EPISODE 512, in which I don my Film Curmudgeon Hat yet again for a spoiler-y review of TERMINATOR: DARK FATE. Feel free to a) pop some popcorn or b) run for the hills. I’ll wait.
[Brief interlude for Jeopardy theme music.]
I’ve been a fan of the TERMINATOR movies since Linda Hamilton battled the seemingly invincible AI robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 1984. The first two films, written and directed by James Cameron (AVATAR, ALIENS, TITANIC, etc.) are SF classics, and set a high bar for the film and TV sequels that followed (a bar that wasn’t always cleared).
Altogether, though, the TERMINATOR franchise created a screen canon that made SF sense, one that entered the common consciousness of people who hadn’t even seen the films. Almost every SF fan can tell you the premise of that canon: a man from the future is sent back in time to find and save Sarah Conner from an AI robot assassin (the Terminator). It is vital Sarah survive because she is destined to bear and raise the future leader of the human resistance to the sentient machines that will soon take over the Earth and attempt to eliminate humanity. That future leader’s name is John Conner, and he is the one who sends the man back to save his mother. The man, of course, turns out to be his father, who eventually dies fighting the Terminator. (It’s time-travel. Don’t think too much.)
The sequels involve storylines with John and Sarah at various times after he is born, both before the AI apocalypse and after. And, up until this latest entry in the TERMINATOR franchise, they have all fit into the canon, that is, they all made sense according to the premise I just outlined. Not so TERMINATOR: DARK FATE.
[SPOILER ALERT. Remember, I warned you earlier.]
In the first few minutes of this new film, also written by James Cameron, and directed by Tim Miller (DEADPOOL), we see in flashback that the Terminator somehow found John and Sarah in their sanctuary in Mexico and killed John at the age of about 12. Presumably this means a new resistance leader is needed for the future, so a young Mexican woman (Dani, Natalia Reyes) is tapped for protection by a cybernetically-enhanced human soldier (a female, this time, Grace, Mackenzie Davis) against a yet-more-intimidating AI robot (Gabriel Luna, meh). Sarah Conner (Hamilton), who has been finding and killing Terminators on the regular, led by mysterious texts signed “for John,” shows up to help the new savior and her cyborg protector. They are eventually led to the texter, who turns out to be our old Terminator nemesis (Schwarzenegger), who has developed an almost-human conscience over the years.
Action/mayhem/smashing of vehicles ensue until the good guys win, but not without some sacrifice, yada, yada, yada.
Much has been made of the fact that James Cameron wanted to restart the storyline with this film, taking up from where he ended it with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991). I have no problem with that scenario, but even Cameron must know that you can’t kill John without resetting the entire timeline back to zero. That means Sarah Conner has no significance in the new timeline. That also means Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger have no roles in the new film. If he was going to start over, he should have had the courage to go all the way.
I also have no problem with rethinking the idea of “woman as mother and protector of future male leader of the resistance,” transforming it into “woman herself as leader of the resistance.” However, Sarah Conner has long been held up as a role model for kick-ass SF heroines, her family role notwithstanding. I think it’s dangerous to assume the job of bearer and nurturer of future leaders is “lesser” somehow, especially when the person doing it is one tough, um, mother.
|Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) SF's toughest mom.|
I can understand the powers that be are less concerned with the screen canon of the franchise and more with the box office. After all, they’re looking to fill seats with a good action film. TERMINATOR: DARK FATE mostly succeeds on that level, though we’ve seen many of its tricks before. But a young viewer new to the franchise is really going to wonder why those old people (Hamilton and Schwarzenegger) are even part of the story. And going back to watch the earlier films is not going to help them figure it out.
Sorry, but this one is a NO-GO.