'Terminator: Dark Fate' Review
November 7, 2019
No matter what our differences maybe when it comes to politics and social issues, we as humans can all agree that the Terminator franchise has been nearly downright awful for almost thirty years. Since the innovative T2 by James Cameron, the three sequels by lesser filmmakers have buried this once-popular series into a grave of mediocrity. And once again to milk more money out of nostalgic and hopeful fans, the franchise has been quasi-rebooted into the form of Terminator: Dark Fate.
Set in a present where Judgement Day never happened, Dark Fate opens in Mexico City as two robots from opposite sides arrive from the future. Their target is Dani Ramos, an important figure that will someday lead the human resistance against the robot overlords. The human-robot hybrid sent to protect her is Grace and the robot sent to kill her is the Rev-9, a shape-shifting terminator similar to that of the T-1000. As Grace fights to protect Dani, she is eventually joined by Sarah, who helps the pair go on the run from the relentless killing machine hunting them.
Directed by Tim Miller of Deadpool fame, Dark Fate is a downhill action flick where the ride starts at the top and continues to sink lower as time goes on.
The beginning action set pieces are ripped straight from T2: Judgement Day as the two robots track down their target and eventually meet for a fight. This initial scene is by far the best in the movie as each robot gets to show off its unique powers. Miller also lets the scene play out with minimal editing and great stunt work that highlights the quality special effects.
Once this scene is over, Miller has foolishly played his whole hand and left nothing else for the remaining ninety minutes. The action becomes a recycled mess as each subsequent scene takes place in dimly lit areas that try to hide the flaws. Nothing new is introduced about the humans or robots and it all melds together into a blob of standard movie action tropes.
With three screenwriters and five credited story contributors, Dark Fate has way too many cooks in the kitchen that end up canceling each other out. The plot is incoherent, which has now become a staple of the Terminator sequels. Time travel is a finicky business once you start to think about it, but this movie has serious logistical problems straight from the start. These huge, gaping plot holes negate any emotional connection to the story and make every plot twist easy to see from a mile away.
The overstuffed writer's room also led to some insufferable dialogue choices. The usual franchise catchphrases are all here, only this time they’re painfully inserted and delivered to the point of parody. There’s also an incessant need for every other sentence to be a profound statement, especially any line from Dani or Sarah.
In a seemingly desperate move, the producers brought back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. The character and Hamilton’s performance are the film’s biggest asset, even as she struggles to work with the amateur material given to her.
Mackenzie Davis is pretty good as Grace, the robot-human hybrid from the future. Like all robot characters from the franchise, she brings great physicality to her performance. Unfortunately, she doesn’t bring much emotion to her human half, stifling any connection to her character. Relative newcomer Natalia Reyes plays Dani and falls into the usual rookie trap of overacting. At the start, she does fine work, but as the film gets more dramatic, Reyes overleans into her one-note performance.
Lastly, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the T-800 terminator. It’s no surprise that the Austrian is great in the role that he can play in his sleep by now as he makes a nice pair with Hamilton and is the only reason some of the comedic moments work.
Dark Fate is the best sequel since Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but that's such a low bar to jump over that it isn't saying much. It's like a student got three straight F's on their exams and then got a C-. It’s still not good, but at least they didn’t fail this time and are somewhat moving in the right direction.