Latest Terminator Suffers From More Than A Dark Fate. Major Spoilers

Terminator Dark Fate is the latest film in the long-running science fiction/action franchise that sees the return of creator James Cameron as a producer and contributed to the story, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and, of course, star Arnold Schwarzenegger as the famous killer cyborg.  The film has been divisive with fans because of rumors about certain plot points and this as such will affect reception of the film. As an action movie, Terminator Dark Fate is decent with some good action pieces and having Sarah Connor back in action is a treat. Unfortunately, the movie also makes the mistake of killing off a key character in the first few minutes. *What follows below will contain major spoilers, so unless you’ve seen the film, read at your own risk.

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In this case, John Connor, the savior of humanity whose existence was at the core of these movies, is gunned down as a child a few years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day by yet another terminator sent back in time to kill him. Just like that, the events of the first two films are basically rendered pointless!  The film then jumps to 2020 and shows an augmented human called Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is sent back in time to Mexico City to protect a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), who now holds the key to the future of humanity. There is, of course, a terminator also sent back to kill her. This model, called a Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna) is basically two terminators in one, with a metal endoskeleton and a liquid metal exterior that can separate into a second cyborg. Basically, when John and Sarah destroyed Skynet in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it created a new timeline where Skynet was never created, but instead has another artificial intelligence called Legion that comes into existence in 2042 that tries to wipe out humanity. When Grace shows up and escapes with Natalia only to be cornered by the Rev-9, Sarah Connor shows up and helps them to flee.

Sarah Connor reveals that she has been receiving text messages with the locations of terminators who were sent through time and she hunts and destroys them. The three women find the source of these texts, who is revealed to be the same T-800 that killed John, and now goes by the name of Carl. He currently sells drapes and has a wife and adopted son. Carl explains that it had no purpose after killing John and found a woman who was in an abusive relationship and it developed a conscience (!). He has been sending Sarah the texts to give her a purpose. Frankly, this part of the movies was ridiculous! I could see the terminator learning about human behavior similar to T2, but the idea of it raising a son and having a relationship with a woman is just not believable. Anyway, Sarah wants to kill Carl, but is stopped by Grace and Dani, and they reluctantly team up with Carl to take down the Rev-9. Without spoiling the rest of it, the ending is basically a rehash of T2, with a set up for the inevitable sequel.

Some reviews have said that this movie is better than previous sequels, but I disagree. Both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation were better movies because at least they furthered the story in interesting ways. I always wanted the story to continue after the future-set Salvation, where we finally got away from the same trope of terminators being sent back to the past. Time will tell how this latest plot will go forward, if at all, but hopefully it will be something unique. I did like the future war scene at the very beginning that shows terminator endoskeletons rising out of the water and coming onto a beach, but it was all too brief. Another flash forward scene was somewhat interesting which showed how Grace got her augmentations after a battle with tentacled terminator models.

Linda Hamilton’s return as Sarah is great to see as she is now a grizzled warrior mourning her son and determined to get revenge on those who wronged her. Schwarzenegger is fine as “Carl” but the misuse of his character is not a good thing. Seriously, a drapes salesman? But more importantly how was he sent back in time if Skynet was never created? The terminators that Legion creatre in the future are different than the T-800 models. He should not even exist! Also, how does he know about these other terminators and Legion if he is not from that new timeline? It is never made clear.

The main problem with the idea of killing John Connor and just having someone else step in to the role of leader of the resistance is that it makes everything in the original Terminator film and T2 pointless. What if another terminator is sent back and kills Dani? No big deal, someone will just replace her! What happens when Dani and Sarah destroy Legion in the future? Again, so what? Another AI will take over. If they wanted to move on to new characters and settings, I can understand that.

Maybe the studio should have just made a full on reboot with no connection to the other movies. They keep trying to tie these films together and it makes everything awkward and convoluted. Terminator Genisys had this problem, as well. It started with a terminator being sent back to kill Sarah when she was a child, which changed events in the first film and erased the second movie. They should of just had that basic story of Sarah being targeted as a child as the first film in a totally new continuity with no connection at all with any of the other films and It would not have had any baggage to deal with. This is so frustrating since James Cameron developed the story, along with four other writers, and is behind this film. With the other derided Terminator films, it was easy to lay blame on Cameron not being involved. Well, there goes that argument.

