Terminator Dark Fate: Meet the New Fate
Okay, an android, a cyborg, and two humans walk into a bar . . .
Oh, you've heard that one before? Fine, I'll get on with the review then.
Excuse me for trying to lighten things up a little . . .
First, I'd like to apologize for taking so long to get this review out. There was always just one more thing that had to be done first. And, while the movie is no longer in theaters, I still felt a need to try and address the overwhelmingly unfounded criticisms leveled at it. Because, overall, this was quite a good movie. It's not perfect; the story telling does drop the plot ball just a bit. And there is quite a bit to unpack in order to keep up. But, it also features probably the best portrayal of a female soldier I've ever seen. It also sets up the possibility of a trilogy that has Mt. Fuji's potential. If you could see it in theaters I'd highly recommend you do so. If you haven't already you'll just have to wait until Dec. 17th when it comes out on Blu Ray.
The movie starts out with a bit of a shock; they kill John Connor. Like, in the first two minutes. Okay, okay I can deal with that. Out with the in, good with the bad. We move on.
Then grace comes through a portal, falling from an overpass. Now, some people object to the nudity in this scene, because its not an established fact that you have to time travel nude, right? Personally, I thought it was well done. There is one full side shot of Mackenzie Davis in this, but it is anything but sexual. She reminds me more of a lioness stalking the pride, looking for threats in that brief moment than anything else. Beautiful; yes, but a little scary. Particularly considering that she just fell a good thirty feet (at least) and then attacks four police officers.
In fact, I more object with her attacking officers who certainly seemed concerned for her safety than the nudity. There really was no reason. Yes, the officers were suspicious of the couple that was trying to help her. Yes, she's just taken a hell of a trip, followed by a hell of a fall. Yes, she's feeling defensive. But why attack? There are plausible reasons here: can't afford to get detained, defense of the people helping her. But there is no evidence that either of these possibilities is floating through her head. She just attacks.
Then she takes the guy's clothes and car.
There is a quick meet and greet between Dani Ramos (was Jane Connor taken?) and the audience, and then its time to cue the new terminator's arrival. The resistance calls it a Rev-9.
And, as terminators go, this one is probably the most terrifying. Like the T-900 It has a solid chassis covered with a version of mimetic poly-alloy. In this case its viscous covering does not seem to be as effective as the T-1000's. It's frame doesn't seem to be as durable as the T-101. But, together they make an incredibly versatile nemesis that far exceeds any other in capabilities. And, on top of that, its understanding of human psychology is unparalleled in AIs. Gabriel Lunas does a fantastic job of portraying how it has the ability to instantly gain trust in the people it meets.
Of course, they both converge on Dani while she's at work. Grace narrowly gets her out, but not before one hell of a sledgehammer fight. A chase ensues, finally broken up by Sarah Connor herself. Grace reacts as anyone would to being saved by a random Samaritan: she steels her car. Afterwards we discover that Grace's augmentation didn't come without a price. She explains that her metabolism has been tuned incredibly high. This has the advantage of granting her a great amount of battle energy. It has the disadvantage of running her body to ruinous levels if the fight lasts too long. Clearly augmentation is still awaiting a 2.0 version.
This prompts a quick detour to rob a pharmacy of needed drugs to keep her body from shutting down. That conveniently gives Sarah time to catch back up to them.
They make their way to Texas to encounter the very T-800 that had terminated John Connor. It calls itself Carl. This causes . . . a bit of friction for Sarah. Not its name, the fact that it exists. Linda Hamilton nails the bitterness and rage her character feels at meeting her long time nemesis. Still, it agrees to help them for reasons I'll let you experience when you see the movie. I will say that it does make sense.
Then its time for another chase scene, followed by more fighting, leading to a fight in a dam where the heroes eventually triumph by working together, but not without a cost. The T-101 and Rev-9 are melted by Grace's power core. A core Dani is forced to dig out of Grace's stomach. This, for some reason, kills the cyborg. In the last scene Dani swears to Sarah that she won't let grace die for her again.
