What New 'Terminator' Image Gets Right About the Franchise

Terminator - Screengrab - H 2018
<p><em>Terminator: Dark Fate</em></p>   |   Twitter/Paramount Pics
It's not just about what's in the image, but what isn't.

Although the first image from next year’s Terminator revival reveals nothing new about the plot of the movie, it does suggest that the franchise might have rediscovered its heart after far too many years in the wilderness. How did it manage that? Well, just look at what’s in the image — or, really, what isn’t.

The image, tweeted from the official Terminator account this morning, shows (left to right) Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and the returning Linda Hamilton looking ready for battle as they approach the viewer, battered and bruised, with flaming and smoking wreckage in the background. It’s been lauded for the first opportunity to see Hamilton’s Sarah Connor since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but as welcome as that is, there’s another, less obvious, reason to get excited about the movie because of this image.

There are no men in the photo.

Under the control of franchise creator James Cameron, Terminator was always a story about a woman. There were obviously men in the movies — Sarah’s son, John, is the Macguffin that gets the story going, after all, and there are both sidekicks (Hi, Kyle Reece! Hi, Old-School Terminator in T2!) and male threats — but at the center of it all, unmistakably, is Sarah Connor. She was the engine of resistance and change for the entire narrative and, for both of Cameron’s movies, the only character that really provided any emotional hook for the audience.

Compare this with the subsequent movies in the series, all of which have been to a greater or lesser degree shunned by audiences and Terminator fans alike: The main character of 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an adult John Connor; the main character of 2009’s Terminator Salvation is, again, John, with newcomer Marcus Wright sharing the spotlight. For Terminator Genisys, although Emilia Clarke’s Sarah was present, Kyle Reese was arguably the protagonist this time around, with Sarah pushed into the background as a result.

Indeed, since Cameron left the series in the ‘90s, arguably the most successful — critically, and also with the franchise’s core fanbase — entry wasn’t a movie at all; it was the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which not only centered around Sarah (as the name suggests), but also included a female Terminator replacing Schwarzenegger, and in its second season, introduced Catherine Weaver, a disguised Terminator that serves as that year’s Big Bad.

The lesson seems obvious — but it’s one that only appears to have been learned with the release of this new promotional image. When it comes to Terminator, arguably more than any other science-fiction franchise, the future is female, and always has been. The visual that audiences needed to see to have faith in any new installment isn’t of the eponymous robot threat, any number of grimacing male action heroes brandishing weapons while sweating, or a callback to earlier promo posters; none of that is what makes the series special. What is, is meeting the women who are going to fight back and save tomorrow.

Good work so far, Terminator. Now we’re just waiting for the first teaser trailer for the follow-through.

Tim Miller's Terminator opens Nov. 22, 2019.