As it stands, Terminator: Dark Fate is an okay action film and casual fans will probably enjoy it, but as a continuation of the Terminator franchise, fans will find it somewhat lacking since it makes the franchise’s logic even more confusing.

C.S. Link

Avatar: Looking Back At The Sci-Fi Epic

Avatar Sully and Natiri

After it was announced recently that Avengers: Endgame had finally dethroned Avatar to become the all-time box office champion, everyone was whooping and hollering in joy. Sure, we’re entitled to feel that way and celebrate because Avengers: Endgame is so well regarded. But lost in all the hoopla was how dismissive many people were toward director James Cameron’s film which came out ten years ago. Yes, we all are entitled to our own opinions about everything, but some were too quick to put down Avatar, which is not warranted.

Even when Avatar came out in December 2009, there were those who were very critical towards the sci-fi epic. A common gripe was that its story was weak and derived from the “going native” trope, which is why Avatar was sometimes called Dances With Smurfs. Another critique was its too-on-the-nose environmental message or its simplistic evil capitalists vs. noble savages motif. These are valid points, but Avatar should not be disregarded so casually.

jake rides giant banshee

For its time, Avatar captured the world’s imagination thanks to the rich and immersive effects and world that James Cameron and his team of effects wizards created. Almost everything about the world of Pandora (a habitable moon orbiting a distant gas giant a few lights years from Earth) looked alien. From the six-legged creatures to the ultraviolet forests to the floating mountains. This was a landscape never before seen in live action. It was and still is breathtaking to take in.

While the story may be too familiar, it does resonate and has relevance to our times. It was reported back then that some viewers experienced a type of depression because they realized how unlike Pandora the Earth was with its pollution and disappearing nature. Now, climate change and other environmental concerns have become a more tangible problem and we can appreciate the idea of a pristine, untouched-by-man world. This is also inspiring many to look for other worlds and can be seen as a drive for the new upcoming space race. Avatar showed many the possibilities of what lies beyond our solar system.

Of course, the special effects and 3D technology are still unrivaled to this day. Cameron is known to be a perfectionist and insisted on the best usage of effects technology and 3D. This was why it took so long for the film to be made and this goes for the sequels that are only now being filmed. The result of Cameron’s strict standards was that audiences were floored by the stunning 3D and effects that gave the feeling that we were truly in an alien world. The 3D technology isn’t cheap and the top dollars spent on Avatar shows, and it lead to a new boom in the use of 3D in films. Sadly, much of the 3D in other films couldn’t compare and that is because truly impressive 3D has to be filmed with special cameras and is very expensive. Most films that use 3D these days are actually using a conversion process. Much of the time, it’s done well, but it cannot compare to Avatar.

Many critics state that the film isn’t anything without the effects or the 3D. That is not so. Avatar is actually very entertaining with exciting battle scenes and genuine moments of awe. The story is basic but effective; in the future, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former vet, takes an assignment on an alien moon being mined by a large company. He is to infiltrate the moon’s native sapient species, who are called the Na’vi, and get intel to use against them. He ingratiates himself by having his consciousness fused into a cloned version of the Na’vi. Over time, he comes to empathize with the Na’vi and eventually joins their side to fight off the human invaders. We have seen this story before, most famously in Dances With Wolves, but it is effectively reimagined in a sci-fi trapping that works for this epic. The film is still awe inspiring and packs some emotional weight. Just watching that final battle of humans against the Na’vi is so thrilling and inspiring.

It has been said that Avatar has not remained in the public eye for very long. That is debatable, the film represents the pushing of boundaries and a good example of this is with the land it inspired in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. In the land themed to Avatar, which opened in 2017, visitors were and still are awestruck by how alien and majestic the land looks with its Pandoran forestry and even more with its headline ride that simulates what it is like to be a Na’vi riding a flying banshee. Interest has been renewed for the property and although cynics like to say that no one cares about the upcoming sequels, it is foolish to bet against James Cameron. Undoubtedly, he will create another winning sci-fi epic, the likes that he is famous for. Avatar 2 or whatever it will be called may not supplant Avengers: Endgame but it will most likely be a big hit and help keep Avatar in the public eye. Maybe by then, the original film will be looked at more fondly.

