Terminator: Dark Fate is unlikely to capture the public imagination in the same way the Terminator did in 1984. James Cameron being involved in this new one is unlikely to change that. The reason why is because The Terminator is a villain out of time.

Successful villains always reflect the period in which they have been created. There is a reason why Rocky had to defeat a near unstoppable Russian boxer in Rocky IV, released in 1985, only four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Terrorists seemed to be the only villains in the 2000s, during the War on Terror. Villains only capture the imagination when they reflect the cultural anxieties of the time.

In science fiction released in the decades following World War Two, villainous alien threats seemed to echo the Nazis. The Daleks and the Galactic Empire are two examples: the Daleks with their ideology of purity, and the Galactic Empire’s uniform deliberately echoed Nazi uniforms. Arguably, neither of these villains work quite as well now. The First Order in the Star Wars sequel trilogy has not captured the public imagination as well as the Galactic Empire did, despite being a carbon copy (clone?). The Daleks in Doctor Who are being used less and less because they do not terrify young fans anymore. A possible reason for this is the fact we have moved away further and further from World War Two. Nazi imagery does not scare in the same way. With the rise of Holocaust deniers and the election of far-right politicians across the West, you could argue Nazi imagery has lot its potency in film. Instead, new things have terrified audiences: Russians in the 80s, Artificial Intelligence in the 90s and 00s, Terrorists from the Middle East in the 00s. Villains reflect the cultural anxieties of the time.

The Terminator concept was used as a villain successfully in 1984, and even more successfully in 1991. We are approaching 2021 now. The Terminator is a villain stuck in the wrong time, ironically. Even if Genisys was a masterpiece, or if Dark Fate proves to be a remarkable return to form for the franchise, this fact will not change. The Terminator was created at a time where technology was new, and something to be apprehensive about. Now, technology is everywhere. We are less scared of it.

In the 2010s, villains seem to reflect not just our fears over societal destruction, but fear that it will be caused by our own behaviour. Thanos wipes out half the universe in Avengers: Infinity War because we have exploited planetary resources, and the potential for environmental catastrophe is rising. This reflects real fears now: just take a look at Extinction Rebellion. Joker’s eponymous protagonist is a reflection of our inability to empathise with those who are different, and those who seem strange to us. The film also highlights lack of funding for mental health, which ultimately leads to Arthur having no one to stop him from becoming Joker. Towards the end of the film, Arthur/Joker describes himself as “what you fucking deserve”. Killmonger is another example of a villain serving as a natural response to a societal wrong: racial oppression in America has led to Killmonger seeking revenge in Black Panther. Successful villains in the 2010s seem to follow this same idea: they are a response to something society has got wrong.

Terminator: Dark Fate still remains to be watched. It could do a good job of updating the Terminator concept for the 2010s, giving it more layers so that it reflects cultural anxieties of today. If it does not, then Dark Fate will remain a forgotten sequel stuck in the past.

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