The consensus among reviews is that the new Terminator film is the best sequel since T2. Here’s why that’s wrong.
But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around.Kyle Reese – The Terminator
He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah, your unborn son.
Several critics are calling Dark Fate the best of the post-T2 sequels. Empire goes so far to call it ‘easily the third-best Terminator film’
Really? Although everyone is entitled to their opinions, I believe there’s a legitimate and objective argument that Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines (can we just call it T3?) is a significantly better film. Step into my shiny electro sphere and I’ll explain why. Major spoilers from the start for those who have yet to see Terminator: Dark Fate
Unlike the new film, T3 gives us a genuine continuation of the Connor story and rewards fans with it instead of cheating them. Okay (spoiler) both movies involve the death of a Connor character and that is hard for fans who loved the two original (and still the best) films.
Dark Fate absolutely has to be commended for giving us a trio of kick-ass female characters, particularly with an older Sarah at the fore. However, by the end of T2 she had won. She had spent two films battling horrendous odds and had gone on a clear journey in each film. In the first, she became a warrior, in the second she went too far, becoming a Terminator herself, before remembering to be a mother, and what a mother! Not content with protecting her son, she kicks the shit out of two Terminators, takes down Cyberdyne, stops Skynet and prevents Judgement Day in 1997. Her death, as described in T3, while upsetting is legitimised by her victory. In that film, we get to see her son become the leader he was literally born to be, so even after she’s gone her story continues and she remains victorious. We also learn that despite dying of leukaemia, she battles to stay alive until 1997 – just to make sure. Given that she was living around Mexico, she may or may not have been synthesising blue meth while she was at it, but that’s unclear.
In Dark Fate, John is unceremoniously terminated in the first five minutes of the film. Everything Sarah did was for nothing. She now lives as a leery drunk, wasting Terminators which for some inexplicable reason are still coming through from the future. It’s as galling as the opening of Alien 3. After Ripley, in Aliens, confronted her literal worst nightmare alone in order to save Newt, the girl (as well as Hicks and Bishop) are killed in the sequel, cheating the audience of the emotional journey they went through in the preceding movie.
Notwithstanding the all-female leads, it’s been pointed out that the eight writers are all male. This was the movie that Jimmy Cameron was coming back for, but what the hell? Let’s talk about writing for a moment, shall we? We need to, Kevin.
• Legion just happens after Cyberdyne is destroyed without any explanation. Because ‘sequel’.
• Carl sends Sarah anti Terminator instructions every two years after his kid is born, that’s five at least – what, are they on vacation? They absolutely will not stop until they get a suntan and some duty-free engine oil?
• Why does he have any knowledge about the post-Skynet future and Legion? The T2 Terminators come back from 2029, so Carl, the one that kills John must have come back from that date or some point earlier, given that he’s a Skynet Terminator and the film confirms that Skynet didn’t happen. He doesn’t exist in the 2040s when Legion shows up, so what gives? And no, mumbling some half-arsed dialogue about “future shock” does not cover it.
• Why does the dog like him? Dogs detect Terminators. It’s established in the first film and continued into the sequel. Just because he’s ‘nice’ and sells curtains doesn’t change the fact that he’s a freaking robot. Sorry, ‘cybernetic organism’. Dogs hate that, trust me. It’s more of a cat thing.
Both films treat Judgement Day as a kind of Black Swan event which cannot be stopped, but at least T3 lets you see it and provides an attempt at an explanation. Given that the new film is called ‘Dark Fate’, it would be nice to explore what that fate is, why the world is destined to end this way. Nope. It just happens. Strictly speaking, the antagonist in this film can’t even be thought of as a Terminator. Sure, the T-1000 wasn’t a cyborg either, but Cyberdyne or Skynet must have a major copyright claim against Legion.
T3 can certainly be criticised for just remaking the film before it, but newsflash, that’s all that T2 did as well, the plot is almost identical (even the attack on Cyberdyne was originally planned for the first film). Unlike T2 or Dark Fate though, T3 doesn’t stop there, it shows us Judgement Day taking place, which brings me to…
My personal favourite of the Terminator films is still the first one. It sits on that same blend of SF and horror that Alien and Aliens occupied, it’s brutal, violent and nasty and I’ll never forget the first time I saw it as a kid being genuinely scared and confused in the first act, just like Sarah herself. Michael Biehn is a sinister presence right up to the point the Terminator attacks and could easily have been the killer himself, it’s genuinely edgy and exciting.
While Dark Fate has an intimidating new Terminator and the opening scenes have genuine intensity as the chase kicks off quickly and brutally, there’s nothing that approaches the horror aspects of the first film. Indeed, the greatest weakness of the films that have followed T2 is that they all seem to have taken that film as their template, rather than the original. Understandable, given how universally loved T2 is.
Contrast that with T3 and you’re right there when the world starts to go insane, the best thing about the antagonist terminator (okay, maybe the only good thing) in that film is her ability to control other machines and the scenes where she unleashes the proto-terminators are more chilling than anything in the new film.
Coming out in ’84 as well, the fear of nuclear apocalypse was very real. The Terminator captured and distilled that fear down into a short shot of adrenaline. Now in 2019, we all gaze happily through tiny windows into a deteriorating human super-psyche while people with any political or financial power merrily burn the Earth in pursuit of that one extra solid gold waste-paper bin.
Dark Fate makes a blatantly on the nose attempt to capture the zeitgeist by having a terminator showdown in a border camp, but when the subject of Judgement Day comes up it’s a missed opportunity to make the story more culturally relevant. Given the state the world is in at the moment, nuclear annihilation seems all too plausible again, not to mention climate extermination. If we’re saying that Skynet is no-longer a threat, then why not make Legion a completely new enemy, rather than just a straight swap? While you’re at it, why not try to distil the numerous fears and worries of 2019 in the same brutally effective way that The Terminator managed thirty-five years ago, instead of just remaking the sequel again but changing the name of the big-bad?
We can’t talk about Terminator 3 without talking about that ending. Arguably, it’s the best of any of the films, including the first two. While they both end on the road, one in fear, the other in hope, this actually moves the story forward. The world ends. Judgement Day happens. John Connor has to step up. They called it Rise of the Machines and you get to see it happen. It’s shocking and it’s hard to believe that such a bleak ending was allowed into the final cut by a major Hollywood studio. It’s like the ‘snap’ in Avengers: Endgame, except you don’t know that everyone will be fine again in the next movie. People stay dead in this world.
True, it’s also by far the best thing about the film. The acting isn’t great, the humour is hit and miss, to say the least, and the TX is a blatant attempt to appeal to horny teenage boys, without much to separate her from the T1000.
It doesn’t help that McG completely fucked up the sequel six years later. A more competent director could have given us something really special, set in the future hell we glimpse in the first three movies. But that’s not the fault of T3.
Dark Fate ends just like the first film. Sarah and the saviour of the future face the world and that future alone. Another sequel has been set up. Sure, Sarah has gone on another journey, now in Dani Ramos, she has a surrogate John to protect. But she’s been cheated, she’s suffered the worst loss a parent can endure. The character who we rooted so hard for in the classic original films, who went through hell, has visited an even worse one and still has the apocalypse to look forward to.
Er, thanks for that.