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Terminator 7 Needs To Bring Back Salvation’s Canceled Twist

Terminator Salvation originally featured a far better version of the twist where the movie’s hero realizes he is an android, and it's a reveal the next Terminator reboot should re-explore. Released in 1984, James Cameron’s original The Terminator was a lean, brutal sci-fi horror that spawned an entire franchise. However, despite the success of the series, the Terminator movies have never been able to stick with one memorable protagonist throughout its six outings.

Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor was Terminator’s heroine and returned for the first sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day before leaving the franchise until 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate. However, the first sequel split its focus between her and her teenage son, eventual human resistance leader/bratty teen John Connor. Meanwhile, the later installments recast Connor repeatedly, bounced around between different timelines, and all featured deuteragonists who were not memorable enough to return for a sequel, but still stopped John from being the movie’s sole focus.

Related: Terminator Salvation: How Helena Bonham Carter Could Have Saved The Movie

One of the more promising additions to the franchise was 2009’s Terminator Salvation, a belated third sequel that leaped forward into the post-apocalyptic future to switch genres from chase movie to war film. The original script focused on Marcus, a renegade loner searching for John. Marcus, in the movie’s final act, discovers he has been a robot all along. Rewritten to enhance John Connor’s role, Terminator Salvation kept this twist but ruined the reveal by not focusing on Marcus’ inner turmoil for enough screen time to make a real impact. This was due to the movie’s biggest name, Christian Bale, playing John Connor, but the choice meant the twist was wasted in the finished film. However, if the Terminator series is (as rumored) soon to receive a reboot, the best course of action the franchise can take is bringing back this twist but really doing it justice this time out.

In the original story developed for Terminator Salvation, Marcus is revealed to be an android near the close of the movie, unbeknownst even to himself after he has been through hell searching fo John Connor, a largely-unseen figure the plot revolved around. It is a bombshell reveal that completely rewrites the character’s motivations as, until then, Marcus seemed like any other human resistance fighter relying on John to save the human race. It is also a twist that is badly garbled by the finished story, which introduces Connor earlier and informs the audience of Marcus’ origins before the third act even begins - only to then skim over his shock and anguish at the realization by returning to Connor’s perspective instead. However, a new Terminator movie could - and should - incorporate this idea and give it a real focus this time around, as it has rich dramatic potential.

The title character of the series does not need to be a terrifying, irredeemable monster, but recent outings have softened the original Terminator to an unprecedented extent. Terminator 2: Judgment Day found a great balance between making Arnold Schwarzenegger’s android intimidating and surprisingly likeable, but later entires leaned way too far into the latter category. By Terminator: Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate, it was hard to find any Terminator model scary when viewers had seen the original T-800 turned into Emilia Clarke’s beloved “Pops” or a cuddly suburban dad named Carl. The most recent attempt to redress this was Dark Fate’s addition of the Rev-9, Gabriel Luna’s smaller, less obviously imposing killer. However, the lithe, diminutive T-1000 already cornered the market in unexpectedly harmless-seeming Terminator models, making the Rev-9 outdated before arrival. What the series needs instead is a hero who doesn’t know they are a Terminator, with a proper Terminator reboot making the protagonist an agent of Skynet even unbeknownst to themselves.

A hero who doesn’t know they are one of Skynet’s puppets would help bring back the cultural anxieties of technology overtaking humanity and infiltrating people’s lives that were relevant in the ’80s when the series began, and are all the more pressing now. Revealing the protagonist is actually an android would push past the simple cautionary tale ethos of earlier Terminator installments for something more like the moral ambiguity of the Blade Runner series. Why would a robot switch sides? Is their motivation altruistic, or are they programmed to infiltrate humans without even knowing their origins? All these existential sci-fi questions are ones a better, darker cut of Terminator Salvation could have answered with Marcus’s story too, but failed to address and left available for a later reboot to pick up as a result.

Related: John Cena’s Secret Terminator Connection

Or rather, humanity’s hubris and lack of foresight is. The machines are the ones doing the killing, but humanity created them and chose to rely on technology over common sense or human connection, resulting in the eventual overthrow of civilization. A hero or heroine who discovers they are not one of the “good guys” could allow the Terminator series to really interrogate just who the good guys are in this story of tech becoming too powerful for its creators to control. After all, Skynet did not come from nowhere, and if Dark Fate’s plothole-ridden Carl subplot got anything right, it was the intriguing implication that Terminators themselves might want to retire to the suburbs if left to their own devices.

The thought the franchise villains are no more inherently evil than humans is a fascinating one left hanging by numerous, disappointing Terminator entries that touched on the theme without knowing where to take the idea. Making the apparent hero of a new Terminator reboot an android themselves, and ensuring the character does not know this before viewers do, could reshape how the series approaches ideas of humanity, identity, technology, and their often hard-to-untangle intersections in the modern world. At the very least, it is certainly a better Terminator sequel story than bringing back Dark Fate’s doomed new character Grace.

More: Why Terminator Would Have Ruined Mel Gibson’s Career

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