Sunday, November 10, 2019

Linda and Arnie Watch: Terminator - Dark Fate

Watched:  11/09/2019
Format:  Alamo Slaughter Lane
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

Look, I'm on the record going to the mat for the first two Terminator movies.  And way, way less so for T3 and whatever the Christian Bale one was called.  And I never saw Genisys.  I did like the TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

And I am willing to accept the idea that Terminator and T2 are not as good, objectively, as they are in my mind.  But, still, the notion of the first two is core to so much of our shared cultural conversation, I think there's probably something to them.  And that's part of why it's so irksome that follow ups mostly didn't work.  As we said on the podcast about T2, these movies aren't a killer robot's story or a guy who came from the future to make it with Linda Hamilton.  Or even Jon Connor's story.  It's always been Sarah Connor's story, and that's why the TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, worked.  It's what they got right.  They just put it on Friday nights and slowly killed it - back when no one checked DVR or streaming numbers (dimwits).

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) falls into the same territory as Force Awakens, telling a familiar story, utilizing the original movies as backstory and including original characters but pointing the way for a new series with, technically, new villains.  From a story point, the beats will feel very familiar.  There's a twist or three I really enjoyed.  And, walking out, I shrugged and said "yeah, I liked it."  But there's a certain safety in a movie that's clearly set to relaunch a franchise, a lack of genuine threat or dramatic tension.

Terminator was basically robot Michael Meyers - a character we'd never seen before who could not and would not be stopped.  The exposition of the movie was new and fresh, even if - as has been often charged - the notion of even a killer robot from the future was not entirely original.  We assumed Sarah Connor would live, I guess, but with each seeming "kill" of the Terminator, he'd just get back up again and keep going and that was the scariest thing of all.

T2 expanded the playing field and sought to change the future - introduced new concepts with a villain that could look like and be anything, and was unstoppable even by our previous juggernaut.  It was an outstanding expansion and elevation of the prior concept.

Here, they go for it with a really cool take on the Terminator concept, and play fast and loose with time and space - our prior story happened, stopping SkyNet and Judgement Day, but it also left behind artifacts from that timeline as an entirely new timeline has formed, resulting in much of same:  20 years from now an artificial intelligence called "Legion" has taken over, and much has played out the same way.  But John Connor is no longer relevant.

It is good to see Linda Hamilton back in sunglasses and carrying artillery.  Arnie, of course, returns.  I was a fan of our new Sarah Connor stand-in, played by Natalia Reyes.  I've never quite taken to Mackenzie Davis, and I'm not sure this was the role that won me over to her side.

As befitting a Terminator film, there are exciting action sequences, but, honestly, you miss something when you know how much CGI is involved versus someone pushing an 18-wheeler off a 20-foot jump.  Still, the sequences hit the mark for me, including the insane plane-to-lake chase and fight that leads to the finale is that thrill-ride thing you're looking for.

Director Tim Miller has a much lighter touch than James Cameron, and it does allow for comedic bits that don't land with a thud the way a few just don't work in T2.  But he also can't ground the characters enough, nor can he muster a sense of anxiety and dread - we're just facing a bad-guy we know our heroes will beat one way or another.  Sarah Connor's voice over and sense of doom get shelved for a few expository lines and a total lack of explanation of the past two decades.

Too much is telegraphed, and if you can do some basic movie-plot algebra (especially if you've seen the trailer), you can wind up with how this thing will play out within the first fifteen minutes, so it's in the details where they need to get it right.  And, in many ways, I think it *is* a good launch pad for a potential action/adventure franchise that doesn't need to end a particular way.

Some stuff gets mentioned and illustrated about Legion as a strategist that I dug, especially as it gave Dani's character a describable role in that possible future.  I also was into the notion of augmented humans, but, frankly, given Mackenzie Davis's usual "stare blankly" acting, I was more than a little surprised they cast her as a human rather than a killer iPhone.  I mean, she already has seeming kind of inhuman on camera down pat.

Shocker of shockers, a James Cameron produced vehicle is about strong women kicking ass. And I will personally kick any neck-beards whining that the cast in this movie is largely female.  That it follows another young woman's journey to Sarah Connor-ness.  But, I'll be honest, if that's the direction the potential sequel is headed, Hollywood is full of talented women who might have something interesting to say on the topic as writers, directors and producers - and the behind-the-camera talent was a list of dudes.  I'd be deadly curious to see what a female-led version of a creaky franchise like this would look like (with Cameron's input, because, dude, his return to the franchise did seem to get everyone basically on the right path).  And, I'd like to see what an all-new story might look like based upon what we know so far.

We can't not discuss Arnie's "Carl" character which kinda-sorta made no sense, but was still wildly entertaining and reminded me how much I loved that guy pre-Governorship.  And if his future is comedic relief, I welcome it.  But, yeah, I didn't see how any of that Carl-ness made any sense whatsoever. I assumed a Terminator would just wander off into the ocean or hang out in a storage closet somewhere, having no personal ambitions or motivators outside of their primary mission.  The growth we saw in T2 was thanks to Connor hacking a Terminator before sending it back.  But, hey, maybe there was a future we hadn't yet seen of Terminators living long enough into the future to gain this sharing and caring once they were done wiping humans from the face of the earth.  Heck of a coda to humanity, I suppose.  The things that killed all of you were, in the end, more likely to be okay people than a lot of people.

And, of course, the Texas joke got some big applause in my theater.

There's probably lots to say and unpack about the Border Patrol and fence as part of our story.  It can, of course, be seen as an obstacle comparable to the cops in Terminator, and there's no overt commentary here, exactly.  But it was interesting to see something so "of the moment" appear in a Terminator film.

It's not a great movie, but it had some bright spots.  I'd have to see what they wanted to do with a follow-up, which will likely happen despite this film's lackluster box office (as of this writing, only $50 million domestic and $200 million international).

But, yeah, there's a big old open question of "what else do you do with this franchise?"  More sending people and robots back to our current day?  We've seen that so, so much.  And, frankly, I think Salvation mostly just showed that a super depressing future fighting a motivation and nuance free force is... pretty boring as a movie.  So... I dunno.

It's okay if this is it.  The world has lots of Terminator in it, and maybe we can move on at this point, but that seems highly unlikely to happen as long as we keep trying to recapture the magic.  I'm willing to be surprised by sequel ideas, but maybe this idea, at the end of the day, is too closed off for anything particularly new or interesting.  Time and box office will tell.

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