[UPDATE: Schwarzenegger has confirmed that he’ll return as The Terminator for Terminator 5, which begins filming January 2014.]

I’m going to restrain myself from making the obvious “I’ll be back…” joke, but suffice it to say – it looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger is indeed returning to the Terminator franchise.

The development of a fifth theatrical outing gained considerable momentum after Schwarzenegger announced his intentions to return to acting back in February.

The hedge fund company Pacificor acquired the rights to the Terminator series last year and it was made clear that they were under no obligation to continue on with the trilogy that Terminator Salvation was intended to start. At this point, it’s still unclear which direction future installments might take or how they’re going to navigate through the increasingly convoluted continuity.

Schwarzenegger was immediately inundated with offers after leaving office and Terminator 5 was one of the first projects he was rumored to be eyeing. Evidently, his desire to step back in front of the camera convinced Universal that this was the right time to relaunch the iconic franchise. They quickly tossed Fast Five director Justin Lin into the mix – and Lin later confirmed that he spoke with Schwarzenegger about appearing in the film.

Pacificor is now looking to finalize a deal for the financing and distribution of Terminator 5 and they’ve been shopping the project around to several studios. Lin is still attached to direct, but according to Deadline the real selling point is that Schwarzenegger is now officially on board as well.

Fast Five scribe Chris Morgan was reportedly involved with Terminator 5 at one point, but it looks like the film is currently without a writer. Robert Cort (Runaway Bride, Save the Last Dance) will produce and Deadline claims that Universal, Sony, and Lionsgate are already giving serious consideration to Pacificor’s package.

Schwarzenegger has been linked to several other films including Ji-Woon Kim’s The Last Stand and Antoine Fuqua’s The Tomb. There’s also the upcoming Governator animated series, comic book, and 3D feature film. The Terminator remains his most iconic character, however, and Terminator 5 would arguably put him back in the spotlight in a much more dramatic fashion.

Of course, the notion of Schwarzenegger returning to the series has left many of us wondering whether or not that would even work. I suppose a lot of it depends on how they decide to utilize him. Would he play a supporting (and non-cyborg) role while a younger actor (possibly Vin Diesel) does all of the heavy lifting? Or will Schwarzenegger slip on the leather jacket and sunglasses once again while the filmmakers offer a preposterous excuse for why The Terminator now looks like he’s sixty-three?

Honestly, if it’s the latter approach – count me out. I love the first two Terminator movies and I understand how iconic Schwarzenegger’s performance is – but isn’t it about time that someone makes a real effort to carry this franchise on without him? At this point, I’ve pretty much had my fill of John Connor stories and slight variations on the same basic plot template. Salvation definitely dropped the ball with its execution, but I think a story set during the Future War is still brimming with potential.

I know that Schwarzenegger’s involvement is a business decision first and foremost, but I really hope they find a way to use this opportunity to play with audience expectations and do something surprising with him.

If nothing else, I guess we should probably just be thankful that they’re not remaking the original Terminator.

Source: Deadline.