And yes, I've deliberately remained vague about much of the movie. It should be experienced. But if you want a blow by blow, Wikipedia has a good one. I'm more interested in what works and doesn't work in movies. Such as:
Lets start with the obvious criticism: What; they kill John Connor? Doesn't that erase the first two movies entirely? No, it does not. First, Sarah is still there, and still badassing (what; it's a word) it up. Secondly (and I stated this right after seeing the second one for the first time; I think I was ten years old at the time) there was never any certainty that someone else wouldn't step up to take john's place if they failed to keep him alive. They tried like hell to keep him alive because there was no certainty that someone else would either. This leads into another post I intend to do about the entire 'no fate but what you make' concept arc of these movies.
Hell, in reality John and Sarah removed him as an important character at the end of the second movie when They stopped skynet from coming into being. He's the guy that organizes everyone against skynet in the late 1990's. Here we have a new AI cropping up a few decades later. Now, I know we all picture John Connor as this guy, but he may have just been too old to start a rebellion by the time it became necessary. Hell, he may have gotten fat and lazy, because why not? It's not like he's going to have to get off his but to save humanity . . .
The second criticism I have issue with is actually one of my own. I walked out of the theater complaining about how this movie must have adopted the alternate timeline mechanic of time travel. For those of you playing the home game, this interpretation suggests that the very act of going back in time creates a branching universe where everything up to the point you went back to is exactly the same. This new universe then continues upon its merry way, completely oblivious of the universe the time travelers come from.
I've always hated that. In effect, it just says that the writer was too lazy to track the changes made by the time travelers towards the effect that led them to time travel. The movie 'The Time Machine' tries to address this. But, what both characters seemed to fail to realize in that scene was that all he had to do was go back, tell himself why he'd gone back, give himself the plans to the time machine, and then save his fiance. It's not that we can't change the timeline, its just that any change must be self perpetuating within that new timeline.
Of course, that's not all that's wrong with using the branching universes interpretation. It also destroys Skynet's entire reason for creating time travel in the first place. It wants to change the outcome of the war, to ensure its survival. Starting a new universe does nothing for its plight in this one.
So, how can there be terminators in a timeline that never builds them? How can skynet send slews of Arnold Schwarzeneggers back in time like chronological grenades if it never existed? Exists? Will exist? I don't know, tenses get weird when you talk about these things.
Well, actually, the answer lies right in the question. It just took me a day or so to reason it out. If Skynet sends a shotgun blast of T-800's to various times in the past (plus its prototype T-1000) then it's very likely some of them survived to the war started with Legion. Remember, the t-800's are infiltrators. That's their core directive. And skynet needs them to survive until its born, so we can be fairly sure that Skynet would have stripped the directives that follow infiltration. Remember, if any of them succeeds in killing John Connor then Skynet would have no way of knowing it needed to send them back to kill John Connor. It needs the t-800's to lie low and report once its operational.
Now, what if (and I'm just spit-balling here) Legion (that's the new AI) found one of these T-800's? If it stripped its memory and directives (including the disabled ones) it would have learned about the strange set of time travel manipulations required to bring it's own homicidal sentience into existence. It could then have built its own copies and sent them back solely to ensure that it came into being.
The only issue with this interpretation comes in the form of Kyle Reese. Given that he inseminates Sarah Connor to create John Connor, we can assume he was human. We also see large bits of his anatomy (please keep your mind clean) by the end of the movie. MOstly through the holes his bomb created, which reminds me of a saying: live by the bomb, die by the-
Oh, you've heard that one too?
Now, where was I? Oh yeah, Kyle Reese. We've seen that AIs can in fact create human organs. In Terminator: Salvation Skynet creates a nearly complete human. So it is possible that a Kyle Reese could have been cloned, programmed to think it had fought skynet for its adult life, and sent back to . . . do his duty. But this is something that really needs to be addressed.
