An exploration of the non-James Cameron Terminator sequels and how they stack up to the originals.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A relentless killing machine must travel back in time to kill humanity’s savior only to be thwarted by a champion sent back in time by a group of ragtag human resistance fighters. I’ve heard it.

More than once.

Now, there have been good versions of this story and bad versions (really bad versions) but even in these so-called bad movies have some redeeming qualities, right?

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TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)

There’s a lot wrong with this entry. The cheap, dated jokes, the recycled plot, and a villain that just can’t live up to the standard set by Robert Patrick. One thing though that still stands above all that, is the ending. Everything about the movie seemed to be headed towards a very, standard, very generic ending.

The kind of ending we’d already seen in the first two films but even more repetitive and stale. Instead, the ending took a complete left turn. The ultimate showdown between man and machine never happens. The heroes (Nick Stahl as John Connor and Claire Danes as Kate Brewster) are tricked by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and find themselves stuck in a military bunker as Judgement Day happens outside.

The very thing three movies worked so hard to stop occurred almost with a sense of inevitability and calm resignation. Say what you will about the rest of the movie but this works and works well.

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TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)

While I hold a soft spot for Terminator 3, at this point everything else is a tough pill to swallow. There’s so much wrong with Terminator Salvation it’s hard to know where to begin so I won’t even start.

What is good about though is worth remembering. The major standout in this film is Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. His strong, intense delivery overshadowed Sam Worthington and even Christian Bale. Every moment he was on a screen was a moment you had to pay attention. One other thing that stood out in this film was its structure.

Every other Terminator film involves a chase whether that be over a few nights or through time. Terminator Salvation relied on a whole new approach, one that involved mystery, unique objectives and a few twists. While it might not have worked it was at least different and that much I can appreciate.

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TERMINATOR GENYSIS (2015)

Genysis is nothing if not a substandard tentpole movie manufactured by board rooms and focus groups. Amongst all that though remains a singular gem buried deep below the surface, Arnold Schwarzenegger. His career has never been one filled with acting accolades but his portrayal of an emotionless killing machine has become his signature role and for good reason.

His ability to give the character a real sense of pathos and empathy is ever-present even in a movie as unsalvageable as Terminator Genysis. His quiet confidence effortlessly commands every scene. He only needs to tilt his head just so or shoot a deadly glare to make himself the center of attention. The rest of the film may the stuff of film school nightmares but Arnold does his very best to save it and it shows.

Not every Terminator movie is worth sending back in time but if you look closely enough you might find a reason or two to save every single one.

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