Dark Fate, Bright Future for The Franchise

I think my infatuation with The Terminator started back in 1991. I got invited with my cousins to see Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Now I hadn’t seen the first one yet, when it came out I was way too young, and any time it showed up on TV my folks stuck to their guns. Honestly it was probably the film that began my love of sci-fi in general.

What struck me most was the machine, more than the action, more than the story – that shiny metal hulk that saw things in infra-red and would never stop until it completed its mission. My school notebooks around the time T2 came out were filled with sketches of the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101. Most 13 year olds wanted a Nintendo, I wanted a Terminator.

To this day my home is full of Terminator movies, Terminator comics, Terminator books, Terminator toys, Terminator props. Some time in the near future if I have my way I’ll have an Endoskeleton standing guard over my stuff. Needless to say, I’m a fan. That brings us to the point of this post – the chaotic Terminator Cinematic Universe.

Now the original film, and its sequel have been discussed to termination, so I’m not going to circle back. What I will say is that after seeing Terminator Dark Fate tonight, thank God for James Cameron. It was the first Terminator film since Judgment Day that actually “got it.”

The only film in the saga which I truly hated was T3: Rise of The Machines. In concept, it was great. It meant to show us that Judgment Day was inevitable. I laughed way too hard watching T3, it wasn’t meant to be a comedy. As a fan, it was very disappointing… not to mention the only member of the original cast to return was of course Arnold.

T2 had very subtle humor, like when John and the T800 are racing to save Miles Dyson, John asks the Terminator if he “gets it” – why he can’t just go around killing people. The T800 looks at John and makes this face:

I’d seen the movie a dozen times before I really saw that scene, and I cracked up. When T3 came along, the director obviously thought that the envelope of slapstick cyborg action hadn’t been pushed far enough yet, so we got this:

Then came Terminator Salvation. This one really piqued my interest. Rumored to be the start of a new trilogy, it finally brought us into the future war. In my opinion – it was the best Terminator film right up until when they blew the ending. Prior to that, it took chances. No Arnold. No Sarah. It was all about the war that John was raised to fight.

The original ending (spoiler alert) involved John Conner dying, killed by the same model T800 (CGI Arnold). Marcus would become Conner since at that point he wasn’t a resistance leader, and most of the people who actually knew who he was were killed in the final act. This ending also would have eliminated the paradox that was Kyle Reese. Apparently focus groups (none of which were actual fans) didn’t like it.

Instead, we got a post apocalyptic heart transplant. Trilogy terminated.

Then we have 2015’s Genisys. Now when I first saw Genisys , I overlooked its glaring flaw and saw it as a sorely needed boot to the ass of the franchise. Most main characters had been recast with new blood (and I will never, ever complain about Emilia Clarke, ever), as the existing timeline which survived 4 films was reset.

Again, excellent execution right up to the 3rd act where it all goes wrong. This time, Sarah is raised by a T800, trained to fight, knows about the future, so when Kyle arrives in 1984, Sarah ends up saving him. It’s still a good story right up until this:

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind humor when it’s done well, but the humor in this scene is drowned out by the simple fact that when Terminator Genisys ended, EVERYONE LIVED. Where was the sacrifice? Sarah lived, The T800 comes back as a T1000, and Kyle Reese lived. John Connor hasn’t been conceived yet, and not only is the story pushed along by a paradox, the very final scene involves adult Kyle establishing that very paradox by having a chat on the farm with young Kyle. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.

While it bugs me that the ending of Genisys was botched so badly that it didn’t even warrant continuation in comics (as was the case with Salvation), they were taking real chances with the franchise and absolutely blew it. They might as well have made it PG13. Oh wait, THEY DID. No wonder Arnold looked so uncomfortable in that shot.

So we come to Dark Fate. When the first trailer dropped, I was excited. Terminators who look like ordinary people! Sarah Connor is back! Explosions! Old Arnold! I was cautiously optimistic as I’d been burned before. The big difference here? James Cameron as involved. Not as a director, but just that his name was attached was enough to get me in a theater on opening night.

The rumor mill was abundant here, not only were James, Linda, and Arnold back, Edward Furlong has a cameo too. The band was getting back together, and it was going to be good. After seeing it, all I’ve got to say is…

Cameron and Miller went out of their way to avoid the mistakes made in T3, T4, and T5. There is action. There is a tolerable amount of humor. There is sacrifice. There is heart and redemption. There are also tons of Easter eggs for guys like me who still doodle the occasional T800 when they’re bored. Dark Fate stands on its own, and is the first film from the franchise that is a worthy successor to Terminator and Terminator 2.

To address the cybernetic elephant in the room though, this movie is not WOKE. It isn’t a female only reboot for WOKE people. It’s a Terminator film, probably the only true to the franchise Terminator film in nearly 30 years. In the original movie, Lance Henriksen was originally cast to play the Terminator:

This guy.

They chose him initially because the Terminator wasn’t supposed to look like a 300lb Austrian body builder, the Terminator was supposed to look like anyone, an infiltrator capable of fooling humans well enough to kill them. Over the years, the machines have been portrayed by many people who were not the aforementioned Austrian. On top of that, do you recall who killed the first Terminator in 1984?

(protip: not a dude)

Both the heroes and villains of this franchise have been men, women, children of every single race, color, and creed. Sarah Connor in Dark Fate is what you’d expect a strong woman with a history of killing Terminators to be after 28 years of doing that job well. This movie was expertly written, exquisitely acted, and an absolute treat for the fans who have stuck with the franchise for 35 years.

I truly hope it does well and warrants a new story to tell in the vast (and mostly unexplored) universe that is The Terminator.

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