrated third. But for all intents and purposes, the story of Sarah Connor and Terminators trying to kill her was told perfectly well in the first two movies.
The marketing machines gear up these nonessential sequels and reboots every few years and they become a blur. Just in the last 15 years or so we’ve had airy reworkings of Total Recall, Fright Night, Robocop, Tron, Ghostbusters, Point Break and more that evaporate almost from the moment you think of them. It doesn’t mean a franchise can’t carry on indefinitely – the Marvel movies machine franchise manages to keep you wanting to know what’s happening next in the sprawling tapestry, and even if the movies aren’t all of the same quality, you generally feel they were worth telling. And even a years-later sequel to an old idea can still bring something new, such as Mad Max: Fury Road or Blade Runner 2049.
I know it won’t happen in Hollywood, but just wish sometimes the question would be asked, is the story worth telling? Most of the time, the answer is that it was told fine the first time.