You could call this a prelude to whatever Halloween based content I eventually decide to post on my blog before the month is up. Because historically, I don’t tend to make that big of a deal out of Halloween whatsoever. So maybe this is me meeting the holiday halfway and pretending this is my Halloween feature when I realise that October has come and gone and the plans I had have fallen out of the window.
This feature was spurned on by my spontaneous decision to watch the latest Terminator movie recently. And as a franchise that’s decided to alter its own time travel logic with each new movie, why not add a little more confusion tot he pile by going back through the series again in reverse order. Starting with 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate.
Dark Fate is the movie with a story concept by James Cameron, that brings both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton back to the franchise for the first time since Judgement Day back in 1991. Despite the fact that there have been a whole bunch of movies, comic books and video games between then and now, Dark Fate kind of brushes them all under the rug and acts as a direct sequel to the second movie. Just set close to 30 years later.
Before I can get into the movie itself, I feel like I need to spend some time talking about the logic of time travel in the movies that have come in the series so far. Right away, I feel like I’ve most likely lost a whole section of readers by saying that, but I feel like I need to address it. And I’m a weird nerd who enjoys this kind of thing anyway, so you’ll just have to bare with me.
During the conclusion of the first Terminator movie, with the T-800 destroyed the implication was that the future Kyle Reese has spoken about was still coming and Sarah had to prepare for it. However, the sequel ended on a much more hopeful note, almost as if the actions of Sarah, John and the second T-800 had prevented the events of the future from happening at all. Leaning into the whole “There’s no fate but what we make” line that permeates the franchise.
But then Rise of the Machines contradicts this by having the whole twist at the end of the movie be that Jonn’s fate is inescapable and Judgement Day happened anyway, just like it did in Reese’s original timeline he came back from. We can’t hope to know what real time travel logic might be, and I ultimately feel like the Avengers: Endgame/Dragon Ball approach of multiple timeline is probably the easiest to deal with.
This kind of approach is the one that Dark Fate decides to work with. Three years after the events of T:2, another Terminator finds Sarah and John and fulfils his mission of killing the future resistance leader. Thus we find ourselves in a split timeline, one in which John Conner never grew up, and yet the hands of fate twisted the future in a close approximation of that original dark future anyway.
In this new future, Skynet is replaced by another rampant A.I. one with a much less interesting name: Legion and a human resistance have risen up against it still anyway, only this time they have a different leader. A lot of fans were upset that the movie’s opening kills CGI Edward Furlong. But the thing that actually irked me a little more was the idea that once again, “there is no fate but what we make” is kind of a false promise.
In this movie, even if you remove all the most integral pieces to the future as we once knew it, it seems like different, but very similar, pieces will just show up to replace them. It’s like Doctor Who logic, in that reality itself seems to have a will, bending and reshaping itself as you change things to keep everything on track.
The big difference being that the machines taking over has been delayed by a decade or two, giving humanity a bit of edge when it comes to the technology they have at their own disposal. As we see when we meet Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a soldier from the future sent back to protect Dani Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes) from a Terminator.
Unlike Kyle Reese, who was just a dude, Grace is augmented. Essentially a cyborg filled with technology that allows her to overclock herself to near Terminator levels of strength for brief periods of time. At the expense of nearly dying every time she does it. I really like Davis in this movie, as she has that same haunted look to her that Michael Biehn had in the first movie, except her height makes her seem more imposing than almost anyone else we see on screen.
The only problem is that, pretty quickly, she kind of get brushed into the background of the movie. Once Linda Hamilton shows up, followed by Arnold shortly after that, her role becomes secondary as she gets usurped by the two bigger and more recognisable faces in the movie.
As the Quartet run from the Rev-9, we realise that the movie is essentially a retelling of the events from both the first two Terminator movies. Which is to be expected, most of these older franchises are constantly trying to recapture the feel of the early movies. Only, this time the movie does seem like it was written with this in mind.
Sarah seems acutely aware that Dani is essentially this new timeline’s version of both her and her son John combined. While Sarah was the most important person for the future at one point, she failed, and now this other woman is the new hope for the future. Thus she finds herself in the position of being able to help her and ensure that Dani doesn’t have to share the same fate as her.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a solidly middle of the pack Terminator movie. It’s certainly not the worst movie in the franchise, nor even the second worst, but it doesn’t come close to the standard of the first two movies either. Like every other modern sequel to a classic 80s franchise; it’s a good movie but not a great one.
It was great to see Cameron, Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together in a Terminator movie again. And the Rev-9 is a very cool concept for a Terminator, one that combines the iconic metal endoskeleton of the T-800 with the equally iconic liquid metal of the T-1000 into one machine that splits itself in two. Gabriel Luna is great in the role and could very easily be missed out by people talking about this movie.
Several times throughout the movie he affects different accents and mannerisms in very subtle ways to instantly make humans he interacts with warm towards him. Showing just how good of an infiltrator he actually is. The only thing is, it made me kind of like him. With Arnold and Robert Patrick in the first two movies, there was this uncanny valley thing going on with them, in that there was always something slightly off about them when they were trying to blend in, which made them all the more unnerving as murder machines.
Luna is just too likeable to be a Terminator. And I don’t know if that’s a criticism or not considering it means he’s an incredibly effective unit.
I liked Dark Fate. It was a nice return to the familiar for the series, combing both classic elements of the original movies with newer idea like Grace and the Rev-9. It’s a shame that this new continuity doesn’t look like it’s going to continue, as the movie didn’t perform well enough for the studio to warrant continuing it. Really though, the Terminator franchise, like Alien, Predator and Jurassic Park, is a series that just need to stop.
Because for every watchable and entertaining entry we get, we also get two or three terrible ones that utterly miss the point of why the original idea was so good in the first place. And that note is what made me decide to turn this into a series rather than a single movie review. I haven’t watched Terminator: Genisys since the cinema, but I vividly remember is being a movie that made me feel genuinely angry, which rarely happens to me watching movies.
So it’ll be an interesting experience to go back and watch that one next.