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#TAPReviews | “Terminator: Dark Fate” movie review

After two decades of transgressions,will the Terminator rise above or become engulfed by its dark fate

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Terminator’s impetus as a sci-fi franchise dwindled after Judgement day, with every iteration after inciting bouts of wincing to mundanity in fans. Now, having forgiven once again James Cameron’s mind-boggling endorsement of Terminator Genysis, the famed director has returned as producer for the sixth Terminator movie: Terminator Dark Fate.

The fate of mankind lies in the balance once again as the present plays the arena for the converging players of past present and future. The future resistance against the machine is once again under threat and targeted for annihilation by a new generation of Terminator, the efficient and deadly Rev-9.

However, Dani, the target for termination has help from a technologically-enhanced supersoldier from the future in the form of Grace and the mother who save billions the first time around – Sarah Connor. Can the protect the future of the resistance, or are they fruitlessly delaying our inevitable fates?

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

The Death of Skynet

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I suspect James Cameron had to marry two of his needs when it came to the sixth installment on the Terminator franchise. Or third installment depending on where your sensibilities lie. The first need was to introduce a new but similar threat to Terminator 1 and 2. The second need would ultimately lie in throttling the life from every Terminator movie post-Judgement Day from the mind of the viewer. And it seemed like Cameron found his answer in killing 1990’s Alexa – aka SkyNet.

It seems the Connors effort to destroy Skynet was successful, however, Skynet was smart enough to deploy more than one Terminator in an effort to kill John Connor. The problem with killing SkyNet is everything that falls under its umbrella would have to change.

Easy enough that the future travels entry does no longer leave devasting scorched earth that would eat through trailer chassis and concrete and chainlink fences. This time things reach sub-zero levels that freeze anything caught in its vortex of entry. Not as fun or sexy, sadly. Glowing hot metal will always look cooler than a t-shirt that shatters like glass.

But that is not the only issue that arose from killing Skynet.

And when a T-800 succeeded the deed, he ended up walking away from the event with true self-actualisation. The problem of exceeding similar timeline trajectories does not do much in the creative alternate futures department. Killing Skynet should have demanded more drastic reverberating outcomes, good and bad. Despite this, fans are rewarded with a very similar future like the one we’ve seen in both look and feel. Except things are named different now. Might as well just have kept Skynet plugged in.

Deep Flake

New technology employed by the film industry is a double-edged sword. The use of 3D worked wonders for Terminator 2: Judgement Day, despite the only film that dared to touch the technology prior was a dud. Sorry Tron, it is what it is. So now seeing how over the years how special effects and 3D dominate the film landscape in sci-fi and movies in general, one has to tip his hat to the Terminator franchise. And looking at what is the equivalent to 3D in the 90s, Terminator has employed a new technology for its time – deep fake video.

Regardless of what you may think about the morality posed by the new tech, we can only see deep fake footage getting more and more advanced. And surely the technology may have their starting grounds in movies, but we can see the tech being used to circumvent copyright and other laws meant to protect one’s brand and likeness, as well fuelling a few government conspiracies here and some fake news there.

However, in the embryonic stage, the deep fake footage used in Terminator: Dark Fate does look pretty realistic. Maybe for a few seconds. However the illusion begins to fall apart once you are allowed to stare at things long enough. The scene of course as you know that I am talking about was the opening sequence that showed a young Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor with a young Edward Furlong as John Connor in Mexico in the aftermath of Judgement Day. It seems here killing a couple of T-800s and a T-1000 was not enough to secure the future of the human race as a straggling T-800 finds them and kills John.

Now that was 3 characters that went through the age-deep-fake process, all of which was exceptionally good. Way better than Princess Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and several notches well above Will Smith’s Gemini Man. The spell that has us believing we are watching real people however breaks quickly as scenes went on. I doubt this Dark Fate scene will retain much of its luster either as the technology gets better with age or if the scenes were any longer than what was shown. But hey, if the puppet head totally mesmerised me in Terminator 1 until the rewatch some decade-odd years later, anything is possible.

The Grand Design of future’s Rev-9

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The one thing about thoughtful, great design has to be the fact that it is often the smallest details that spark the imagination and highlight the intuitiveness and foresight involved in crafting moments in film. One such moment in Terminator: Dark Fate is certainly the design of Rev-9. Gabriel Luna’s portrayal registers way better than one could have expected

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It has been a slight tacit for Terminator franchise to introduce a new model, an advancement on the robustness of the T-800 with stealthier, faster and more deadlier models. Which, in essence, is fucked up when you really think about it; Skynet has been trying to put Arnie out to pasture since the 90’s. Nonetheless, this new brand of Terminator has been a more progressive model that followed a trajectory conducive to the Terminator’s initial function that was highlighted in the first movie – infiltrator.

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The design of the Rev-9, a Terminator from an alternate future and from an entirely new AI – Legion – ditches the silver-chrome of the T-800 and T-1000 for a sleek, onyx-black chase, complete with nanite-like material that allowed the machine to separate from itself to create essentially a ‘clone’, completely independent and autonomous whilst forever in sync with its parameters. When separate, you can see the onyx-chassis has a lot of negative, hollow places in the chest and skull. Here you can deduce this is extra space to store the nanite machines when the Rev-9 operates as a single unit.

The only flaw I saw came the film did not create much more impactful moments from using the Rev-9 most significant ‘doppelganger’ feature. That and the ‘merging’ effect in a few scenes.

