Last year, Terminator Genisys hit theaters, and despite making a metric buttload of money (a good chunk of which came from overseas markets,) it wasn't particularly well received by audiences or critics. The plot was confusing and nonsensical, the characters were flat, and worst of all, the new Terminator wasn't anything to get excited about. The only enjoyable part of the movie was when scenes from the first two terminator movies were lovingly recreated shot for shot, although one has to wonder why they perfectly recreated a young Arnold Schwarzenegger but couldn't get actors that even remotely resembled any of the other characters.

Frankly, all of the movies after Judgement Day have been like this. Sure, they're profitable, but without James Cameron's ability to turn high concept action pieces into introspective explorations of the human soul, they've mostly fallen flat with fans. This begs the question: what exactly are they doing wrong? Beyond having the highest grossing director in the world at the helm, how can new Terminator films recapture the magic of the first two?

The answer lies in the title. The first Terminator film was a low-budget horror movie about a nigh indestructible "cybernetic organism" hunting down a Los Angeles waitress, and a rebel from the future protecting her. There were some plot tidbits thrown in there about a future war or something, but within the context of the film, that was just an origin story. Kyle Reese and the T-800 had to come from somewhere, and the looming threat of the apocalypse complemented the dark tone of the flick, but the focus was always on the immediate threat: the Terminator. Seven years later Jim Cameron made a sequel. This one was set in the not-so-distant future of 1995 (which, rather realistically, looked almost exactly like the present,) and repeated the same basic formula as the first one. A protector from the future defends a charge from a killer robot, despite being hopelessly outmatched. This time around, the future war figures more into the plot, giving the protagonists something proactive to do besides run away. Despite this, the film is still set firmly in the present (or at least an era strongly resembling it.) Although Linda Hamilton has gotten a baddass upgrade this time around, the film is still focused on the robots. As the T-800 learns more about human emotions and slowly becomes less cold and stoic, we learn more about T-1000 and become more afraid for its human targets with every new ability it shows off. In both films the protagonists were human, but the movies were, at their core, about the Terminators.

Flash forward to the three sequels. All three of the following films got progressively further away from their title characters, and moved more and more towards the post apocalyptic future we'd previously only seen in flashbacks (okay technically they're flash forwards, but whatever.) But while this future war was cool to see in brief, ominous flashes, actually setting a film there is pretty alienating. First of all, it's harder to identify with someone who grew up in a toxic wasteland and fought killer robots their whole life than it is to identify with a rebellious street punk or a put-upon waitress. Despite his future leadership being the driving force of the first two movies, adult John Connor in their follow-ups isn't that interesting of a character. He's either closed off and stoic or just plain unlikeable, and any connection we form with him gets severed as he's constantly recast. Second of all, the idea of a ragtag human army winning against an omniscient force of indestructible machines sounds great when given as two sentences of backstory narration, but focusing an entire movie on it just calls to attention how unrealistic the whole premise is. On top of that, the new films run into the problem that the audience is currently in the future, Judgement Day has long since passed, and nothing's happened, meaning they've had to keep pushing the apocalypse date back, undermining the scariness of the threat of total annihilation.

That's what's dragging down the new Terminator movies; they've become focused on time travel and the apocalypse that they forgot what made the movies good. Judgement Day was scary because it was a looming possibility, when you set a movie after the fact, it's just depressing. Time travel was never anything more than a plot device to get our players to the field, and the timeline was made up of two closed and stable loops. The focus was always on the scary killer robots that could pass as human hunting people down.

The other big problem is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Don't get me wrong, his performance is chillingly good in the first two movies, but to completely frank, we've had enough Arnie Terminator nostalgia to last a lifetime. Needlessly sticking him in these movies stretches the already thin suspension of disbelief, as one has to wonder why Skynet would make all of their covert infiltrator units look exactly the same. Start casting new actors as Terminators. If the whole point is for them to blend into a crowd, making them look like an 8 foot tall mass of muscle with a very distinct face sort of defeats the purpose.

So here's my proposal. When John Sarah and Arnie trash cyberdyne in an attempt to prevent Skynet's creation, it works. There is no Judgement Day, no Skynet, no robot war. We go the route of the X-Men franchise and wipe the slate clean, pretending the less enjoyable movies never existed. Except we still have Terminators. In a twist of the previously established lore, we find out that Skynet didn't create the Terminators at all, but simply took over their creation along with everything else. The killer robots were already being developed for regular old, non-apocalypse related assassinations. And since Skynet never existed, they're only just now being perfected and used. Sold off to the highest bidder, the bots will be used for all kinds of human nastiness, with nothing to stand in their way.

Nothing but John Connor that is. At some point in Judgement Day, Arnie told him all about the origin of the Terminators, and now, two decades later, he's trained a new resistance to prepare for their release. He finds out who their first target is, but due to his limited recourses only manages to send one person to protect them. A hunter and a protector. The old suspense of the cybernetic cat and fleshy human mouse game is back.

Or we can keep making more increasingly convoluted sequels until half the Visual Effects industry specializes in creating CGI Arnold Schwarzeneggers. It's up to you, Hollywood.

Keane Chan Hodges is a writer and independent filmmaker. You can watch his dumb videos at here or follow him on Twitter.