Rated R for Terminator style nudity. It means almost seeing butts. There's also a bunch of violence, especially very specific Terminator style violence. You see someone who looks like a person get ripped apart and then they put themselves back together. Then that happens again and repeat. The big takeaway from this MPAA justification is that Terminator movies are remarkably violent, with people dying violent deaths and there are countless people who die in explosions and apocalypses. R.
DIRECTOR: Tim Miller
It's so funny. If we didn't have Terminator 2: Judgment Day, arguably the best entry in the franchise, we wouldn't have a franchise that is very tired of being itself. I watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox. I wondered when they announced it what that show would be. When James Cameron made T2, he took a very thin formula and gave it a slight twist. Rather than simply running from a Terminator that is trying to kill the Connor family, he made the team go proactive to prevent the creation of Skynet. Okay, that's at least a little different from the first film. But honestly, there hasn't really been an entry in the series that has effectively deviated from the formula from the original Terminator film, shy of Terminator: Salvation, which a lot of people did not like.
I am super torn about the first few minutes of the movie. Part of me absolutely loves it and part of me absolutely hates it. SPOILERS because this one is pretty much the only discussion point I actually care about. For those not in the know, John Connor, as a young kid, gets killed by a Terminator fairly early on in the film. Impressive de-aging special effects will always get me. I swear, it looks absolutely fantastic. It looks like young Linda Hamilton and young Edward Fulong. Watching John Connor get ripped apart absolutely shocked me. After all, we've had a lot of entries in the Terminator franchise where John Connor is the messiah. I know that Terminator: Genisys kind of played with the John Connor mythos. Okay, but Terminator: Genisys will be the most ignored film in the franchise because it makes absolutely no sense. Part of me loves this choice, to murder John Connor in the first few minutes of the movie. After all, he had become completely untouchable. Similarly, the idea that they did this to young John Connor implies that kids are fair game. Yeah, I don't know why I applaud this, but it is nice. One of my few complaints about the Jurassic Park franchise is that kids always seem spared.
But at the end of the day, this retcon kind of undoes the best movie in the franchise. Terminator 2 is the best because it completely changes the tone of the series. Really, there should be no Terminator movies after T2, because the goal of the film was to prevent Skynet from ever existing. And it does that quite effectively. They destroy all of the tech that goes into making of Skynet. Dark Fate plays with the notion that technology is destined to be discovered, regardless of name or date. Okay, fine. But with that logic, why do we even care about the events of T2 if it is just delaying the inevitable? Terminator: Dark Fate kind of throws a lot of light on the idea of retconning sequel. With the Jurassic Park movies (which I'm still in the air about) and the most recent entry to Halloween, the producers decided to retcon all of the sequels out of existence and establish a new continuity with only the original film(s) as established canon.
I can completely understand the temptation. In most franchises, the first film (or in Terminator's case, the first two films) tend to be the most beloved. Sequels have a tendency to muddy the waters. I forgot that the Superman films did this as well. But with movies like Terminator and the like, it really can get bogged down by having to live up to an expectation. When a franchise promises that a new entry will finally produce a sequel on par with its foundational film, the expectation becomes unwieldy. As a Terminator film, Dark Fate isn't really all that bad. It has some great fighting sequences. It brought back Linda Hamilton to the role that made her famous. Mackenzie Davis is always welcome in film. It even returned power to the female hero that the first movie presented. But really, it's just another Terminator sequel.
When a movie completely pulls a Crisis on Infinite Earths (I remember at time when that reference would have meant nothing to the majority of readers), it kind of craps on investment. When a movie comes out, regardless of how terrible it might end up being, the movie asks for vulnerability. It creates a fantasy world that can only be enjoyed by pretending that the set of circumstances presented to us have validity. I know that some movies may only care about spectacle, but the role of the viewer is the same. It's why people get so passionate about what they care about. I'll always stand behind the nerd. When a franchise deems what is valid and what isn't, it almost insults the viewer. With the case of Dark Fate, killing John Connor and imagining that all of the sequels didn't happen takes the fundamental lesson from T2 and throws it in the trash. Throughout the course of T2, Sarah Connor comes to terms with the fact that she was traumatized by the T-800. Thinking that she had control of her own little world, she lowered her defenses around the T-800 and John befriended the machine. There's the implication that T-800 had somehow gleaned a degree of humanity. He was in this liminal space between human and cyborg.
But when the new T-800 murders John, it sets up Sarah Connor for the exact same lesson, only her distrust is actually appropriate, because Carl is the T-800 that really killed John. Sure, he now seems more human because he has been living with humans for decades. Sarah Connor, in T2, becomes less than human because she mimics the stoic nature of Kyle Reese. By the end of the film, she gains her maternity through force and strength. But with Dark Fate, she has less time with Carl than she had with her previous experience. While Sarah comes across like a bit of a psychotic, it is a bigger transformation when she calls out for Carl at the end of the film. Instead of this nuanced growth based on a sense of trauma, we just kind of accept that Carl is, in his own way, sorry for the actions of the beginning of the movie.
But Carl isn't even necessary to the narrative. Heck, he doesn't even show up for half of the film. Instead, we get Grace, who acts as a more relatable stand-in than Carl's T-800. She does everything that a Terminator can do, but she's human and actually has a weakness that makes her sympathetic. Because the film introduces Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800, we see Arnold as something central to the Terminator mythos. Again, I get it. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator more than any storytelling elements. But we have two characters vying for the same archetype and role in the film, muddying the overall message and narrative.
In terms of a Terminator film, it gets one thing really right. Perhaps it is a bit self aware, but I like the message of Dani Ramos being the savior of humanity. One of the best parts of the Terminator franchise, in terms of cultural takeaways, is that it made a series out of a butt kicking woman. The first film played up the horror trope of the dependent woman finding her power against the tank of masculine violence. One of the unhappy accidents of the sequels is that the film strays from the focus on Sarah Connor to the legacy of John Connor. For all the super-violence Sarah is capable of, it really falls to John to lead. Dark Fate seems really aware of this progression by teasing the idea that Dani's child would be the hero of humanity. Instead, it refocuses the narrative to allow Dani herself to hold power. She's not a white woman who is going to give birth to humanity. Instead, she finds that she has already had the power with just the way that she leads her life. Okay, that's kind of rad.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the beginning of the movie. The rest of the movie is a perfectly fine Terminator movie. But we really don't needs these movies. The story is the same time and again. Some of the window dressing is a bit different (which is Carl's job...), but nothing is all that special about this movie. I know that James Cameron had his hand in this one, but I also don't love James Cameron. It's a fun movie, but nothing great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.