Published on November 2nd, 2019 | by Craig Silliphant0
Terminator Dark Fate
Cameron (as producer), Hamilton, and Schwarzenegger are back, this time, handing off the torch to a new generation to try and revive this ailing franchise.
NOTE: Mild spoilers follow
It has been my dark fate to be at the mercy of the Terminator franchise, through thick and thin — and there’s been a lot of thin. I’ve been suckered many time, with a refrain of, ‘maybe this time they’ll make something great! Or, even, good?’ But those hopes have been dashed every time, like those of humanity on Judgment Day. The root of this comes from my love for the first two films. The first movie is still the best by far; it holds up ridiculously well as a minimal, dark technoir thriller. And T2 was the blockbuster of my youth. I was 17 years old, blasting Guns n’ Roses, with the same haircut as Eddie Furlong. James Cameron took the franchise to new heights, much as he did with Aliens when he took over for Ridley Scott. After that, it was all downhill and I dutifully paid my money and bought my popcorn, only to be disappointed, again and again.
At least, that’s the official story. If I’m being really honest, though it never felt like the same continuity as the first two, I never minded T3. In fact, I loved its downer ending. And even Genysis has a weird take on the whole thing that’s interesting. I should also mention the TV show, which was quite good, with Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey as Sarah Conner. The real low point was Terminator Salvation.
Anyway, we can argue about the quality of the canon all day long, but we’re here to discuss Dark Fate, where Sarah Conner and an augmented human from the future have to protect a young girl from a new kind of terminator. At best, it’s a new take on the story. At the most cynical, it’s a Force Awakens-style reboot where you bring back the original characters and hand it off to a new generation. Though I don’t know if Dani Ramos is as interesting as Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB8.
Let me start by saying that I enjoyed the movie and we’ll get into the positives in a minute. But I can’t help but think they’re leaving some powerful ideas on the table. Why do these movies have to keep operating as if the world doesn’t know terminators exist? Why do they always send one back (and they haven’t really evolved the terminator since Robert Patrick in T2)? What if they sent back 50 of those cool spider-terminators we saw in flashforwards, and the army has to fight them, led by Sarah and/or Grace? The stakes between T1 and T2 went up significantly, but they’ve never done that since, and Dark Fate follows the same basic beats as what came before. (Terminator: Home of the Freeway Big Truck Chase Sequences!)
I loved having three female heroes (weird incel fanboys, now is the time to light up the internet with your misogyny!). Sarah Conner is one of the greatest action heroes of all time, and it’s great to see her back in action, even if Linda Hamilton still can’t act. Mackenzie Davis is an excellent actress with a brighter future than her character Grace, and Grace is a cool character. Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos is meant to be the weak noob Sarah Conner from T1, which she does well, though her character ends up being a bit bland. Still, seeing the three women kick ass was amazing.
My only complaint with this dynamic is that they did something cool and different by offering us these three women as the stars, but they insult the audience by hammering that home in an on the nose manner late in the movie. At one point, Sarah says, “they want you for your womb,” which we know isn’t true even when she says it. Later on, someone says something like, “I guess it wasn’t a man they wanted all along. It was you.” It was cringeworthy. As an audience, we understood that already.
It was also awkward that they waited so long in the movie to tell us why Legion (the new Skynet) wanted Dani killed. That would have been Sarah’s first question, but they hold that information purely for the sake of the plot. Grace offers a weak excuse, “Oh, you wouldn’t have been able to handle it,” or whatever. Wasn’t the drama of ‘not handling it’ Sarah’s whole arc of T1?
And while I’m driving through the bushes here, one of the guys I went with also noted that boiling down Sarah to being ‘just a womb’ also diminishes her character as we know it (not to mention, it’s insulting to powerful mothers everywhere). The fact that she was the mother of the saviour of humanity only meant that she had to become a warrior. She was just as important as John. Had she not done her part, there would have been no John. And in fact, as this movie points out, John never ended up saving the future — Sarah did (though you can get wound up in a chicken or egg time travel paradox here).
Anyway, let’s get back on the road here. We’ve gone about 800 words and not even mentioned The Governator. The way they get Arnie’s character back into the mix is interesting and he has some moments of humour. I started to feel like it was too weird that he was so human, but then I reminded myself that the T-800 in T2 became more human in the few days the trio is together as he learns from Sarah and John. This terminator, Carl, has had 20 years to learn and adapt. He was the source of a lot of the comic relief in this movie.
Overall, I have a lot of little nitpicks (which comes from the nature of a time travel story mixed with the terminator fanboy part of me), and I wish it had been a more original story, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was compelling enough, it was paced well for the most part, and some of the action sequences were great, especially the airplane fight. I paid for a Terminator movie and that’s what they gave me.
As Sarah Conner, and now Dani Ramos would say, there’s no fate but what you make. And if they make more Terminator movies with at least this level of quality, I’d be happy to watch a sequel to this.
Uh…I’ll be back?