Netflix's Terminator Reboot Is Bringing Back a Winning Formula

A boy and his robot.

LOS ANGELES - JULY 3: The movie "Terminator 2: Judgment Day",  (alt: T2) directed by James Cameron. ...
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Today, we take it for granted that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 went from deadly villain to warm-hearted robot hero. But while the original 1984 film, The Terminator, was straight-up sci-fi horror, the 1991 sequel, T2: Judgment Day, threw viewers a curveball. Instead of the Terminator trying to slay John Connor, he was now charged with protecting young John, memorably played by Edward Furlong.

Now, 33 years after Terminator 2 turned its villain into a hero, the franchise looks like it’s returning to the exact same formula. A new poster for the upcoming anime series Terminator Zero suggests that its plot and themes will echo what made Judgment Day such a success. The image clearly references Judgment Day, suggesting that on at least one level this story won’t be about Terminators terminating, but instead protecting kids.

A Terminator makes for a great babysitter.


In the poster, we see the robotic hand of a T-800 being held by a human child. The premise of a big and menacing robot protecting an innocent child predates Terminator 2, but the 1991 film had a huge impact on the genre’s iconography. From The Mandalorian to The Last of Us, it’s hard not to see at least a bit of T2’s impact.

One of the Terminator franchise’s biggest challenges was figuring out how to keep the concepts of its many sequels fresh but familiar. T2, of course, was the most innovative simply because it flipped the script. Remaking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s assassin into a hero not only helped lighten the film's tone, but redefined the entire franchise. No sequel has been as good as T2, in part because none have captured this specific mash-up of tenderness fused with gripping, high-stakes action.

In 2016, Terminator: Genisys tried to split the difference by presenting an alternate timeline where Sarah Connor also had a T-800 Schwarzenegger protector. Now, while it seems like Terminator Zero’s storyline might leave the Connor family behind, the familiar idea of the T-800 as a savior is front and center.

John Connor (Edward Furlong ) and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) on the ride of their lives.

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This is a smart move that bodes well for the new anime series. No one wants a straight-up retread of T2, but the basic challenge of the Terminator franchise is that its premise begins with an empathy deficiency. The world-building is so bleak and hopeless that any story set in its universe is begging for a touch of innocence.

James Cameron recognized this with T2, but in films like Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Dark Fate, the franchise’s heart and soul never shone through. Ironically, if Terminator Zero succeeds, it might be because it remembers that this franchise isn’t just about murderous AI, but the fragile humans who need a Terminator’s help to survive.

Terminator Zero hits Netflix on August 29.

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