Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

darkfWe’re currently in a period -have been for quite some time, actually, and it seems there’s no end in sight- where pop culture seems obsessed with the past. With re-visiting old icons. Its actually been going on in film for so long now that one could be forgiven for thinking its just always been this way, that this is normal and entirely intellectually ‘sound’. Its gotten to the point at which, having remade and rebooted so many huge successful properties of the past, attention has turned to those that failed first time around; I still have to pinch myself that anyone deemed it a good idea to make a sequel to Blade Runner, box-office flop that it was. News has been circulating recently that John Carpenter’s 1982 flop The Thing is being remade/rebooted. I suppose so many years has gone by that the financial failures of those two 1982 duds has been softened by decades of ancillary sales on various video formats and platforms, and their critical reappraisal won’t have hurt either. But the performance of BR2049 should always be a sobering reminder of the dangers, even if it turned out (in my eyes, anyway) a quite brilliant film possibly equal to the original. So you know, maybe a remake/reboot of The Thing is not the monstrously horrible idea that my gut instinct thinks it is.

The Terminator franchise is one of those properties that Hollywood just hasn’t been able to quite leave alone, but by the time Terminator: Dark Fate arrived one had to wonder whether film-makers were rebooting/continuing the original two films or the successive sequels/reboots. It had gotten to the point at which my apathy left me curious about it, but not enough to actually shell out any coins to watch it. Which might be why the film failed -with a slightly higher budget than BR2049 it barely surpassed that films likewise dismal worldwide box-office, perhaps some measure of just how little any of those old movies actually resonate with modern audiences, no matter how good/bad/popular they were originally.

To be brutally honest, Terminator: Dark Fate is a totally unnecessary movie. Its like Terminator is some Hollywood corpse that keeps on getting kicked around, or which some mad Hollywood studio executive scientist keeps subjecting to lightning screaming “Its alive! Its alive!”until finally realising, no, its still quite dead and kicks it into a dark corner again until some other Peter Cushing lookalike decides its worth a shot.

Maybe this time is the last time. Maybe this time they’ll let it lie.

Its not that Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad film – well, maybe it is, but at least it isn’t terrible- its just that its so redundant, just bringing back the old tropes and stunts and, in this case, two of the original actors/characters. The whole franchise has gotten so wrapped up in various timelines and realities and paradoxes that the first thing this film does is wipe out everything post T2 in one brutal opening sequence to, as it were, simply clear the state. Unfortunately at the same time it also pulls an Alien 3, by pretty much negating everything in T2 itself, too. Which is either very brave or incredibly stupid- some Alien fans still get dangerously fluctuating blood pressure issues when Alien 3 is ever raised in a discussion.  For the record, I’m a fan of Alien 3 and quite like the sheer audacity of what it did to the characters who survived Aliens, but I have always been able to appreciate the ire that fans invested in the characters of Aliens felt at the time and indeed still do. Intellectually it wholly undermines the events of that film, threatening to negate any investment in that film whenever re-watched (possibly fans instead watch and stubbornly (wisely?) ignore the fact that Alien 3 exists at all- something that likely quite a few original Star Wars trilogy fans are attempting in this Disney Star Wars era.

darkf3What Terminator: Dark Fate proposes is that all the efforts of Sarah Connor and Arnie’s reprogrammed Terminator to protect her son John from the shape-shifting T-1000 and destroy Skynet were all for nothing, because in the first five minutes another Terminator (several, it seems, having been sent into the past to kill John Connor because, well, redundancy) comes along and kills John shortly following the events of T2. Its perhaps saying something about the inevitability of fate and AI that although Skynet has been stopped, it is instead simply delaying the same Apocalyptic events, this time orchestrated by another, later AI entitled Legion.

Now on the one hand, this is a fascinating proposition- similarly to the mythology of the BSG reboot, it seems to be suggesting that whatever we do, humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistake, in that the drive/forward momentum of scientific advancement we are always destined to create machines and then AI which, when sentient, always turns against us. In BSG, what has happened before is destined to happen again, a cycle of advance and disaster. So that defeating Skynet in T2 is always futile because some other scientist is going to eventually stumble upon the knowledge that leads to AI and another Skynet- in Dark Fate‘s case, an AI called Legion. It suggests a particularly dark viewpoint, the nihilistic view that humanity is doomed whatever we do. This isn’t really dwelt upon, more the pity, because Dark Fate lacks the darkness of the first Terminator film in particular The one thing I did appreciate, is that Dark Fate actually offers a possible break in the cycle: the issue with T2 was that it ended Skynet but not the industrial/economic drive for scientific progress that led to Skynet (because Judgement Day never happened,  the lesson of Skynet couldn’t be heeded by the public/powers that be). Dark Fate is never about stopping Judgement Day, it happens eventually, and Dani is the leader to lead the resistance and defeat Legion. One would suppose that afterwards, whatever the world is like, its one in which scientists won’t be so eager to create AI that threatens the Apocalypse.

