The latest Terminator movie, Dark Fate, struggles to give satisfying emotional arcs to its large cast of characters. Writer Sara Lynn Michener says it doesn’t help that a large chunk of the movie is wasted on a bombastic action sequence set aboard an exploding cargo plane.
“I think there’s this idea with, especially, male directors where they get really excited about trying to top what’s been done before, but do it even bigger and better and more Michael Bay-ish,” Michener says in Episode 386 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And I’m like, really? Are we really doing that in 2019? It’s very upsetting.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that the cargo plane sequence was silly, and stands in sharp contrast to the sense of realism captured in the franchise’s best installments, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
“To my mind, the power of those movies comes from the juxtaposition of these creepy robots from the future set against this completely believable everyday reality,” he says. “And when you make it evil robots from the future in sort of a superhero milieu, it just doesn’t work. There’s no contrast anymore.”
Over-the-top action scenes aren’t just eye-rolling, they’re also expensive. Screenwriter Rafael Jordan warns that needlessly bloated budgets are placing unrealistic expectations on sci-fi movies. “The last three [Terminator] installments all made around $400 million, and based on first weekend grosses this is right in line with that,” he says. “There have been a whole series of films—the recent Star Trek films, Alita, Tron: Legacy—that make $400 million and are deemed failures, and this is just going to be another one of those. Hollywood has to figure out a way to make $400 million a viable amount of money again.”
Dark Fate represents Hollywood’s third attempt to continue the story of Terminator 2, after the 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the 2008 TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Science fiction author Anthony Ha says that the scaled-down TV version arguably surpasses its big budget rivals in terms of storytelling.
“Obviously a lot of IP is moving to TV,” he says. “So if [Terminator] were to come back—and I’m not necessarily convinced it will—I think it might come back as a TV show.”
Listen to the complete interview with Sara Lynn Michener, Rafael Jordan, and Anthony Ha in Episode 386 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Sara Lynn Michener on James Cameron:
“James Cameron has this really charming idea of feminism, and his only real issue with that is that he hasn’t really updated it since the ’90s. I mean, when I saw Alita: Battle Angel, it felt like a wonderful movie that came out in 1995—other than the effects. … But he has this strong female obsession thing, and I think that unfortunately there’s sort of this strong female thing where it ends up being this commercialized ‘Megan Fox happens to know how to repair motorcycles’ thing, and it’s always this super-sexualized idea of a strong woman, and James Cameron’s women were not really that. And so that resonated with me very strongly. I loved The Abyss, I loved Aliens, I loved the Terminator movies. So it was a very formative part of my upbringing.”
Rafael Jordan on screenwriting:
“In general what happens is you wait and wait to get a job, and then the minute you’re hired it’s an extreme rush. There’s never enough time, and that’s the unfortunate thing, because the minute they call you they’re like, ‘Hey, so we’re finally greenlit, and we need the script immediately to secure the bond and the financing, so can you give it to us in a week?’ And you’re like, ‘What? No. I mean, I can give you something in a week, but are you going to guarantee I’ve got time to fix it and make it right?’ And sometimes you get that time, sometimes you don’t. … But trust me, these writers are pulling their hair out, and sometimes they’re sequestering themselves in hotel rooms for six to eight weeks if they get that luxury. But they’re definitely trying to make it better, it’s just such an uphill battle for quality, always.”
Anthony Ha on the Rev-9:
“My sense is that none of the sequels—including Dark Fate—has found a way to top the T-1000. I feel like that was pretty close to the Platonic ideal of a Terminator villain. But this is an interesting variation, and the visuals I think are very striking, and it definitely makes for some interesting action scenes, because you’ve essentially got two different Terminators with one brain going after [people]. I wish they’d done a little bit more to explore the powers of the Rev-9. … Like if [the two forms] had complementary powers, so the soft version is really good at insinuating himself into different situations, but the skeleton is there for brute strength. Something that makes it seem more distinctive.”
David Barr Kirtley on Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“The movie kind of lost me when they meet Arnold Schwarzenegger. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s great, but I already saw him as the good Terminator in three other movies. It’s been done, I hate the corny humor, and I felt like once he enters the story, it becomes much too focused on him rather than developing the relationships between the other characters. … When I saw the trailers, that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to be in this, I assumed it was going to be a cameo—that they go to the cabin, and they meet Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he tells them whatever he tells them, and then they move on. I didn’t think he was going to join the cast. And I think probably anything positive about his inclusion in this movie probably could have been incorporated into a cameo.”