Goes to show that every Terminator sequel may need Linda Hamilton
Terminator: Dark Fate finally delivers as a solid installment in the mess that has become the Terminator franchise.
Finally we have what we needed. Apparently, the backbone to terminator franchise success is the combination of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The magic they had together in T2 made that movie a cut above its predecessor and a monumental force that was obviously going to be hard to match.
When the first Terminator hit theaters in 1984, I was only 4 years old. When I now read about its release, I see that it was a box-office smash and critically acclaimed, the two things a movie needs to be immortal. As I got older, I was allowed to watch R-rated films before most kids could (see Daddy Die Hard to read more about that), so I had seen Terminator on VHS and cable by the time T2: Judgement Day came out in 1991.
Both movies are spectacular in their simplicity. The future is in peril as artificially intelligent machines try to destroy humanity and take over. In Terminator, a hard-to-destroy machine (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill the mother of the future’s human resistance leader, John Connor. The mother’s name is Sarah Connor and she is played by Linda Hamilton. The resistance sends back a soldier (Michael Biehn) to protect her. The terminator fails.
T2 is similar. A machine (Robert Patrick) is sent back to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a boy. This time, the resistance sends back a reprogrammed machine to protect him (Schwarzenegger). They also free Sarah Conner (Hamilton again) from a mental institution to help protect John Connor and destroy the company that will design the artificial intelligence.
That was the last we saw of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. T3: Rise of the Machines was essentially a remake of T2 without the heart. John Connor (Nick Stahl, this time) is a young man and machines and loud action sequences. The end. Terminator: Salvation was actually a decent movie, set entirely in the post-apocalyptic future, but it was missing something. It didn’t have the odd sense of humor that the first two had, so it didn’t connect with audiences. Arnie came back for Terminator: Genesis, but that was sort of an incomprehensible mess. Once again, because the story wasn’t good and lacked heart, it relied too much on blowing things up.
Now we have Terminator: Dark Fate, and Hamilton and Arnie are back together. They team up to protect the future “John” from a time-traveling machine terminator (played by Gabriel Luna). It’s not actually “John,” but a Mexican girl (played by Natalie Reyes) who will inspire humanity after the machines destroy the world. Sent from the future as protection is an enhanced super soldier (played by Mackenzie Davis) who is pretty badass as long as she can keep some medicine in her every 6 hours or so — take with water and enjoy the food, since you don’t have any in the future.
The plot element that got me to love this movie is revealed in Arnie’s terminator — Carl in this movie. The character is funny and interesting when we meet him. I found myself wondering what life was like for him/it, a terminator that had completed its mission. We know from T2 that it has the ability to learn and adapt. There’s the idea here that learning and adapting allowed it to grow something related to a conscience and understand humans through a unique, mission-less perspective. It’s kind of mind-blowing, really. And this sci-fi greatness couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the interaction between Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, who has spent her years hunting terminators, and Arnie’s close-to-human machine, which is the perfect character for Schwarzenegger’s acting chops (he’s made a career relying more on charisma than on talent, so playing a machine fits in with his line delivery).
So there it is; this is the sequel fans have wanted. All it took was for the male-dominated film industry to let some women work, and it worked. It was probably no coincidence that James Cameron is producer on his baby (he created the first two movies). I imagine he went back to what has made many of his films shine: strong female characters (even First Blood, Part II, which Cameron wrote, had the addition of a strong female character). One of the strongest he ever created is Sarah Connor. Thanks to her, other female characters, and cool killer machine, and Schwarzenegger, the franchise that first had the Arnold saying “I’ll be back,” IS BACK!