The Challenge of Alita: Battle Angel

As people flock to theaters to see Captain Marvel and rave or criticize the film, there is another woman-centric sci-fi film that has caught the admiration of many others. But that film is not pulling in the box office dollars of the MCU film. That is not an indication of its quality, however. In fact, many who have seen Alita: Battle Angel have come away convinced it is the better film that deserved a better fate.

Right now, even though the Robert Rodriguez film has been out for over a month, it is too soon to declare Alita: Battle Angel a box office disappointment. To date it has grossed nearly $400 million dollars. Sure that is peanuts to what other films have pulled in, but it is not that bad. The film’s supposed budget was $170 million, so technically it made its money back and has a tiny profit. So, is that enough to get a sequel?

Fans of the cult film (and that is what Alita: Battle Angel is at this point, though it is worthy of that honor) are clamoring for a sequel, especially given how the film sets up future films. The problem is that the amount of money it has earned probably won’t be enough for a sequel to be greenlit. There is also the fact, that as of two days from now, 20th Century Fox, the film studio that released Alita: Battle Angel, will belong to Disney. Who knows if the House of the Mouse will be interested in pursuing a followup film. They have other properties that will generate more money for them.

Then again, we have seen cult favorites build enough of a following to convince studios to take another crack at the property. One recent example is Pacific Rim. That film was released in 2013 and was not a hit film, but it quickly developed a fan base, not unlike Alita. As the film did well in home media, it picked up more fans and demands for a sequel increased. Last year, a sequel was finally released, Pacific Rim: Uprising. Although the film was way inferior to the first Pacific Rim, it did demonstrate that we can always hold out hope for followups to non-hit films. This has happened with John Wick, The Boondock Saints, and others.

Bear in mind that this is not a guarantee. Films like Serenity and Dredd had devoted fans that tried to push awareness of the films so that sequels could be made, but they never came to be. Plus, while it is important to see the James Cameron-produced film in theaters now, it is equally, if not more important to buy the film when it is available in home media. That would demonstrate the lasting appeal of the cyberpunk action film, which is surprisingly faithful in spirit to the manga that inspired it. That would be a critical challenge for Alita: Battle Angel. The fan base has to be persistent and vocal. Then there is the matter of getting James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, and others to return to the stunning futuristic world that they created. Another issue is that if a sequel is commissioned will it get the same care and budget of the original? An easier way to convince execs to finance a sequel is if its budget can be controlled. That might mean that Alita’s next adventure might have to take place in the floating city of Zalem, which would look eerily like modern-day society. It might work given the decrepit state of the world below shown in Alita. In that case can it be as faithful to the manga as the original?

This is all speculation at this point. Go see the film if it is still playing. Despite its narrative flaws Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning cinematic experience that better captures a hero’s journey much better than the other superhero film out now in theaters.

Experience The World Of Avatar

By now everyone, especially tourists and sci-fi fans, have heard of the recent opening of Pandora-The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This land devoted to James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar has been gestating for several years and puzzled many people. After all, why would Disney pour so much resources into creating a new themed land based on a film that came out last decade? Worldwide, Avatar is the highest grossing film to date, but it has not resonated deeply with most of the general public. Theme park and Disney fans wondered about the quality of the land and its attractions; for some time, The Walt Disney Company has faced criticism in recent years for neglecting its theme parks in the U.S. and Universal Studios has stolen Disney’s thunder with its hugely successful Harry Potter lands. Last month, the company formerly announced a slew of new rides and attractions for its parks and Pandora, which opened on May 27th of this year is the opening salvo.

pandora entrance

After finally being able to visit the land and experience the attractions, I can honestly say that it was worth the wait. Pandora-The World of Avatar is so deeply immersive and stunning with details and it is the best themed land in Walt Disney World. The Disney imagineers have taken great pains to recreate the primordial world of Avatar and their efforts have paid off. Part of the appeal in this land is the land itself. It will take several visits to truly take in everything and the land’s nooks and crannies are begging to be examined in detail. Huge and beautiful alien plants are intermixed with our Earthly flora and the landscaping is highlighted by the jaw-dropping Hallelujah Mountains that seemingly float over our heads. It is fun trying to figure out how the imagineers pulled off this trick, but to be honest, I’d rather not know since the revelation will spoil the illusion. These mountains are a bonafide engineering marvel and what makes them so imposing are their majestic beauty and roaring waterfalls that cascade down their sides.

