‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Makes it Hard to Root for Nostalgia

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Terminator: Dark Fate opened in theaters on Friday November 1st.  In it, audiences witness a mix of reunion and reboot as Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise their roles as Sarah Connor and T-800. The addition of Mackenzie Davis as Grace (a mix between Michael Biehn’s original Kyle Reese and T2’s Terminator-as-protector) and Natalia Reyes as Dani Ramos round out the cast and set Dark Fate up to, if the stars and box office revenues align, be the first installment of a new Terminator trilogy.

Dark Fate is sixth installment of the franchise, but is a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Yeah, time travel allows you to bring back an original writer, James Cameron, and ignore the events of the last three movies (2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s Terminator Salvation, and 2015’s Terminator Genisys). I’m not sure even a diehard fan like me can argue that the first two movies of the franchise were the strongest, but the MIB Nuetralizer treatment seemed…a bit much.

But that can be overlooked because [shrug emoji] time travel be like sometimes. What I had a harder time ignoring was the plot which was essentially…the same.

There’s a future-savior of humanity who has to survive long enough to fulfill their destiny—using pep talks and high powered artillery convinces the few remaining beaten down and broken humans that have survived the machine’s assault to rise up and fight [waves at Dani Ramos]. There’s a scrappy overpowered and outgunned someone from the future sent to save the savior [nods towards Grace]. There’s a Terminator sent to murderdeathkill humanity’s hope, played by Gabriel Luna. Sounds a lot like Terminator circa 1984 and 1991.

The twist here is, I guess the inclusion of Sarah Connor–the original—a cynical and seen-it-all veteran. The real twist is that the years have made her kind of… unlikable. She’s not the only one.

I had a hard time knowing who, besides nostalgia, to root for.

[Vague mild spoilers follow]

The other twist here is the overt move towards feminism: Grace, Sarah, and Dani makes up a kind of trinity of empowered women. Or that’s what I think the intention was. By the second act of the movie, though, it starts to feel like an exploration of feminism as written by men. Sarah is bitter and starts out congratulating herself on a job well done in T2. Midway through the moving she’s still 1) waiting for a man to save the world and 2) having her life’s purpose dictated to her by a dude that has moved way TF on. By the end of the movie, she’s fulfilled her life’s destiny as…a mother (figure). At some point, she says “You’re John!” and you can almost hear her purpose snapping into place.

Terminator: Dark Fate
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Photo by Kerry Brown – © 2018 Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The new John, Dani, is purposefully populist. Her initial characterization revolves her taking care of her father and brother [deep sigh] and arguing against the automation that threatens jobs at the factory she works at. While I appreciate that a woman of color was finally cast in a major role in the franchise, whew were there problematic moments [stares at the border crossing scenes]. And maybe those scenes were supposed to setup a critique of  CPB’s mistreatment of human beings and the policies that bring us to the particular hellscape we’re living through, but… that may have been ambitious.

And while we’re talking about lightskinned POC in movies, I’d like to request that future installments of this franchise include 1) actual Black people and 2) darkskinned POC (specifically women) who have 1) lines and 2) more than 45 seconds of screen time. /rant

Grace, sent back in time to save, Dani/John, is a serviceable character. Because we know little about her until the end of the movie, it’s hard to root for her enthusiastically. She’s fast and strong and that, ironically, is her weakness [upward inflection]. That seems allegorical. [sigh].

The tension at the center of the franchise is more relevant now than ever: we have no idea where our relationship with machines is going and yet we are willing to feed our addiction, welcome cameras and microphones into our homes, and turn over our safety to them. But maybe they’ll address that in the second and third installments of this timeline. Which I’ll watch.

6 out of 10 men mansplaining feminism to me

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Photo by Kerry Brown – © 2018 Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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