WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate, in theaters now.
Other than the titular character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator franchise is known for one thing: one of cinema's most badass female characters, Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor. She's the epitome of female empowerment, with Terminator 2: Judgement Day stepping up her arc from the original movie in the '80s which saw her being protected by Kyle Reese as they hid from the T-800.
However, Terminator: Dark Fate kicks it up a notch further with a trio of soldiers that actually shape this movie as the franchise's most feminist entry ever.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines did have Kristanna Loken as the killer T-X, while Terminator: Genisys used Emilia Clarke as a younger Sarah Connor, but these characters didn't have the nuance, impact or the emotional draw as Hamilton's heroine, which director Tim Miller smartly uses as the pivot of this film. Sarah's once more killing Terminators, only this time she's not reactive, she's a proactive hunter finding them after they got lost in the time-stream and are dropping to Earth.
However, there are a lot more dimensions in terms of female power with Grace (Mackenzie Davis) also arriving in the present as an augmented human/Terminator hybrid trying to save the new messiah. This really changes up the dynamic of the series as we're accustomed to just men going back in time to save the day. While Sarah's key, Grace also gets a lot more screen time as the bodyguard for Dani (Natalia Reyes).
They form a sisterly bond which evolves into more of a motherly one as we discover Dani actually saves her in 2042, a dark future where Legion replaces Skynet and a young Grace is rescued and nurtured into a warrior by Dani, before coming back to make sure her leader isn't snuffed out in the past. Grace's battle sequences against the terrifying Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) are remarkable, fashioning her as not just someone skilled with guns or behind the wheel, but as a true combatant, using everything from martial arts to chains to metal rods as javelins in what's the ultimate bodyguard. And she keeps emphasizing that is all learned from Dani two decades down the line, with Dani finding runways and taking them under her wing, creating a legion of her own.
Dani's arc of growth is brilliant as she transforms from the damsel in distress to someone Grace inspires and Sarah ultimately trains as a protege. Dani even comforts Carl, the T-800 played by Schwarzenegger, to help redeem himself and as we find out, she has even more agency than it first appears as she isn't a vessel merely housing a male savior for the future, Dani is the future.
This a smart stroke by Miller as she isn't just a tool for a "Mary pregnancy" as Sarah says, and while it's nice having Schwarzenegger's 'bot back in the mix, this approach guarantees the spotlight isn't taken off the trio of women and their importance. They're the main focus, reiterating the series has moved past the days of old, especially as John Connor's no longer involved. Having Sarah's loss of John also teaching Carl about parenthood and humanity is also a very poetic touch.
As Grace sacrifices herself to kill the Rev-9 and puts Dani on the path to her true destiny in the finale, it's remarkable to see this sacrificial arc not given to the T-800 as many would have expected. Letting Carl stand in the background doesn't overpower the adventures of these women and Miller allows them to kick ass and save the world with their own style, not controlled by men.
All they really needed was just the support of each other. Sure, Carl lent a hand, but they did the heavy lifting which brings Sarah's story full-circle from T2, and also makes her and Dani the two hunters literally forming the army of tomorrow.
Directed by Tim Miller and produced by James Cameron, Terminator: Dark Fatestars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes and Diego Boneta, in theatres now.