Terminator: Dark Fate delivers a fun, action experience that relies and feeds heavily on fan’s nostalgia, but ultimately lacks the heart present in early installments of the series.
The new Terminator movie follows the recent trend in the action genre of situating movies in locations of political importance. Like the newest Rambo, Terminator: Dark Fate takes place in Mexico. It is positive that a genre mostly known for white casts is getting more diverse; the protagonist Dani Ramos, is played by Colombian actress Natalia Reyes and the film’s villain terminator is played by Mexican-American actor Gabriel Luna. Although the films’ cast is more diverse, the story told still relies on deeply ingrained stereotypes.
This new installment in the Terminator series alters the future established in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The film scraps Skynet and replaces it with a nearly identical AI institution called Legion. Fans of the series will remember that the terminator faced in the sequel was extra deadly because it was liquid metal; it could faze through walls and regenerate. This deadliness is literally taken in Dark Fate and multiplied by 2, as the terminators are able to split into 2 entities.
This Terminator is tasked with killing Dani Ramos because she is revealed to be humanity’s future savior later in the film. The film utilizes another plot device from Judgement Day in the form of sending someone from the future to assist the savior. This assistance comes in the way of Grace, who is a mechanically enhanced human. This early chase scene in the film mirrors the iconic semi-truck chasing John Connor in Judgement Day through the Los Angeles River. Grace and Sarrah Connor both end up saving Dani from being terminated.
Saviors? Who Saves Who?
Both Grace and Connor do not inform Dani on the entirety of the situation for fear that she is not ready to receive the information. So for much of the film, Dani has no other choice but to follow the two white women blindly. This leads one to question who really is saving who in the film? Is Grace, who in Terminator tradition as a person from the future literally dropped from the sky the “savior?” Or is Sarrah Connor, who arrived just in time as the Terminator was about to kill both Grace and Dani the “savior?”
What is poignant is that Dani’s moment to save both Grace and Sarrah Connor comes in the form of a stereotype. The three women are forced to leave Mexico as the Terminator will stop at nothing to finish his mission. The exit plan comes in the form of undocumented crossing with the help of Dani’s coyote uncle. A coyote is someone who smuggles people across the border usually at a high fee. Dani’s revelation of her uncle’s connection is so perfectly convenient that its actually hilarious.
The women follow through with the plan and end up getting detained right at the point of crossing. They are taken into custody by Border Patrol agents and placed in the cages all too familiar to those living in Southern California.
The Terminator is able to track them down pretty easily and actually makes his way into the facility as a Border Patrol Agent. Again, this action mirrors the Terminator from Judgement Day who transforms into a police officer. Both Terminators are interestingly smooth talkers and charming. They go about unsuspected and utilize the information systems and technology available to the institutions of government.
The choice to portray the Terminator as a Border Patrol agent in the current political climate is one that is hard not to dwell on. The current policies which have separated families are done by heartless entities like Terminators. It is also interesting to note however that the Terminator is portrayed and meant to be of Mexican origin. This factor only conflicts the situation when compared to the ethnicity and actions of the other Terminator in the film, Carl, played iconically by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Carl is a Terminator who was sent from the future to kill John Connor after the vents of Judgement Day. It is later revealed that Carl begins to become more human and even takes on a family. He even regrets taking John Connor’s life after seeing the happiness that family brings one. Carl ends up assisting the three women in the fight against the Terminator. He importantly like in Judgement Day, sacrifices himself to kill the Terminator. While the plot sets up the “savior” to be Dani, the action taken by her guardians leads one to believe that she really possessed no agency throughout the film. Terminator: Dark Fate in attempting to be transcendent ultimately falls back on old tropes and produces a film that prolongs stereotypes.
Alita: Battle Angel is a breathtaking, visceral 3D experience that cannot be missed in theatres!
Alita: Battle Angelwas directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City and Spy Kids) and written by James Cameron (Avatar and Titanic). Based off the manga Battle Angel Alita this film was a passion project for James Cameron for almost 20 years after being introduced of the idea by Guillermo Del Toro. In fact, 20th Century Fox apparently has had the domain “battleangelalita.com” registered to them since the year 2000. This makes sense for a project with James Cameron’s name on it given that he is known for being an absolute perfectionist. But now that the project is finally here and we can assume that this is the final version that James Cameron has approved of, is it on par with the other stunning works that Mr. Cameron is known for?
Overall, even if the pacing and dialogue is flawed, this is a film that should not be missed in theatres.
