REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate

THE STORY

Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.

THE REVIEW

There is no fate but what we make.

Kyle Reese

Like Skynet sending various Terminators through different points in time to kill John Connor, producers have tried to reignite audiences interest in the franchise by sending us three different reboot/sequels.

After the first sequel – Terminator 2: Judgment Day – the franchise has always struggled because in reality, it shouldn’t have even been a franchise in the first place. There is nothing to indicate from the first one that the story should have continued.

Man is sent back in time to save the woman whose child will grow up to be the savior of humanity and leader of a resistance against an army of deadly cyborgs. Man and woman fall in love, man ends up being the father of the resistance leader and dies saving her. Cycle repeats.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the only successful one because director James Cameron understood that it needed a 180° turn from the original (it also helps being one of the greatest action films). Whereas the first was a sci-fi horror, the second became a sci-fi action epic. More importantly, he provided a definite ending to Sarah Connor’s story.

But now, after the failures of Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines, Salvation and Genysis, original director James Cameron (as producer and co-writer) and new director Tim Miller (Deadpool) aim to bring the franchise back to its former glory with Terminator: Dark Fate, the third reboot in the series.

And with such a pedigree behind the camera, one could easily believe that mistakes would not be repeated and the outcome would be very different.

It’s not.

This brings good and bad news. Good news is that if you enjoyed the past three sequels, you’ll most likely enjoy this one as it’s really more of the same. Bad news is that’s really more of the same.

For a film that has tried so hard to distance itself from previous installments, it’s baffling that Cameron and Miller repeat plot points, character beats, a villain, its visual styles and even the conclusion of one of the past sequels.

Even though I believe every movie should be analyzed as its own entity, it’s still disappointing to see these artists show such little imagination. Of course, if you’re just returning to the franchise after Terminator 2, then all this will be really new, though perhaps not particularly exciting.

Of the few things it has to offer that past movies did not is the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and she is easily the highlight of the film. Effortlessly slipping back into the role that made her famous, this Sarah Connor is an unhinged, vengeful warrior and Hamilton is so good you feel like she’s been playing this character for the last 28 years.

The other high point is Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, t-800 model, fulfilling his eternal promise to “be back”. Again, strangely his character has almost the exact same story line and progression as the one he played in Terminator Genysis though here his role is much more developed and unexpectedly becomes the heart of the movie, being equal parts sweet, funny, emotional and badass in spite of his limited screen time.

Tim Miller’s background as a visual effects supervisor before his directorial debut in Deadpool comes in handy to create some visually stunning and memorable action sequences, in particular an extended airplane chase, ensuring that at least you’re entertained by the eye candy on display.

Yet for a film that has such talent – and a franchise that deals with different time periods – it’s frustrating how the series always seems so drab and grey, playing out almost entirely in deserts or factories. I get that the post-apocalyptic future needs to look depressing but you would think that Miller and Cameron (especially Cameron) would have attempted to break new visual grounds on this film.

For the new characters, Miller and Cameron wisely chose a group of relatively unknown yet gifted actors. It’s therefore a shame that they aren’t put to better use.

First, we have Mackenzie Davis, with her being the most well known of the three, coming off of stellar performances in Black Mirror‘s “San Junipero” and AMC’s underappreciated series Halt And Catch Fire. Here, she plays Grace, a mysterious human/cyborg hybrid that has been sent to protect a young girl from the new generation of terminators.

Besides the fact that this same exact character was already done in Terminator Salvation, Davis isn’t given much to do other than look stoic and angry, while performing a number of incredible (though mostly digital) stunts. Given that she is a naturally great performer, the actress does her best in trying to elevate the character but Grace is really just there to be the “new Arnold”.

The same can really be said of the new Terminator (now called a Rev-9), as Gabriel Luna’s stellar physical work is let down by it being an uninspired combination of the T-1000 (from Terminator 2) and the TX (Terminator 3). The fact that it can split into two different entities (one liquid and the other an exo-squeleton) doesn’t do much too differentiate him from past villains and the lack of a real personality (the character, not the actor) makes for a largely dull antagonist.

Finally, we have Natalie Reyes portraying Dani Ramos, the young woman who everyone is protecting after finding herself being hunted by the Rev-9. Although a social commentary is clearly trying to be made with this new savior being mexican, an interesting opportunity is missed as the character is more of a plot device rather than a fully fledged character.

Ultimately, Kyle Reese got it wrong.

There is no fate but what the producers want.

THE CONCLUSION

Despite some memorable action sequences, a welcomed return from Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and an opportunity for Arnold Schwarzenegger to inject some soul into the series, Terminator: Dark Fate is an uninspired sequel that makes a case for this franchise to honor its name and be terminated.