So, decades after John has been killed and Sarah lost in semi-drunken rage, two new Terminators arrive from the future- well, one, as it turns out, is not quite a Terminator, but the other is a black-liquid T-1000 variant obviously up to no good- and the basic plot of the Terminator movies is up and running again. The AI of the ‘Future End of the World (Delayed)’ has identified the human that usurps it in its future and has sent a deadly assassin into the past to kill her and ensure it isn’t, er, usurped. And, er, someone else has then sent someone into the past to ensure she, er, isn’t.

darkf2Its like the very definition of reboot. And of course, it perhaps reflects the current obsession of our times that the hero that can save humanity is a woman not a man, and that the ‘good’ Terminator sent into the past (actually an augmented human, named Grace) is a woman too. I’m not concerned with the sexual politics, its boring and largely irrelevant except for those that choose to make a Big Deal about it on YouTube etc (afterall, we had Ripley and Sarah Connor herself kicking ass in films 40-odd years ago so its really the same old, same old). But the gender choices do impact the casting, and its that casting that chiefly damages this film. On the one hand, Mackenzie Davis as Grace is great – she’s excellent at the physical work in the action sequences and she is a very fine actress so is emotive and is, really, the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, while Natalia Reyes, who plays Dani, the Dark Fate variant of John Connor, is probably a good actress in her own right, she never at all convinces as the future saviour of the human race. She doesn’t have the hardness or physical attributes to really convince that way, particularly (and most damningly) in the future sequences in which we see her leading the resistance against Legion. Maybe it was an attempt to cast against type, but it doesn’t work, at least it didn’t for me. To be honest, it was almost laughable, and her future leader proves even more unconvincing than her present-day unwitting factory worker destined for Greatmess. As if ‘anyone’ can be The One.

Arnie, of course, is back, as the Terminator that assassinated John at the films opening but is later redeemed by living with humans and getting a conscience. Yeah, I know, even typing that feels stupid, but its one of those leaps of logic that Dark Fate inflicts upon us in its strange insistence to stay positive about everything- the film really misses the darkness of the first film. This Terminator seems to have even adopted a family and had success selling Drapes. Excuse me while I barf… I don’t know. Maybe they should have written a backstory of Sarah hunting the Terminator down for revenge, capturing and reprogramming it as her robot-slave or something, or maybe that would paint her in a bad light. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton makes a welcome return as the great haunted anti-heroine, but again, she utterly lacks any chemistry with Reyes as Dani, I mean, there is literally nothing there.

Its like the film lacks any emotional depth or profundity at all, and that Reyes is this strange Black Hole when the character really needs to be an icon, a gravitational force of depth and substance. Only Mackenzie Davis seems to make any real connection with Reyes or Hamilton or anyone, really. Arnie is pretty much wasted, he gets a few funny gags/one-liners but its not as if the film has a dark mood to alleviate. Without the emotional connections there really can’t be any drama, and some of the decidedly ropy CGI work in the stunts with digital characters substituting for the actors and their stunt doubles while plainly necessary is so poorly done, and sticks out so badly, it just seems to turn it into an animated movie so minus any real tension.

Its bad enough that we’ve largely seen so much of this before, but the films tendency to try to do action sequences up there with the daftest Marvel Studios spandex hero nonsense just makes it, well, silly, totally lacking any weight or depth. It really needed, in my opinion, to return to the physical reality of the first movie, and a violence that looked real and hurt, away from the Marvel stuff that threatens to infect everything now.

Dark Fate is not a complete disaster, but its really not particularly good either, completely negating any reason for its existence, even if it could argue for one in the first place. Did we need another Terminator movie? If we did, we needed one better than Dark Fate.

Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

Last Week: Battlestar’s coming back

bsgThe relentless shift towards streaming and the rush for new content has seen providers looking at their IP portfolios. News broke last week that NBC Universal, launching a streaming service (titled Peacock) in April 2020, has decided to reboot Battlestar Galactica for what will be a second time. Glen Larson’s original was a pretty blatant Star Wars knock-off in 1978, that is most interesting today for indicating what was the wall of what television could manage back then, and Moore’s 2003 – 2008 reboot was an indication of how sophisticated tv sci-fi had become. Maybe a 2020 reboot will indicate how creatively bereft everything has become, or how general quality has to be diluted by so much content being made now for so many networks/streams- how is anybody in Hollywood out of work anymore?

I must confess I was pretty horrified at the news- I love Ron Moore’s incarnation of BSG, its possibly my favourite sci-fi show. The idea of someone (apparently the guy behind the new show is Mr Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail) going back  to Battlestar and relaunching it in some way is depressing but not surprising. Everyone seems averse to new properties and sees obvious advantages to going back to old stuff, either for nostalgia’s sake or ease of marketing something already familiar or established. I can’t really highlight the creative apathy in this because Moore’s BSG was itself a reboot, and it was great, so I’m sort of championing the very thing I find so disheartening.

But why BSG? Alas, its simply because its something that NBC Universal owns, simple as that. A property that would probably actually benefit from a modern reboot would be something like Babylon 5, but as that is a Warner property, that is only likely to come if the WarnerMedia streaming platform (itself launching next year) deems it a IP worthy of a second try. The caveat I have about B5 is replacing any of its cast, most of whom were pretty amazing- it’s akin to trying to find someone to fill Leonard Nimoy’s shoes casting Spock, which has been troublesome indeed for Paramount and CBS in various later Treks- and of course that’s also a sticking point for any ‘new’ BSG.  Sam Esmail has actually tweeted to disgruntled fans that his project is not a reboot of the Moore series and possibly sounds like something in the BSG ‘universe’ in a similar way to HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series is a spin-off from both graphic novel and movie.

Its really not so much creatively cannibalising an old property but using its IP, and its mythology, as a shortcut- and of course being able to use its title as a recognisable marketing tool. Its still a fairly lousy way of making ostensibly ‘new’ content, but its something we are pretty used to, as Hollywood has been doing it for years, decades, in all manner of movies.  I would much prefer something genuinely new, something none of us have ever seen before, but as the streaming giants bring us ‘new’ shows like Westworld, Watchmen, Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Lord of the Rings etc, I guess I should just appreciate shows like The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Carnival Row, The Boys, Umbrella Academy etc all the more. It clearly isn’t all about reboots and remakes and sequels.

God knows there is such a lot of content out there. Time is the one thing these streaming channels seem to be ignoring- just how much time do they think Joe Public has to actually watch all this stuff? I cannot keep up with it as it is, and the idea that I’m somehow expected to subscribe to more in order to watch more… well, surely everyone has a limit. Especially for those of us who would appreciate the time just to rewatch some of our old faves; I tried a few years ago to rewatch Moore’s BSG throughout and gave up somewhere in season two, and have other Blu-ray box-sets (Chuck, Fringe etc) that I would love to go back to but haven’t even tried.

It will be interesting to see how the various television platforms, new and old, fair in the coming years. I’m sure some will be lost along the way, and its pretty hard to see Disney+ floundering so I suppose it may be a case of the old networks and satellite/cable platforms going the way of the dodo. Along the way we will be getting so much to watch, including a new Battlestar Galactica, as long, I assume, that we will be willing to pay extra for it, and that’s the big question. Its not enough to read that new shows are coming- alongside the news of everything coming I have to keep an eye out for where its coming from, to know if I will even be able to watch it. I’ve ‘missed’ so many shows not because I’m not interested or haven’t the time- rather just because I either haven’t access to it or am not willing to pay for it. The cynic in me assumes that the various torrents will all be busy next year. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Bad to the Bone? Breaking Bad

bbad2017.66/67/68: Breaking Bad Seasons 3 – 5

My colleague at work who lent me his DVD boxsets warned me not to expect much of the final season. “I didn’t like where it went- I thought it spoiled the whole thing,” he told me. Well, endings of tv shows are funny things, and  some work for some people, and they don’t for others. I’ve remarked on this before, in shows like BSG I’ve really enjoyed what I felt were satisfying endings- in shows like Dexter, not so much. Of course, it’s impossible for showrunners to keep everybody happy, but I think for the ending of a show to be satisfying, it has to be honest to the internal logic of the show and how it started. As if you can follow an imaginary through-line from episode one to episode xx and think, yeah, that makes sense, it works.