While there’s a lot to be said with what’s really fantastic about this movie, I’ll start with the negative first. Although this film is very exciting, there are oftentimes extensive scenes in which characters engage in dialogue that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere. And while it is mostly fine that characters engage in extended scenes of dialogue, it takes time away from seeing the fantastic action that this film has to offer. I understand these scenes help the audience to gain a greater understanding of the characters and the world around them, but it greatly affects the pacing and causes the film to be slower than necessary. Furthermore, the dialogue is oftentimes very unnatural and awkward. Because of this, some viewers may find themselves struggling to get invested in the story especially if the dialogue and the way it is spoken is slightly off.
And lastly, numerous critics have voiced their disapproval over how this film sets itself up for numerous sequels. This time, I found that this aspect did not bother me as much it usually might. I think the reason for this was that I was already invested in the world and the characters enough to the point where it felt earned for them to build cliff hangers that are meant to be resolved in future movies. It reminded me of a pilot for a TV show that I really want to watch more of. I understand critics have said that this film reminds them of a pilot as a flaw on the movie’s end, but again, I was fine with it. The only time this trope annoys me is when it is inserted into a movie that doesn’t do enough to introduce and engage the viewer into its world and therefore fails to properly build anticipation for future stories. An example of this would be 2018’s The Predator or 2015’s Fantastic Four or “Fant4stic” as it is usually called which lacked any intrigue for me to want to see more films made in those franchises.
Alita: Battle Angel is one of the most visceral and breathtaking experiences I’ve ever had in theatres.
Even if critics are finding it hard to be invested in the story, I do not think any critics thus far have denied how fantastic this movie is presented visually. In fact, I still believe that this is one of the most stunning and visceral experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema. I went to an advance screening of this film a few days before it came out and I had the chance to view the film in IMAX 3D. This is how I recommend everyone see this movie. Select scenes in this movie are presented in an expanded aspect ratio which will give the viewer an expanded view of the action taking place. What this will mean if you watch it in IMAX is that instead of the movie “letter boxed” (black bars are visible on the top and bottom of the frame) as it usually is throughout when seeing an IMAX film, this time there are select scenes in which those bars go away and the entire screen is taken up by the action seen in the film. If you are still confused what I mean by this, hopefully this video will help you to understand what I mean.
In fact, the 3D in general is some of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s been a while since I’ve seen truly great 3D in a film. The last few times I think I’ve seen actually fantastic 3D was likely Aquaman, Ant Man and the Wasp, and Ready Player One. But given how many 3D movies come out still even though it is not many people’s preferences, I don’t feel this is much. I wonder though if a film like this that is being celebrated for its 3D will encourage filmmakers to do 3D justice because I feel when you do it right, the format can be a lot of fun. It usually is seen as a money sucking waste of time that mostly makes people nauseous. And while I understand this and even have had similar experiences due to bad 3D, please be advised that this should not disappoint you. This is a topic that I wish to cover in the future because reactions to 3D films seem to be very strong amongst the movie going crowd whether you love them, hate them, or just do not care whatsoever.
The reason though I advise you see the film in IMAX 3D is because I strongly feel that is the best way to experience the world that James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez has created here. They’re not only known for crafting really great three-dimensional films; they have a knack to crafting beautiful and engaging worlds utterly unlike our own. The world of Alita: Battle Angel is so incredible that I truly felt like I was in the world that was created for this film. And this is not just due to the 3D and the visual effects that complement it. The gigantic sets they’ve built for this film and the seemingly thousands of extras they have gotten to interact in this environment really sell this world and make it feel real. I loved that this film was able to get a really good mix of both practical and computer effects to make this world feel alive and real. I understand this type of filmmaking was new to director Robert Rodriguez as he is used to creating environments made entirely out of computer effects, but I feel the craft on display here really highlights the talent that Mr. Rodriguez truly has when it comes to the art of film and world building within it. I cannot wait to see what else Mr. Rodriguez has for future movies. Whether he continues to work with James Cameron on more projects or not, he has a lot of potential when it comes to what he can do as a filmmaker. Rodriguez has definitely come a long way since his Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirldays.
For more info on which 3D movies are worth seeing, check out CinemaBlend’s To 3D or Not to 3D. It goes in depth (no pun intended) on the experience of viewing the film in 3D on every movie that comes out. I was surprised to find the score for this movie was not as high as I expected, but it’s still a good tool to use nonetheless if you’re interested.
