When Arnold Schwarzenegger said “I’ll be back” in The Terminator back in 1984, I’m not sure anyone imagined we’d be seeing the franchise back this many times, with a sixth installment in 2019, but here we are again.
With every franchise there comes the good and the bad. The good: the original and the first sequel. The bad: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation. Meanwhile, Terminator Genisys lies somewhere in the middle, as one that isn’t nearly as bad as it’s perceived. When the franchise began, it had arguably one of the more creative premises in modern day film, an over-simplistic story that may have just been waiting on not only the technology to produce it but the creative ingenuity to pull it off from the likes of James Cameron, who has directed, written or produced three films in the franchise.
Cameron is back for Terminator: Dark Fate, co-writing and producing, and his fingerprints are shown throughout the film. After T2, the franchise simply seemed to lose its footing by over-complicating things and delivering convoluted storylines that became harder and harder to follow. Dark Fate, however, is the best Terminator film since T2.
It follows a trend by bringing back the old to make new, retconning years of bad storytelling in hopes to make a viable story now. Halloween did it by bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back to take on Michael Myers again last year, all while forgetting every sequel after the original 1978 film. And it worked, as it was a new-age thriller that’s birthed two more sequels that seem promising. The Halloween franchise took a 40-year-old story and told us to forget everything we ever knew after it, with the latest installment picking right back up on that story, only in present day. It was a bold move, but it worked. That’s what this Terminator film has done as well. They’ve brought back Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, along with the “saving the savior of the world for the future” storyline and made it work for the most part.
The action is big like T2, the same beats are there like most every other Terminator film and the creative explanation of things like Grace, who is played by Mackenzie Davis, and her abilities, plus Schwarzenegger’s role in the film and how Hamilton’s character of Sarah Connor returns, make this an interesting installment and one that shouldn’t go without watching if you’ve seen the others. There’s also other things like the incredible use of the de-aging CGI, which simultaneously is used in the scene that sets this whole film franchise off in another direction.
However, the film is not doing well at the box office with it possibly facing a huge loss of over $100 million. This could be for a few reasons. One, I don’t believe audiences trust Hollywood with this franchise any longer because they don’t know what they’re getting next and if there is a next will it be for a renewed timeline just for a way to get Schwarzenegger back in the film. Two, audiences are tired of the franchise because there’s nothing more you can creatively do with it. Every film, even Dark Fate, hits all the same themes, tropes and beats, living off the idea that the machines are taking over in the future and they are trying to kill the human savior of the world in the past. Or three, the feminist movement in this film didn’t work out the way producers hoped it would. You have three female protagonists in this film and we’ve seen it with a number of other films recently, even popular franchises. But is it working? Is replacing former male leads with female leads in popular franchises making big box office numbers?
The fabric of fiction, even though it has no relation to fact, still requires threads of believability or it unravels. Writers, directors and producers can be as creative as they want to be, writing and filming scenes to make it as believable as possible but the human eye can still make meaningful judgments and comparisons and it’s difficult to make female protagonists believable against male protagonists. Not always, mind you, but most of the time. Does this mean I dislike Hamilton, Davis or Reyes? No. I actually thought Hamilton and Davis did pretty well, particularly Hamilton. Reyes’ character was simply not believable to me, though. Her role felt forced, like a majority of the feminist movement in entertainment.
Heroines do work, though. Linda Hamilton’s portrayal in the first two films, as well as this one, is a prime example. The Hunger Games franchise would be another example, with the Katniss Everdeen character played by Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s where I would suggest taking female characters in entertainment, not just for female lead roles but for the overall industry by creating new, original stories and franchises.
With that being said, Dark Fate is still good and very fun watch. It has some of the Cameron creativity back — even though I’m not sure I can fully buy into all of it at times, like Schwarzenegger’s explanation of his character. The action is good as always. I’m just not sure anyone wanted to step back into this world. It’s not a pointless film, but it feels close, especially since it’s looking like the franchise as a whole may be dead.