In the world of franchise reboots, there are hits (“Star Wars,” which is closing out it’s Skywalker saga in December after 40 plus years) and there are misses (“Jurassic World,” ring a bell?). The Terminator franchise tried it’s first run at a reboot in 2003, with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, and followed with two more sequels, a TV series (“The Sarah Connor Chronicles” 2008-2009), and two web series. And while you could say they did well at the box office, critically, the continuation of the John Connor story just wasn’t hitting home anymore because the very heart of the franchise was removed, and the heroine that defined “empowered women” in the 90s, was nowhere to be found. “Terminator: Dark Fate” remedies that, and builds a new future, and a new heroine for modern audiences and this time, they get it right.
Daniella Ramos is the matron of the home she shares with her father and little brother, Diego (Diego Boneta) in Mexico City. She helps her brother become fluent English (most of Mexico City is bilingual), makes sure both men have their lunches ready, appointments scheduled, and gets everything done before she heads to a factory where she and her brother are employed. She is very much a normal young Mexican woman, both a working woman and caretaker to her family until a Terminator (Gabriel Luna), disguised as her father, shows up at the factory and tries to kill her. Grace, an augmented human sent from the year 2049 to protect Dani, stops the Terminator and after an action packed fight sequence that leads to an even more packed car chase, saves Dani and somewhere amidst the chaos, Sarah Connor arrives. And she is every inch the Sarah Connor we remember, just a little older, and a lot more in control. Together, the three women must find a way to work together, with Sarah realizing the future is still not safe (“those fuckers never learn”), and the new “mother Mary,” Dani must ultimately become a new version of herself.
As someone who came of age in the 90s, “Judgement Day” means a lot to me and to this day, is one of my all time favorite films. So, going into “Dark Fate” I was very cautious. Director Tim Miller’s vision for this new Terminator not only worked, but without being overly preachy, he sent very subtle messages about what’s happening at the U.S.- Mexico border, and about the Latinx community as a whole. Between a visual of immigrants locked up in cages in mass, an exchange between Dani and a Border Patrol officer were Dani warns, “you aren’t safe either,” to more direct dialog where a Latinx character is told that they “are the future,” it’s these small nuances that allow “Dark Fate” to truly understand what the Latinx community has been asking for in terms of representation. Of course, the new terminator is also Latinx, but that puts the fight between good and evil on even terms. It isn’t that Latinos can’t be the villains, it’s that we never truly get the chance to be the heroes, even in our own stories.
That being said, there is some clunkiness to the script, specifically when it comes to some of what I like to call “feminism by James Cameron.” Yes, Sarah Connor was an amazing heroine, and she is an icon. But what an empowered woman looks like, and acts like, is no longer defined by a trauma, or biceps, or looking hard. Women can be empowered just in being themselves, and embracing who they are, flaws and all. At times the script (which has 5 “Story By” and 3 “written by” credits, all men), felt like it was a battle of wills between reigniting 90s feminism or stepping into 2019’s more modern take. If this franchise stands a chance in this era, it would be wise to hand the reins over to a woman who understands why Sarah was important but also that feminism is an evolving platform, and what worked twenty years ago, isn’t what’s going to be the right message for today. There’s also a lack of humor, save for the later addition of the original Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who lightens the mood while also, in his own way, passing the baton to the women around him.
The script is salvaged by stellar performances from Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, and Natalia Reyes. In contrast to the script, the differences between the three heroines, vulnerable (Dani), steadfast (Grace), or complicated (Sarah), shape what “bad ass” can mean nowadays. And the action sequences are fun to watch and leave you wholly entertained while holding on to your seat. This is not only a great film to reinvigorate the franchise, but the type of movie you will be kicking yourself if you don’t see on a big screen.
Terminator: Dark Fate will be released on November 1 from Paramount Pictures.
Yolanda Machado is a freelance film critic for TheWrap and an entertainment and culture writer for GQ, Shondaland, Harper’s Bazaar and more. Based out of Los Angeles, if she’s not inside a movie theater you’ll find her living the mom life with her tween daughter, two cats, and one crazy dog. You can find her on Twitter at @SassyMamainLA