Terminator?I Barely Know Her
I didn’t get to see Terminator: Dark Fate opening weekend, and it didn’t bode particularly well that I hadn’t heard much about it once it opened: there were no outstandingly amazing reviews, no particular hatred, just…nothing. Sure, I didn’t go out of my way to find reviews or that, but I had heard or seen a grand total of nobody talking about this film.
It certainly didn’t help that the film itself was somewhat quiet; there were a handful of trailers, but the marketing behind it meant that I had seen very little before going “wait, that film opens next month?”
I didn’t love this film, but I definitely didn’t hate it either. Terminator: Dark Fate has now entered the weird middle space of my brain wherein I’ll completely forget about some film, but some subtle word or phrase and it’ll all come back in its entirety.
But this isn’t a post about Terminator: Dark Fate as a sci-fi/horror (okay, “horror”) film. This is a post about everything queer. Because, seriously, how fucking queer is this movie?
Let’s take a breath before I touch on this stuff: I’ve never thought of the Terminator franchise in any way as being particularly queer, nor that the films really address any type of sex or sexuality. If anything, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular character, was the embodiment of asexuality: sure the character appears “naked” after travelling back in time, but as a robotic-thing from the future, the Terminator himself (or is it itself?) is lacking in anything truly sexual.
But the franchise itself, when it touches on sex and sexuality, has gone out of its way to be straight. After all, the origin of the franchise (in The Terminator) is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) being sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the Terminator. Or is it to protect her son John Connor who hasn’t even been conceived yet? As such, the film needs a cursory hook-up between the two human characters, ensuring that Sarah’s pregnant by the end of the film with a character who’ll become an important player in the human resistance.
Terminator 2 sends a different Terminator back in time to kill Sarah’s teenage son John. There’s very little in any way of sex or sexuality in this film though; while the first film needs that sex scene to ensure the creation of a character highly important for the human race, this and the further films in the franchise prove somewhat asexual.
But as I write this, I’ve realised that for a franchise which contains six movies, there are whole movies in this franchise that I have so little fucking memory of at all.
There are a few beats of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines that ring a few bells (a female Terminator who wore a lot of red and Nick Stahl’s John Connor whom, if I remember correctly, stole drugs from the vets?) The film set up Connor and his future-wife Kate (as played by Clare Danes) to be the leaders of the resistance. But I never saw a relationship or a romance between these characters. Not that the franchise needs romance, but this was a couple that were forced together, and what I remember of this film was a “shocking” beat wherein the Arnie-played-Terminator had come back in time to make sure that these two characters survived Judgement Day rather than stop it from happening.
Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys are such aggressively dumps of shite that I barely remember either of them.
Salvation stars a bunch of really good actors (Christian Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard as John and Kate, with Sam Worthington as a Terminator-thing that may have been a good guy or may have just been there to throw the characters and viewers off before a CGI-Arnie-in-the-nip did some Terminator-ing?)
Oh, and Anton Yelchin playing the boy-child Kyle, whom John is ultimately going to have to send back to ride his mother to make sure he gets born. Put like that, this is not a comfortable watch: thankfully, the film is forgettable,better known for the on-set antics from Bale than anything on-screen.
Similarly, there’s Genisys ((but really, what the fuck is with that spelling?), a film that is memorable solely for its attempt to cash in on Emilia Clarke’s fame from Game Of Thrones, a soft-re-boot that went out of its way to set up plots that would be addressed in sequels that were pulled before the film finished in cinemas. I had completely forgotten that Jai Courtney played Kyle in this film, an actor I should remember for time-travelling (in-the nip) to save humanity. My memory of Genisys is a film lacking in any real action, any set-pieces, any tension and with a delivery that came across as a camp pastiche rather than a solid action film.
Is it all that surprising that James Cameron would return to the franchise he started with a goal of fixing some things? Sure, he’s busy doing further Avatar films, but when your name is on the franchise, it’s fitting that you’d want to try and make things look a little bit better, right? Cameron doesn’t do any directing for this film, but gets a writing credit, and while the film doesn’t quite meet with my expectations of a film that has Cameron’s name attached, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the last few movies that the franchise has tossed out.
