It’s not even supposed to be a franchise. Even though James Cameron’s The Terminator in 1984 made its debut with a pretty convoluted plot, it was self-sufficient as a stand-alone film. Arnold Schwarzenegger back then was already a splendid Terminator, though Cameron didn’t spare him much lines in the film, apart from repetitively murmuring “Sarah Connor?” with what sounded like a blocked nose.
But all that changed in 1991, when Terminator 2: Judgment Day arrived and turned the tables. The relentless hunter was then the protector that time around, and Cameron was generous enough to give more dialogue scripts to the cyborg from the future, which then gave birth to iconic lines like “Hasta la vista, baby” and “There’s one more chip”. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 was so memorable, that he ended up being one of the very few villains worthy of me idolizing them as a kid.
Alright, even then, the story should have ended with a loud bang when that ‘thumbs-up’ sank into the iconic, fiery pool of molten steel. Except that, it did not. With Cameron away from the director’s chair, the ‘franchise’ clung to whatever it could grab to ensure its survival like a burning T-1000, and hence, a female Terminator was introduced. Then Christian Bale. And Sam Worthington. Then Jason Clarke.
Still with me? I’ll just stop you right here, in case you haven’t watched Dark Fate (yet). You can check my spoiler-free review here to decide whether the film is worth watching, and with that, I’ll let the spoiler-warning roll and jump right into it.
Warning! Major spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate ahead.
As such, when I first learned that Dark Fate was supposed to kick start another trilogy for the franchise, I don’t have to be Peter Parker to have Peter-tingle all over my body. Something was seriously amiss. Yes, Cameron was back, but they wanted another trilogy from the film series that breathe predominantly through Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is rapidly transitioning from a Terminator to a Grandfatherator. Hello, isn’t that a little too optimistic, or worse, a little too greedy?
I was not questioning Cameron’s capability to steer the franchise into a new direction, even from a producer’s perspective. Nor I was questioning Tim Miller’s caliber of breathing a new, modern-age life into Dark Fate or its sequels. Now that the film is out, there’s just a couple of lingering issues.
Arnie is done, at least the non-deaged Arnie
Dark Fate’s plot had already injected a hilarious (read: stupid) excuse to bring him back into the picture, which was then given a humorous twist to mask its absurdity. Really, you have to see beyond Schwarzenegger’s comical lines and Linda Hamilton’s stupendous acting to realize how bad it truly is. In short, Arnie was a Terminator from the future who had settled down, aged, and built a family in Dark Fate. Now, if you could repeat that once more in your mind and see how that sounds.
Though I am pretty sure that the franchise will not be daring enough to pull off such a stunt again in possible sequels, in the event that Arnie stubbornly returns, his character will be worthless. All films taken into account, there are already five or more copies of T-800 stuffed into the franchise, and each time they fail to make a proper statement with him, it degrades the character that much more.
The future in Dark Fate looks unexciting, and not emotionally apprehending enough
Of course, we are in 2019, and the scenes of marching endoskeletons in the future time-line of Dark Fate looks better than they used to be in the opening scenes of Judgment Day. The ‘multiplying’ Terminator and unknown models with black tentacles are stretching the film a little, and look otherworldly to a Terminator franchise, but otherwise functioned adequately to paint a gloomy picture that engulfs humanity. That was until the moment Grace (Mackenzie Davis) made a confession that she knew Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the future, it all broke down.
I was expecting the future, teenage Grace to look up and found a middle-aged Dani while being rescued by the latter. Instead, I settled my gaze upon Natalia Reyes, again, who looked like she has aged exactly a year. To be frank, I could not remember the accurate year which the scene took place, it was like 2029 or something. But that scene had pushed me to believe that the alien-like, tentacled Terminators from the future are just merely years away from the current time-line of Dark Fate, and naturally, all the story-pieces which had been building-up in my brain went short-circuit.
And again, at that very scene, the whole idea of someone becoming the leader of the human resistance in the future comes into play. Again. I initially had some suspicion when they renamed Skynet into Legion, but this very much confirmed it. The Terminator franchise is now officially more Looper than Looper (2012) and much more repetitive than Edge of Tomorrow (2014). If it can be Legion after Skynet, it might as well be Ultron after Legion.
There will be a huge void of audience interested in the sequel.
As I have mentioned in my review, part of the reason why Dark Fate works until a certain extent is the huge exploitation of nostalgia. When Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) upped his ante of pursuit in that gigantic truck, the crew was clearly trying to emulate the flair of Robert Patrick’s T-1000. Seeing that scene alone almost brought me to tears. I kid you not.The action sequence during that truck chase (in Dark Fate) was already super intense, and couple that with the sweeping waves of nostalgia and familiarity, I felt strangely-fulfilled. The joy of feeling like a kid again crept into me at that time.
That scene might have hit me the hardest, but there’s other similarly-engineered scenes throughout Dark Fate. The moment when Carl (the nickname of Arnie’s T-800 in Dark Fate) impales Rev-9 with a steel rod and bends the end to lock him down. Or when he’s looking up at Sarah Connor and Dani during his final moments, where the camera captures the latter from a low angle, which is strikingly similar to that shot in Judgment Day when another copy of T-800 is being lowered down into its sad destruction.
You see, as an audience who’s old enough to witness The Terminator and Judgment Day first hand, I can keep preaching about this all day. But what if you are from the younger pool of audience that does not buy into that 80’s/90’s nostalgia? Is Terminator: Dark Fate, being your first few forays into the franchise good enough as it is, enough to warrant you spending on another ticket (or two) for it’s upcoming sequel(s)?
Despite the disappointing box-office projection that Dark Fate suffers, it will not be all that surprising if Paramount decides to soldier on with a sequel in the future. Irregardless of whether it is Cameron, Miller or someone else who will helm the said film, the odds are the sequel, shall it ever materialize, will spell Judgment Day for the aging franchise. We shall see if instead of giving a thumbs-up in Judgment Day’s final scenes, Arnie should have given a thumbs-down and walk-away from subsequent films.