Lastly, I'd like to address the 'Carl' complaint. Where most people saw this as a crude attempt to get Arnold Schwarzenegger's name on the movie. I saw it as a natural, and logical conclusion to the fact that there are t-800's living in society. As discussed above, they are infiltrators. So it's perfectly reasonable that it would latch onto this woman and child as a means of a cover. But, at that point, their well being became a priority. And, as it learned, that priority became more important. Remember, they are AIs in their own right. They learn and adapt. While I imagine that Skynet probably lowers their sentience (it does not want one deciding it can do a better job) it can't remove it entirely. That makes for a remarkably clumsy infiltrator.
So, there's far more too it than just getting another of the canonical actors back. Besides, he's extremely funny.
That pretty much handles the bad complaints I've read about this movie. In reality I only had two myself. The first was the entire scene where Dani saves Grace. Just, everything was wrong there.
-First, Dani does not even look like someone whose been living a scavenging existence, hiding from hunter killer machines, and training a resistance. now, I'm not saying Natalia Reyes isn't in good shape in the movie. She is. She's just not in Navy Seal shape, which is pretty much what all survivors are going to be. Thin, lean, and strong.
-Reyes also looks like she's trying to take up as much space as possible, like some sort of Human Puffer fish. This creates an air of false strength, like she's trying to appear intimidating. Its the difference between the chihuahua and the great dane. One tries to look tough. The other knows it is.
-Then there's her hair. I mean seriously? Braids? I ran into a woman in a Walmart with a similar hairstyle, and asked her how much maintenance it took. She told me it took her two hours every couple of weeks. Then there's the oiling and cleaning required to keep it from causing problems with the scalp. That is far too much time spent on something nonessential for someone in her position. On top of that, it also provides a convenient handhold for anyone she's fighting. That's why the military goes for hairstyles more like Grace's. Short, so it stays out of the eyes and denies the handhold issue. Simple, so as to provide an incredibly low maintenance regimen. And long lasting, as it only needs to be redone every few months. It's a good thing Dani could tear herself from the beauty salon long enough to save grace . . .
-She also has an unfortunate tendency to raise her voice while delivering her little 'can't we all just get along' speech, making it sound as if she's asking questions instead of making declarations. This also suggests weakness, or at the very least, uncertainty. Neither is something we would expect to win over hardened scavengers.
-And then there's the entire speech itself. I'm not shitting you, it boils down to 'can't we all just get along?' Like that was going to convince a bunch of marauders that have survived by preying on others that there's a better way. What should have happened was that they should have tried to shoot her. And while she was disabling them, her men outside were dealing with the HK's. Proof that the machines could be defeated. A little more soliloquizing, a little allusion that the marauders were more like the machines than people, and their turn of heart becomes believable.
The only thing I actually liked about this scene was when Dani asks Grace for her name. Because, when she hears it you see a flash of emotions cross Reyes's face. First she's clearly elated to have found her hero. That lasts only a moment before the memory of what happens to Grace clouds her face in guilt and remorse. And lastly is a resolution that it won't happen again.
My second big complain about this movie involves the unnecessary sacrifice at the end. Yeah, they're messed up. Grace has been stabbed, and she's exerted herself so far that her skin literally tore around her subcutaneous mesh armor. But there's no guarantee that she's going to die. they have to know help is on the way.
Besides, impalement clearly isn't the same issue for her as it is for most people. For most of us, getting run through is pretty much it. Okay, you got me. Game over. I'm just going to lie here and bleed out. What; Fight? That would hurt WAY too much. That's us. But, apparently for Grace, getting impaled is just an indication that she needs to stop fucking around. Even more so after her augmentation.
And, the REv-9 is certainly not looking too pretty either. Its viscous covering has crystallized. Its frame has been severely damaged. Its coordination is shit. In short, its in a bad way. Anyone with a piece of rebar could probably beat it into another turbine to finish the job. Proof: Dani swings away at it with a shotgun several times. She only comes into danger when she herself enters its grasping range.
Now, if it had been trying to get away, that might have been a different story. If Grace had warned Dani that it had self repair protocols (or some such) then the sacrifice play becomes necessary.
