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SPOILER ALERT! Feminism, Immigration, and Nostalgia in Terminator: Dark Fate

As a massive Terminator fan, I was ecstatic when I found out the franchise would be back with another installation. However, I was worried the new film would follow in the footsteps of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Terminator Genisys (2015), which were disappointing to say the least. Luckily, they quickly revealed that the film would pick up right where Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) left off. Armed with the promise of being reunited with my favorite female fictional character, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), I took myself to the movies and prepared for Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate.

I was not disappointed. In fact, it was much better than I thought it would be. Not only was Sarah Connor back and looking fine as hell, but she was joined by two other badass female characters, Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Dani (Natalia Reyes). Dani is essentially the Sarah Connor of the future that the prevention of Judgement Day created, and Grace has been sent from the future to protect her thus making Grace the Kyle Reese of this future. Grace is human but has cybernetic alterations that enable her to actually fight terminators. She is an enhanced super soldier in the future and thus has had impressive combat and field training. Together, Sarah and Grace must keep Dani safe to ensure the new artificial intelligence threat, Legion, won’t wipe out humanity.

In rather feminist twist, it is not Dani’s future son that is meant to lead the resistance, it is Dani herself; she embodies and harbors the importance of both Sarah and John Connor. Dani finds and saves Grace as a child and raises her to be a badass soldier-assassin. In fact, it’s Dani who sends Grace back to save her.

Dani is a great character, but I’m personally obsessed with Grace. You might recognize Mackenzie Davis, which plays Grace, from S3E4 of Black Mirror, “San Junipero;” she won me over as Yorki, the demure, closet lesbian doomed to a vegetative existence, but made me fall in love with her as the bold, fearless, and beefy cybernetically enhanced super soldier, Grace; seriously, this lady is a total hunk. Not only is she in incredible shape, but they make her look enormous; she towers over everyone and skillfully takes on the Rev-9. Sorry, Ruby Rose, you’ve been replaced.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t be complete without the participation of Mr. California himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The original Terminator joins the team and helps Grace and Sarah keep Dani safe, something Sarah reluctantly tolerates; their strained relationship in Dark Fate is practically the same as that in T2 where Sarah struggles to trust the Terminator which tried to kill her a few years back.

Of course, in T2, the Terminator has been reprogrammed by John Connor; in Dark Fate, the Terminator explains that after completing his mission (killing John Connor), he no longer has a purpose, so he basically dedicates himself to learning and internalizing what it means to be human. Sarah swears to kill him when everything is over because of what he did to John; just to clarify, Skynet kept sending Terminators back to kill John Connor and eventually succeeded. Needless to say, Sarah was pissed. Interestingly, the Terminator ended up living a regular “human” life even obtaining his own family. It also turns out he had been keeping tabs on Sarah throughout the years giving her anonymous leads with the locations of where Terminators would be showing up; thus, Sarah the Terminator Terminator was born.

I also found that Dark Fate has the same vibe as Judgement Day with filmmakers even clearly paying allusion to and imitating some of T2’s iconic car chases. We witness the Rev-9 in a big rig chasing down the resistance trio (Grace, Dani, and Sarah), which is making its get away in a pickup truck; this is the exact same thing that happens in T2 where the T-1000, also in a big rig, chases down Sarah, John, and the Terminator, which are also in a pickup truck. It also has similar writing in terms of humor and dialogue which helped up the nostalgic ante.

Lastly, I was impressed with the extent to which the filmmakers decided to include Mexico and the issue of immigration. We are introduced to Dani in Mexico City where she lives with her brother Diego (Diego Boneta). The new Terminator, the Rev-9, is even more terrifying than T2’s T-1000 with its ability to not only turn to liquid metal and shape shift, but also split into two independent entities; it can separate its shape shifting liquid exterior from its endoskeleton. When it shows up in Mexico City, it manages to kill Diego before Sarah disables it long enough for Grace, Dani, and herself to get away. They end up having to illegally cross the border, just barely escaping the authorities.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by TriStar Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Interestingly, the Rev-9 poses as a Border Patrol officer in order to get ahold of Dani. The Rev-9 is in Border Patrol guise long enough to have him be associated with that uniform as the T-1000 was with the LAPD uniform. Could filmmakers have been making a statement about the police in T2 and now about the border patrol in Dark Fate? Considering the police got a pretty bad rap after LAPD officers were recorded brutally beating Rodney King in 1991 (the same year T2 was released) and the numerous reports circulating about inhumane conditions in detention centers and the Border Patrol’s poor treatment of immigrants, I’d say it’s a distinct possibility, one Chris Klimek of Slate addresses in his article “In the 1990s, Terminator’s Ultimate Evil Took the Form of a Cop. In 2019, It’s the U.S. Border Patrol.”

Klimek notes that the Rev-9 managed to take over and ultimately manipulate "the infrastructure and personnel of the Border Patrol, drones and humans alike, as his collaborators. The T-1000 didn’t do that; it was a solo act, a wolf in cop’s clothing. The Rev-9 actually manipulates the CBP as an institution to accomplish his mission. Like Skynet in the prior movies—or Legion, the new malignant A.I. enemy in this one—the CBP is an entity meant to protect us that eventually decides there’s no reason to bother with the chore of discerning friendlies from hostiles."

Whether or not there is intended social commentary in Dark Fate, you can decide for yourself. Ultimately, I don’t think it really matters because regardless of what your opinion is on the film’s take on immigration and the issue of immigration itself, the film’s ties with and allusions to T2 as well as the badass female takeover by Dani, Grace, and Sarah make it truly enjoyable.

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