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.