Social Subtlety

Making social commentary in films may be irksome to the fans who are adverse to niggly things like social justice, progression and the overall humanity or lack there of when tackling societal issues. It is why the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen received hate for being “political” for their depiction of the greatest terrorist incident on US soil – and we’re not talking 9/11 New York. Tulsa – do your Googles. In addition to this, there are techniques in presenting things in a way that creates a whisper chamber. The softest whisper speaks the greatest of volumes. Impact through subtelty. Terminator did this a few times, particular focusing on the politics of today’s America along the US-Mexico border.

At one point in trying to track Dani, Sarah and Grace making the perilous trail via coyote from Mexico into the United States, Rev-9 highjacks a drone to track them. Right after he used mobile technology of other people surrounding the trio to get a pin on their location. Technology are keys for hyper-surveillance in society. And with AI added into the mix, it could be a dangerous thing. which he ultimately uses

But the more defining not is during the breakout from the detention centres where immigrants were being hed huddle in steel cages, Grace corners a guard and demands to know where they were keeping the prisoners. Instantly the guard goes on a rehearse beaurocractic speal about there are not prisoners but detainees. A speal that is cut short by an annoyed and near wrathful Grace. That, mirroring the current tens of thousands of children placed in cages like criminals separated from their family, ‘detainees’ is an ugly euphemism for the greatest injustice in our times. Subtlety. All communicated in a simple verbal exchange without being excessively obvious. This creates discernment and impetus.

Future Female Fate

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A part of this makes me thinks this was an extensive clap back and defence of his stance when the whole depiction of women in film. Wich then inadvertent led to a discussion of Wonder Woman and director Patty Jenkins feeling the need to launch a retort.

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Albeit, Terminator: Dark Fate led a charge of a female-led cast that did not feel contrived. Linda Hamilton still got game as Sarah Connor, one of the discernable mothers of sci-fi film. No one, and I mean no one, can say the word “motherfucker like her. It was great seeing Hamilton rise to the occassion. Even more so than Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s T-800.

And the past was not the only time participle that bore the mark of woman. The present and future of soldiers of the resistance collided in the direst of circumstances as the android machines decide to do some timeline retconning of their own. And as far as the intricacies of time-travel go, hey, Avengers: Endgame, this is how it is done. And the badassery goes beyond the pale as Mackenzie Davis’ Grace delivers. #Chaingang

The only moment I felt that could have been handled with a little more finesse was the precursor to the coming ‘twist’ – that the Rev-9 effort to kill Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos character in the present was not in an effort to stop the resistance via killing her womb, but killing her; unlike Sarah Connor, Dani was the resistance. Take that Patty Jenkins. I saw this coming a mile away when Sarah kept talking about the future wanting to kill Dani’s womb. Which constituted 99 percent of the reason why the eventual reveal came across as slightly nauseating.

This is topped, sadly, by the fact that I did not feel Dani was believable enough in her rebel scenes that took place in the future. No matter how bad your cornrows are or how raising your speech was intended to be. All I am saying is Sarah Connor had the help of a human and a factory machine to kill a Terminator. Dani had Sarah Connor, a fully decked-out super soldier from the future, a T-800 and a super-energy device to help her take out the Rev-9.

And to be fair the future does not look that bad. Everyone looked way too healthy and clean for people living in constant fear in a razed city watched over by killing machines.

Post-Judgement Day, Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film. An aging Terminator in Arnold Schwarzenegger may need to be retired (goddamn ageist, aren’t I). This was despite myself half-expecting a backstory sequence that would explain who inspired the visage and look of the T-800. It’s just I am not entirely sure the idea of an ageing Terminator would work particularly since the skeleton would lose ‘bone’ density, not would I think the machines would be concerned with some decades-long infiltration mission where ageing would be somewhat a necessity. Nevertheless, the idea of T-800’s AI developing into a cognitive, emotively-tuned in machine felt like a natural progression for an android designed to learn the inner mechanics of the human being.

The point where the T-800 and Grace takedown Rev-9 was also a defining moment for the film. The murderous glowing eyes of Rev-9, with one solitary purpose, exuded a sense that a war can never truly end if discernment and reasoning is off the table for one party. Which ultimately left me with a feeling of hopelessness for some reason. Might be my age.

Terminator: Dark Fate goes someway to distance itself from the whoring out of the franchise post-Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The iconism, however, does not carry over, despite the set pieces and wall-to-wall action. Rev-9 absolutely cares not for airspace regulation. The greatest chills certainly came from the intro of young Sarah Connor’s psych ward tapes speaking of a future of desolation and nuclear fire from Terminator 2. I would have loved and hated to be on set to see her get into character for such an emotionally draining scene.

Terminator: Dark Fate tried to pull a Skynet in trying to retrograde the past post-Judgement Day. In some aspects, it worked. Partly because of how fluid the concept of time truly is. Where the past, present and thus future are not set in stone, adjustments can be made to suit the narrative via a backdoor. However, its a double-edged sword, and Dark Fate lucked out. The action and set pieces were great, but nothing that resonates in a major way. And the action is relentless particularly in the beginning and lacks the building of tension that Terminator 1 and 2 delivered so well. I would expect the next Terminator film, and you know it’s coming, should be a soft reboot. Surely Connor can not be the only resistance story that exists in the Terminator universe.

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Pros
  • Gabriel Luna's Rev-9
  • Sarah Connor, motherfucker
  • Some great set pieces and action series
Cons
  • Would you believe me if I said Arnold?
  • Skynet trumps Legion any timeline
  • Dani not as impactful as she could and should have been
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