In the case of Breaking Bad, contrary to my work colleague, I think it works. Indeed, in many ways it was the only way it could end, and I figure that as I’ve watched this series so long after everyone else has, spoilers can be cast aside. Walter had to die- he was dying from the very start, and it was the cause of everything he did. Whether he died the way he should have, well, I guess that’s the crux of the argument for fans. Did he deserve a noble death, a death with purpose, or a death dying of cancer in prison? Was he a good guy or a bad guy, and what is the morality in the ending of the show? We are clearly supposed to be rooting for him from the first episode, but by the final episode, are we supposed to be hating him? If so, then Bryan Cranston is possibly too sympathetic/charismatic an actor for that to fully convince.

For me that’s the biggest question of the whole series- was Walter a good guy caught in a bad situation, just digging himself deeper all the time he tried to dig himself out of trouble, or was he a bad guy trying to justify his actions by using his family as an excuse. Frankly, was he enjoying it too much, or was it a case of the end justifying the means?  There was certainly a tipping-point in season three when he just seemed to go over some edge. I think it would be fascinating to watch it all over again, see season one through the eyes of someone who has seen season five, with the almost Godlike-perspective of Fate, seeing the beginning while knowing where things go, how actions unfold and everything unravels.

Not that I think that necessarily has to make sense, like there’s some moral high ground. In some of the best moments of Breaking Bad, it seemed deliberately morally obscure, as if I was watching Chaos Theory in action. Sometimes I thought that maybe the showrunners were throwing the various season’s arc-cards up in the air and seeing where they fell. It was exciting but also inherently flawed at times- the ambiguity was great but possibly counter to traditionally satisfying storytelling.

Regards Breaking Bad‘s greatness, sure, it’s a great show, but counter to some claims likely not the best show ever made (a ridiculous claim to make of any tv show, really). There were a few twists and turns that didn’t feel right, a few character turns that didn’t fully convince, in order to enable a run of five seasons. I think I tighter run of three seasons would have enabled a firmer, more realistic story.  But that’s being picky. Breaking Bad is a superior television series, indeed one of the very best ever made. Some individual episodes were sheer perfection and the show always managed to deliver some twists and turns I didn’t see coming (no small feat, really, considering all the tv shows and movies I’ve seen over the years). The cast were terrific, and I’m really keen to discover if prequel spin-off Better Call Saul is worth watching, if it is, then yay, another treat to look forward to!

Breaking Bad is clearly another case for the argument that we are living in a Golden Age of television, and that the best television shows are of far better quality than anything we see at the cinema now. Praise enough, there, I think.

The Fall of Apollo

hatch1God, I’m really getting a bit peeved at having to write these memoriam posts. The news yesterday that Richard Hatch, the actor likely most famous for his role as Apollo in the 1970’s Battlestar Galactica tv series, died on Tuesday was another of those sobering moments that is becoming all too frequent these days. Must definitely be a sign of growing old and the cultural icons of my generation inevitably getting older- it was almost a shock to learn that Hatch was 71. I thought he was younger than that, but now that I think about it, it just makes sense, considering that BSG dates back to 1978.

So thats Carrie Fisher, Miguel Ferrer, John Hurt… and now Richard Hatch, in the space of just two months. I know other celebrities and authors etc have passed away in that timespan too, but on this blog I’m just noting the passing of those cultural icons that made some impact on me growing up. And I’m doing so all too frequently.

While he will be best remembered for playing Apollo in the original BSG, I much preferred him in Ron Moore’s BSG reboot, in which he played the terrorist/politician Tom Zarek, a  very complicated role which he gave a very nuanced and impressive performance in a recurring part through the series. Compared to the frankly one-dimensional part of Apollo, Zarek was a dark and conflicted character that you couldn’t really trust but you really wanted to be able to like. Maybe a part of that latter was his Apollo personna bleeding through. In anycase, I always enjoyed seeing him turn up in the BSG reboot and it always signalled an interesting episode.

I recently started a re-run of the BSG reboot, and not long ago watched the first season episode that featured the introduction of his Tom Zarek character. Yeah, he was just fascinating to watch in that, and of course he just got better in the role as he returned during the series. I must say he surprised me; I thought his casting was a bit of an obvious publicity gimmick at the time, and a clever one at that as the reboot struggled to gain a reputation and justification in the eyes of fans of the original show. But beyond that publicity thing I didn’t see much point, but I was proved wrong. I really didn’t expect to see him so good in such a different role, but he pulled it off and yes, I was always glad to see him turn up again later in the series. He certainly went up in my estimation as an actor.