Should Arnold return to Terminator?


Posted earlier today by Andre on my facebook page, this was something I had brought up last week (More Terminator on its Way?) when word got around that Universal was considering making another entry into the Terminator franchise.

This article comes from moviefone and really compliments my feelings on the matter:

In what could be a perfect storm of awesomeness, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announed that he’s ready to return to acting at the exact same time that Universal has decided they’d like to start working on a new film in the ‘Terminator’ series. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If you are, stop. It’s a bad idea.

While the idea of The Governator re-donning his leather jacket and coming back for another round of cyborg butt-kicking sounds great on paper, the reality appears to be something far different. I’m not saying a Schwarznegger-led ‘Terminator’ sequel would be a complete disaster (because, let’s face it, out-doing ‘Terminator: Salvation’ in terms of mediocrity would be quite the challenge), but there are a number of factors that seem to indicate that this would be a bad move for Schwarzenegger.

The first potential problem with Arnold returning to the franchise that made him an action icon is that the series has moved on without him. For all of the McG-directed ‘Termintor: Salvation’s’ faults, Universal is intent on continuing with the story established in that film, as proven by today’s news that T2 co-writer William Wisher has penned a 24-page treatment for the next film as well as a four-page concept outline for the film after that. Sources say both of those pieces of writing continue on from where ‘Salvation’ ended, albeit with more time travel elements.

No one’s suggesting that Wisher couldn’t shoehorn the T-800 into that setting. The question is why would Schwarzenegger want them to do it. The franchise he helped build moved on without him – he’s not really an integral part of the ‘Terminator’ universe ‘Salvation’ takes place in and trying to force him back into it seems like it would be akin to photoshopping a person into famous historical pictures. This isn’t even factoring in Fox’s ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,’ which moved the franchise even farther away from its roots. For better or worse, ‘Salvation’ and that show moved the franchise in a different – and Schwarzenegger-less – direction.

For the sake of debate, let’s say that Arnold was interested in coming back and that he told his agent to tell Universal that he’d only do it if they scrapped the ‘Salvation’ storyline and went back to the more traditional ‘Terminator’ formula. Then let’s suppose Universal, with their eyes flashing dollar signs instead of pupils like characters in countless old cartoons, acquiesces to Schwarzenegger’s wish. Would it be okay for Arnold to return to the role then? That situation seems a lot trickier to navigate.

On one hand, it feels like the only way a Schwarzenegger ‘Terminator’ could possibly work is to go back to the “Arnold is sent back from the future to do something in the present” paradigm of the first three films in the series. The problem is, what does he come back to do? We’ve already seen him come back as an assassin in the first film, and as a protector in the two follow-ups. Where could that concept possibly go? For as bad as ‘Salvation’ is, it’s not like ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ was any cinematic treat, either. In many ways, it’s probably a worse film than ‘Salvation,’ with only the fact that Schwarzenegger is back in action after a lengthy hiatus giving it any real entertainment value.

It would take some really clever writers to come up with a fresh angle to make a film involving a T-800 coming back from the future feel like anything other than a retread. It’s not impossible, though – maybe a T-800 is sent back as an assassin designed to take out an enemy target who will prove vital in bringing Skynet online or something. That sort of happened in ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day,’ but dropping the “futuristic bodyguard” angle might give the whole thing new life. Of course, this would also necessitate moving the date of ‘Judgment Day’ — the day Skynet becomes self-aware and launches a nuclear attack — to the future. Not the biggest problem, but a potential snag any writer would have to consider.

On the other hand, there’s certainly something nostalgic about considering Schwarzenegger revisiting not only the character, but the cyborg fish out of water story. If ‘Salvation’ taught us anything, it’s that the future war between man and machines is best viewed briefly, in a series of insert scenes in a film grounded in the present day. Seeing the hulking mass of a T-800 or a T-1000 shapeshifting in our every day reality is far more impressive visually than the blasted battlefields and dull browns and grays that comprised McG’s film. The juxtaposition works better – but again, it would work without Schwarzenegger at all. Technology is advancing in the films – hard to keep coming up with reasons for sending back T-800s at this point.

This becomes even more problematic when you factor in Schwarzenegger’s age and physical condition. Let’s face it – Arnie’s still a big dude, but he’s not exactly ripped these days. That hulking physique is a large part of why the T-800 was so terrifying in the original film and the only reason we held out any hope of him crushing the T-1000 or Kristanna Lokken’s T-X. After eight years in politics, Schwarzenegger is now 64 years old. Sure, he could get back into shape for the part, but even he’s acknowledging his own mortality these days.

When news broke that he was considering new projects, the actor went out of his way to talk about how he’d like to follow Clint Eastwood’s example – moving toward less physical action roles as he gets older. Playing the T-800 again is hardly moving toward a less action-oriented role. Would audiences really believe a 64 year old Schwarzenegger as the ultimate robotic badass? That’s like the $64 million dollar question – or more, since the film’s production budget would probably double or triple that amount.

Finally, in what may be the most damning argument against his return, is the idea of how this would affect Schwarzenegger’s legacy. It seems hilarious on some levels to talk about Arnold and a cinematic legacy in a serious tone, but in the pantheon of classic American action cinema, this guy belongs on Mount Rushmore. Arnold is an icon – the Michael Jordan of action flicks. He’s done all he can in the ‘Terminator’ universe. To come back is like Jordan returning to play more basketball or Brett Favre coming out of retirement to play for the Jets and Vikings – it serves no good purpose other than to potentially ruin the mystique of their greatness. Schwarzenegger flirted with that in ‘Terminator 3’ – hopefully he learned his lesson.

Regardless of how you feel about Arnold coming back for more ‘Terminator’ action, you have to admit that it feels more fraught with risks than potential rewards. None of us want to see Schwarzenegger stop performing or tackle serious dramatic roles (but some more comedy would be all right…), but the actor has little to gain by returning to the ‘Terminator’ films – no matter how awesome some of us imagine it would be.

Those are my thoughts, anyway – what do you guys think? Can you think of a scenario where Arnold would fit back into the ‘Salvation’ universe or a new angle for his return to a more traditional ‘Terminator’ film? Please make with the debating below.

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