Terminator: Dark Fate
The Terminator franchise has been attempting to replicate the success both in fans’ eyes and in the studio’s bank accounts since James Cameron left the franchise in 1991. The Canadian director came up with the concepts for the first surprise hit Terminator (1984) and the sequel that defined blockbusters for subsequent decades Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). However, the three sequels that have since come out have all started recycling aspects of the first two films, or else embarrassing themselves with tepid stories and twists. The last film Terminator: Genisys (2015) was a ridiculed attempt at rebooting the franchise, but the horrid marketing campaign (which spoiled the movie in the trailers) and the generally bad film stopped the franchise in its tracks. James Cameron has finally returned, however, albeit in a producer capacity, with Deadpool (2016) director Tim Miller taking the directing reins.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) ignores the events of the sequels after T2 and builds on that last Cameron sequel. A new futuristic terminator robot (Gabriel Luna) has been sent to 2020 Mexico to kill innocent Dani (Natalia Reyes). However, the future’s resistance has also sent a technologically enhanced human, Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), unburdened of being a target after changing the future in T2 enlists to help save Dani.
The film is less of a sequel than a socio-politically conscious remake. It reminded me in many ways of the reboot craze happening at Disney with its animated films; which bring about a certain revisionist perspective to antiquated storylines. Sarah Connor had been an empowering female character in previous films, and yet she had been largely relegated to being the female set to give birth to the male hero of the world rather than taking the reins herself. In the majority of the Terminator films, the majority of fighting is carried about by the brutish men, however, Dark Fate seems to tinge its viewpoint in a feminist lens and has the three female protagonists hashing out blows to enemies themselves. There was even a subtle whiff of a lesbian relationship, which for a blockbuster franchise to have the boldness to attempt is impressive and laudable.
However, the cinematic aspects of Dark Fate are less favorable. The film is assuredly much better than any of the three sequels since T2, and yet it also falls into the same potholes of imitating and borrowing story aspects from the Cameron source material. This makes the majority of the film’s structure seem predictable and overused. At the same time, the film seems to want to brush away the expectations and baggage of those previous films, and does so in a rather reckless and sloppy manner. In many ways, this indecision and flip-flopping indicated to a desire to tell a different sci-fi story that simply didn’t fit in the Terminator franchise. The result is, we get half-conceived character arcs and thematic explorations whose flimsy construction dissipate any stakes or emotional heft in the finale. With a script, that couldn’t decide whether to accept its roots or to completely chart new territory, we have watered down characters, and more importantly a tepid villain. I simply was not as imposed by Luna’s shape-shifting terminator as I was with Schwarzenegger’s imposing physique or the cold presence of Robert Patrick’s silvery morphing robot (which is heavily copied in Luna’s terminator).
In the end, Dark Fate doesn’t so much serve a satisfying entry in the Terminator franchise, as much as it does its job in providing a deserved feminist revision to a story that seemed incapable of honoring Linda Hamilton’s incarnation of Sarah Connor. It was nice to see the actress return to the role, but the content that she is surrounded with seems to trip up the good socio-political intentions that the filmmakers may have had.