When it comes to action and the scenarios surrounding it, this film understands how to build tension and make the viewer anticipate these confrontations.
Before I saw the film, I was worried that the film would depict Alita as a goddess amongst humans and cyborgs alike, and although she is very strong here the film wisely shows that she has a lot to learn in this journey that she takes. She loses a lot of fights here and gets hurt, but she manages to keep herself up best she can which is why these scenes feel interesting. And what further builds tension in these scenes is that we are not entirely sure at first what Alita is capable of, so we are not sure how the outcome of certain scenarios is going to play out. When we are first introduced to Alita in this film, we see her as very naïve and innocent which makes it all the more surprising and exciting when we eventually see her as an ultimate badass cyborg girl that get herself through a fight very easily if she has to. Although the confrontations and the dialogue spoken between Alita and other evil cyborgs she encounters can be very over the top and cheesy, it’s all very reminiscent of an anime. This especially makes sense since the source material for which this film is based off is a manga. And of course, what makes these action scenes even more fun is the beautiful way which they are created due to the visual effects, choreography, and cinematography.
I also just quickly want to congratulate the actress who played Alita in this film, Rosa Salazar, who gave an excellent performance and who I believe really has a bright future ahead of her in Hollywood. It’s interesting to see her go from Bird Box to this, but I’m glad that there are films like this that can highlight what this actress truly is capable of. I even stayed for part of the Q&A shown after the film in which she expressed how hard it was to act in the get-up she needed to in order to deliver a motion capture performance which this makes me have even more respect for her as an actress. I cannot imagine how hard it is to act with the equipment and costume that she has to be in. I know many actors are known for putting up with this type of acting and have even made entire careers out of it including Andy Serkis, but I think she is someone who could potentially be seen as a “female Andy Serkis” if you know what I’m saying.
If you care about films and the experience of viewing them, then it is imperative that you go and see this film in theatres!
I understand that this is a film that does not look great based off the marketing, but I truly believe that we need to see more movies like this today. Although the script can be better, this is the type of movie that needs to be experienced in the theatre. We need to show Hollywood that movies like this that choose to adapt stories that are strange and unusual to the average mainstream moviegoer should be made and celebrated. I want more movies that can create huge worlds out of properties that are not as well known including anime or even out of original concepts. Especially if those films build these worlds in the right way. I want more movies like this that celebrate the concept of telling familiar stories of finding yourself in unique and creative ways. I am sick of seeing remakes of films that I’ve already seen like what Disney has been doing or the same Marvel movie over and over again. And even though I like Marvel movies, the majority of them have a set formula that we have all just gotten use to as time passes. I want films like this that can instead adapt an anime and do it in a very fun and engaging way. I just wish moviegoers could be open to more stories that are not safe or those they have seen a million times. And for the love of god, don’t be that guy that waits for this movie to stream it illegally online, see this movie the way it was meant to be seen. I know it’s a big commitment to go to the theatre to watch a movie, but if this movie has even made you slightly interested based off my review or perhaps anything else you’ve seen related to this movie, then be sure to check it out! Even if you absolutely hate 3D and it makes you vomit every time you see a movie in that format, just see it in 2D then. As long as you give this film the attention it deserves and see it on the biggest screen you can in a format most convenient for you. But if you can handle it, opt for 3D.
And hey, if you do end up seeing it, tell me about it! I want to hear your stories whether you loved it, hated it, or thought it was fine. I know this film is very polarizing for many people which is perfectly fine, but I encourage people to take therisk and just watch the movie for themselves. If you decide to see this movie because of this review, here is what I will encourage. First follow me on Twitter at the handle @christianscogs, I will follow you back. Then tweet me either a picture of you at the theatre or a reaction to this movie whether it be positive or negative. I may want to join in on the discussion if I feel so inclined to do so. I feel that would be awesome to build a community of people who care about filmmaking and the experience associated with it. Again it doesn’t matter what you thought of it, because I think it can be fun to debate films like this with others as well. As long as we can make some noise and get some people talking about something as fun and nerdy as this. The goal of my blogs going forward is to cover whatever movies I feel like covering whether they’re old or new just because I think the discussion of them is so much fun! I especially implore you to see this given that the box office numbers coming in right now are not looking so strong at the moment. I understand this film is not a masterpiece, it will not win Oscars, and I don’t even anticipate this being remembered as one of the best movies of the year, but I still feel most people will be able to find some enjoyment in it. So please, go see the movie and let me know your reactions to it. I hope those of you who take my advice have a great time!