What I found most interesting about this particular Terminator-film is how the movie goes out of its way to shit on the franchise’s history within its opening minutes where an Arnie-nator arrives at a beach in 1998 and terminates John Connor before walking off. The film then jumps to the present day and, in typical fashion of the franchise, we see two of those light-flashing time-travel blips as Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and this movie’s Terminator (Gabriel Luna) arrive back in time to do their necessary missions. The film goes out of its way to introduce the strong, confident Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) before Grace arrives to protect her. (I’m still somewhat disappointed that, at no stage, is Dani asked to come with someone if she wants to live!)
Grace holds her own against the Terminator (that poses as Dani’s father, just to properly fuck with her head), and while trying to escape, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) arrives to help. We’re treated to some who-trusts-who-and-why beats between the three female characters: there’s some tensions between the three of them, with Sarah assuming that Grace is a Terminator, but the three women get past these beats fairly easily and quickly. Sarah reveals that she has been receiving messages for some time, advising her of time-fuckery events that she can go and interrupt, but she is unsure who has been sending her these messages.
Grace, a human soldier who has been enhanced for the purposes of taking on the Terminator, taps into Sarah’s phone easily and the trio find themselves an address where they find the same Arnie-nator that killed John. Finished with his mission, the Terminator had no further instructions, so…just…sort of…
In one of the dumbest beats I’ve ever seen in film, and yet a beat that works within the film, Armie-nator got himself accustomed to human life and got himself a partner and kid. This doesn’t make sense in any capacity, save for giving the film some sense of warmth and humanity, and giving the Arnie-nator some beats at which he and Sarah can share in their parenting woes. (Except they can’t. Cos he killed her son. For reference, the film does include dialogue that the Arnie-nator is not this kid’s father, but rather acted as some sort of defence for a pregnant woman and then became a father-figure to her son.)
So in those breaths, Terminator: Dark Fate goes out of its way to establish a different sort of family. A “modern family” as it were.
It’s unclear whether the film is going out of its way for the purposes of marketing or if the film (and the team behind it) genuinely want to create a different type of air to the franchise: Sarah has already been established as a strong female character (save for her time in a mental institution…but The Man is to blame for that.) But the narrative has always had John at its heart, even when he is barely present; in that capacity, Sarah is nothing more than a broodmare for that beat.
Until, of course, your remove that beat.
By killing off John in its opening breath, the film embraces a very different type of narrative, one in which Sarah Connor can be her own heroine. And damn, she is certainly capable of looking after herself in this film: fair fucking play to her.
Similarly, by completely undoing John as a character and narrative, the film opens up other options, allowing it (and its audience) to experience other heroes too. By killing off John, Kate gets removed from some sense of this narrative, but if she were to return, she would be more than just a wife or girlfriend, and maybe even allowed to be a hero in her own right.
The film, through conversation between Sarah and Dani, suggests that Dani is the new Sarah,a woman who will give birth to the new John. Although the film doesn’t say this out loud, this implies that the new hero of the franchise might not be white and English-speaking, and hey, that’s great.
But there’s some dialogue here that doesn’t feel right, because at this point of viewing, I had decided that Dani is queer, and so is Grace, and the relationship between the two characters is…sort of cool, and nice and warm.
When Grace confirms that, yes, Dani isn’t the new Sarah, but the new John, it feels right; Dani is revealed to be the a leader, the woman who sends Grace back in time to do what needs to be done. When Grace is injured in a future battle, she is very fucking concerned about Dani’s survival. And it doesn’t feel like it’s just because Dani is the leader of the pack; it feels like these two women genuinely care for each other.
Sure, I could be reading way too much into this, (especially since a certain take on this future timeline pitches Dani as more of a maternal figure for Grace). But in the present day, those two women are capable of fighting with (and for) each other; even if they’re not queer in the LGBTQ+ sense, the film embraces that they and their very existence does not require male justification, control or endorsement.
The relationship between Grace and Dani is strong and powerful; sex (and sexuality) aside, the women are capable and willing to support and protect each other. And Sarah is happy and willing to help them. The film creates a narrative wherein Sarah is doing her own heroic deeds “for John”, but by the film’s close, it feels like Sarah is ready to fight “for Dani”, the new leader and voice of the humanity of the future.
Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t particularly good as a film, with several beats of endings that take their damned time to wrap up; the enemy is interesting and entertaining, but he is no more threatening than the Terminators we’ve dealt with previously, and although there are some interesting action scenes, some feel overly CGI’d to be impressed by.
As a film that effectively reboots a franchise that was already fun and accessible, making it that little bit more inclusive and powerful…that’s impressive though.