Hallelujah Mountains Pandora world of avatar

Completing the immersive experience are the attractions themselves. There are only two of them in Pandora, but they are absolute must-rides. The best one is Flight of Passage, which everyone fortunate to ride will attest is one of the best rides ever created, even contending with classic theme park rides like the Spider-Man and Harry Potter rides in Universal. How should Flight of Passage be described? Basically, it is a simulator experience that is more immersive than most simulators since riders are given individual ride vehicles that are mounted like motorcycles.  The ride’s story is that you are linked to a Nav’i avatar that is riding the flying animals called mountain banshees. Thanks to state-of-the-art 3D and well-timed movements, I felt like I was actually riding a mountain banshee as seen in Avatar. The scenes in front of you are panoramic and the motions trick you at many times into thinking you’re diving through Pandora’s tropical forests, mountain ranges and beaches. Yes, there are many instances where you fly over the alien world’s seas, which provide distinct clues as to the sequels’ content. The ride even features new alien animals to marvel over and hope they appear in the Avatar sequels. As I flew over Pandora on my banshee, I actually wished James Cameron would hurry up with the followup films!

Comparing Flight of Passage to Nav’i River Journey is unfair. The former ride is a genuine thrill ride and worthy of being designated an E-ticket attraction. Nav’i River Journey is decidedly more tranquil and relaxed. It is a short boat ride taking you along Pandora’s river at night. Wondrous and unworldly sights and sounds surrounded me and made me feel like I was navigating the waterways of this alien world. The bioluminescent flora and fauna really pop out and my group and I had a joyous time picking out them out. Do not be put off by some reviews about the gentle ride. After the intensity and excitement of riding a banshee vicariously through a Nav’i, this boat trip is a nice way to settle down.

navi shaman

The complaints are probably due to the long wait times for the Nav’i River Journey, which can be more than an hour. Flight of Passage has even longer wait times (I’ve seen times posted as long as five hours during the day!), but since it’s a thrill ride many feel this justifies the long wait. Personally, I would never spend so much time just to get on a ride. If you are unable to get a FastPass and you are not staying on Disney property the only decent option is to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom an hour before it opens. This guarantees that you will be able to get on the rides and be done in less than an hour. Or wait until the hoopla dies down, which probably will be when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in two years.

In many ways, Pandora-The World of Avatar is a good primer for Disney in crafting the next generation of immersive lands and attractions. Even if you are not able to get on the rides or are a fan of Avatar, it is worth visiting the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom just to take in the ambiance. Plus, it gives us an idea of how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be like when it is finally unveiled. Regardless, Pandora-The World of Avatar and its Flight of Passage and Nav’i River Journey are definite must-dos for your next visit to Disney World, they already are for me.

José Soto

Hope For Terminator Fans?

terminator-james-cameron

News that Terminator creator James Cameron will be getting the rights back to the iconic film franchise in 2019 bodes well for hopes that the series will get back to its roots and high mark from the first two movies. Recent reports indicate that Cameron will be handing the directorial reins over to Deadpool director Tim Miller, which should also bring some credibility back to the series after the less than enthusiastic response to 2015’s Terminator Genisys partial reboot. Miller directed the very popular superhero film in 2016 and is a rising star in Hollywood. The fact that Cameron will be the creative force behind the scenes gives the whole project instant respectability with fans and will hopefully bring about another huge movie that will have the Terminator storyline make some kind of sense. The whole idea of John Connor being a villain, which was a major plot point of the last movie, is just wrong, so maybe this new entry will rectify the whole situation.

I enjoyed the third and fourth films in the franchise, but do admit that they did not come close the level established by Cameron’s entries. He had nothing to do with those films or with Genisys, so the idea of him bringing a new film to life is a very good omen. Right now it is not known if Arnold Schwarzenegger will have any involvement or if the movie will be another reboot or continue where earlier films left off, but in any case Terminator fans seem to have something to look forward too in the coming years. It would be even better if Cameron himself was slated to direct this movie, but alas he is busy making four sequels to his Avatar franchise, the first of which will supposedly come out in 2018. This means he will be tied up until at least 2023 according to his announcements, but at the rate that preproduction is going it could be another 50 years until we see another Avatar film. In any case, Terminator fans have been waiting for years for more great films featuring their favorite killer cyborgs from the future and hopefully soon, they will be coming…they will be back.

C.S. Link