And then there's the issue of exactly why removal of her power core kills her. First, she says that her metabolism has been tuned high for quick boosts of energy. this suggests that her augmentation is at least partially in the form of genetic engineering to increase muscle growth and density. That would also explain why she has what appears to be metal bracing running around her skeletal structure. perhaps they hadn't worked out how to genetically engineer the skeletal structure to not crush itself under the increased strength.
There is evidence that she has a microprocessor implanted somewhere that's giving her ironman vision. Now, the simplest way to handle that would be a feed to clear protective lenses covering her eyes. The only other way I could see this working is if the feeds connected directly to her visual cortex. But, even in a worst case scenario, loss of power would simply render her blind, not dead.
And its clear that she is still mostly organic. Otherwise there would be no need for a drug cocktail designed to keep her system from crashing after she exerts extreme effort. (Don't even get me started on why she asks for insulin; that's the last thing you want in a metabolic crash)
Now, all this said, its still likely that Grace isn't dead. Remember, the Air Force tracks every one of its birds. It knows it lost a cargo plane at the damn. It's a guarantee that search and rescue teams are en route. And remember, Sarah is still a felon. She'll bail at the first sign of choppers, bringing Dani with her. There's a good chance teams will find and stabilize Grace until they can figure out how to power her back up. They'll definitely go to extreme means; they have lots of questions.
My only other issue is the lack of plot. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of chances to develop one. I went into the theater thinking that this rendition of man vs machine might delve into exactly what it means to be human. Grace, being augmented, could be dealing with those issues. she does seem to get defensive when others ask what she is. But nothing was done to further that plot.
There was also the possibility that they were trying to illustrate the pit trap of self pity. It's pretty clear that Sarah has been stuck in that hole since her son died. This is illustrated when Grace states her desire to beat the crap out of her. Consider: Here is a person who is lamenting the loss of her son some twenty-two years before. That's it; her son died. Now, don't get me wrong, that's a tragedy. In our society. But compared to Grace's life its a pinprick. She lost her parents, her brother, her society, her entire way of life. When she was about twelve. She survived for two years on her own. Then she became a soldier. It's a damned good guess that she's seen quite a lot more death and hardship since. And she's listening to someone that lost one person two decades ago. That's akin to hearing someone drone endlessly on about stubbing their toe last year. But, nothing further came of it.
There was also the possibility of exploring the concept of human spirit, but they fell just shy. At one point Grace dreams about the moment she chose to become an augment. (Spoiler Alert: its just after the picture above) Now, she's taken out at least one Rev on her own trying to defend a wounded VIP. After having been impaled of course. I say at least one, because we never actually see the fight. We see her get stabbed, then grab her gun and shoot a charging Rev. She wakes up in triage with many, many more wounds, then grabs the medic and volunteers to become an augment.
Now, if the flight in had been a bit longer they could have worked with this. If the injured VIP was an Augment it could spark a debate on the virtues and costs of the surgery. Grace could be against, stating that she'd rather be able to fight longer. Then, if the medic had said something along the lines of 'she'll live but she'll never fight again' her volunteering speaks to her spirit to continue the fight. This could have been expanded upon by Carl observing that humans have an ability that machines lack; they can exceed their design limits. They can fight past the point when they should shut down. Grace certainly exemplifies this. See above comments about impalation.
In actuality, all of these things are minor details in what was a very good movie. Natalia Reyes does a fantastic job playing a scared young woman coming to grips with her fate. Linda Hamilton did a fantastic job portraying despair, bitterness and anger. Gabriel Lunas is definitely the most terrifying terminator I've ever seen. But, in my opinion, the true gem that holds this entire movie together was Mackenzie Davis's perfect rendering of a soldier and warrior. And of course, Arnold was there; does he ever give a bad performance? (Conan doesn't count) On top of that, the movie had humor spread lightly about in all the right places, diffusing the tension just a bit before ratcheting it back up again. This is definitely the first or second best terminator movie I've seen, and it gives lots of possibilities for some amazing story telling in its sequels. I give it an 87%, and deeply hope that James Cameron commits to the trilogy, despite its luke warm theater performance.