Surely, you too must have come across several reviews of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’, terming it as the third-best Terminator movie in this franchise that has easily stretched for more than three decades across six films now. In the current scenario of near cut-throat competition, a third best would be easily scoffed at, but not in the case of this franchise. Being termed third best in this case, only after the first two films widely regarded among the best sci-fi action blockbusters ever made, is a bit of an achievement if you look at it somewhat liberally, especially in blockbuster era Hollywood, where we are subjected to week after week of mediocre films that don’t even try to break free of genre trappings and the shadow of their predecessors. Hardcore fans of the franchise may disagree, but for now, this is where the consensus lies.
I myself would corroborate those claims, and while ‘Dark Fate’ doesn’t bring the franchise anywhere close to its former glory, it does indeed prove to be consistently entertaining fare, albeit nothing that you haven’t seen before. It does so especially in the action bits, just enough to finally bid goodbye to a heap of films before this that the franchise casually disregards as occurring in parallel timelines, moving on to a possibly new series of Terminator films that we may very well be treated to soon if ‘Dark Fate’ performs well at the ticket windows. For now, we will jump straight to explaining the plot and ending of the film, through the means of what it meant to the various characters among its many thematic nods to James Cameron’s originals.
The film begins on a rather shocking note, one that also immediately establishes ‘Dark Fate’s place in this universe of films, while at the same time conveniently discarding all that the three films following ‘Judgment Day‘ established into parallel timelines. I also can see how franchise loyalists have been completely put off by this scene, but then I can also see how it works in the favour of the film going where it wants to go, while not necessarily implying that there weren’t other ways to do this.
Following the success of their mission in T1 and T2, both Sarah and John enjoy some deserved time off in 1998, having averted a possible future of war with the machines, when the last one of the commissioned T-800s by Skynet appears and fulfils its mission, killing John, while Sarah wails in sorrow, later turning to a life of hunting Terminators based on anonymous tips that she receives. This is what leads her to Grace and Dani while they are on the run from the new Terminator.
What ‘Dark Fate’ also establishes in a way, is that no matter what timeline, a war with the machines in the future is rather inevitable and would be happening, one way or another. Within the first act of the film, as Grace introduces herself as an enhanced super soldier, albeit human, sent from the future, it is revealed that the malevolent AI entity in the future that leads to the fall of civilisation is called Legion, initially designed for cyber warfare yet turning on the humans, instead of Skynet, that according to the film’s timeline was put out of existence by the events of T1 and T2. It is Legion that sends the deadly Terminator back to Earth, to kill Dani Ramos, the would-be leader of the human resistance in the future.
The latest model in the range of Terminators, for your perusal. It is fascinating to see how far character design has come from the original 1984 film, and the latest one, going a step further, comprises of a tough robotic endoskeleton along with a liquid, shapeshifting exoskeleton. This also allows the Terminator to split into two conveniently, in fact, giving the film some of its best moments within action scenes, while the Rev-9 relentlessly, and I mean completely relentlessly pursues Dani. By the end of the film, it is obvious that the Rev-9 meets his end, but that’s not to say that Legion cannot send another similar Terminator from the future to kill Dani Ramos and stop the human resistance from ever forming.
“I’ll Be Back!” said the all too sentient Terminator, and so he was as Carl, among the very few surviving ones of the now relatively obsolete range of Terminators, commissioned by Skynet. It also turns out, as Grace, Sarah and Dani trace the source of the text messages on Sarah’s phone, and follow the coordinates engraved on Grace’s abdomen to lead her to seek help as ordered by her resistance from the future, that he was the one who killed John in the beginning of the film, but after fulfilling his mission and then aimlessly wandering the planet in the wake of a now defunct Skynet, he assimilated into the human race, even starting a family with a woman he claims to love and her son.
It is essentially these human values that the T-800 inculcates over a period of twenty years and realising what he did to Sarah, he continues helping her kill Terminators for her to find purpose in her life, while also agreeing to defend Dani against the new threat. It almost plays out like a redemption arc for the once unfeeling killing machine, elucidating on Cameron’s penchant of diluting the divide man, machine and technology. In the same vein, much like the ending of T2, Carl sacrifices himself, killing the endoskeleton of the Rev-9 with him, “For John” being his last words.
The narrative arc of ‘Dark Fate’ has a lot in store for Sarah Connor, with the returning veteran Linda Hamilton stealing virtually every scene she is in. As described earlier, after the death of her son John, a scene with which the film opens, her swansong that was alluded to towards the end of ‘Judgment Day’ is cut short, and she is sprung back into action, now killing the remnants of Skynet’s Terminators on Earth.
All of them would now presumably be aimless and near defunct since they were all sent to kill John Connor, while “Carl” ended up accomplishing that mission, also being the one sending her the locations of older as well as new Terminators now commissioned by Legion from the future. While she earlier sees a bit of herself in her, owing to the possibility that it would be her child that would lead the resistance, she realises that it was actually Dani who was key to all this and the would be leader of the human resistance in the future, terming her “the new John Connor”. It then becomes her fate to safeguard Dani and lead her to stay on the current path the ending of the film has set her on to.
Unequivocally, my favourite character from the film. Grace is an enhanced super soldier from a war ravaged future in 2042 sent back in time to safeguard Dani from the threat posed by the Rev-9 Terminator, and safe to say, ends up playing a major part in the survival of Dani while the Terminator attacks her. Unfortunately, she too succumbs to the attack of the Terminator, ultimately sacrificing her life in providing Dani her power core to use as an EMP pulse generator on the Terminator. Through the film, it is revealed that it was Dani who saved her from scavengers and made her join the resistance, also being behind sending her back in time with the coordinates on her abdomen.
While Grace from the future travels physically to the past (2020) and dies, the ending of the film sees Dani looking over a young Grace as she leaves school, while Grace herself appears to have some memory of Dani. What this essentially establishes is a time loop feeding unto itself, since Dani now knows young Grace, and the journey she goes on with her, which is what leads her to put those coordinates on her abdomen in the future, telling her where to go for help for her mission. In simple words, Grace being sent back in time and killed while never encountering her younger self in that timeline leads to her being trapped in a time loop forever, wherein young Grace would now grow up to join the resistance and then travel back in time again, essentially repeating the same set of events indefinitely.
The key player in this ‘Terminator’ outing. As described already, she is the one who grows up to lead the human resistance in the war against Legion and the machines, recruiting Grace. To add to that, owing to the time loop set up due to the events described above, similar to a predestination, Dani would now be proceeding headstrong into that future. She now knows that an invasion is coming, even as she may continue to battle new Terminators along the way that Legion might send. In a way, it is as if her fate materialises in front of her with the events of this film, and with her entire family, Grace, and Carl killed, she now proceeds with Sarah to lead a life, battling Terminators, that would directly lead to that future.
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