Review: Terminator – Dark Fate

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This relentlessly unnecessary sequel may be better than the previous attempt, but that is not saying much.

After Judgement Day was averted in 1997, the future was not significantly changed; a new, more deadly robot assassin is sent back, this time hunting Dani Ramos. Aided by an augmented soldier from the future, a world-weary mercenary and another cyborg, can she survive to defend the future yet to come?

1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day by James Cameron was too good. Not just in the sense that it was one of the defining action sequels of a generation and paved the way for genre movies for the rest of time, but in the sense that it was an ending. Nowadays genre films must be open ended a little bit, just in case. But T2 was made before this modern madness took over.
Terminator: Dark Fate is a direct sequel to the 1991 film. This means that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation (to a degree), and Terminator Genisys never happened. As a result, this is the third film attempting to resuscitate this franchise, and the second in a row to retcon all, or some, previous films. If that isn’t a sign that a franchise should end, who knows what is.

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The film opens, like Genisys, with reused footage from T2: Sarah Conner (played by Linda Hamilton) during her breakdown during a psychiatric ward interview. We then have the usual tried-and-true time-travelling robots arriving in our time. A new future soldier, Grace, played by MacKenzie Davis and a decidedly not Arnold-sized killer robot, played by Gabriel Luna. His target, is Dani Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes) who is important to the future survival of humanity. Eventually, no this is not a spoiler, they are joined by an old T-800 Terminator.
The film is a step above Terminator Genisys, easily. But, that is not saying much. In fact, that is saying this film is not an insult to intelligence, or a brazen middle finger to historic movies it dared to associate itself with. Tim Miller’s movie is an R-rated experience, and certainly it does have more violence than the last three movies, it has a more visceral, grungy feel throughout. Without the glossy “high budget” appearance of Genisys. The newest villain is quite inventive, despite it being literally a combination of all previous Terminators, most similar to the Terminatrix from Terminator 3. An endoskeleton covered in mimetic alloy, but the alloy can split from the skeleton, providing two opponents. The film does get inventive with this character in its abundance of actions sequences, despite a lot of the best parts being in the trailer.

However.
Terminator: Dark Fate is no better than any other sequel after 1991 the franchise has seen, in critical areas.
This is the same story, again. Not to go into gender politics, but the film has literally reset the story with a female cast, and it did it rather clumsily. Dark Fate has five writing credits for story, and three writing credits for screenplay. This is baffling for what is a tumbling mash of instant action sequences, tethered together with the same story beats of the first two films. Amongst the sea of action, are islands of all-too-familiar moments (sometimes lifting lines straight from James Cameron’s original films). Impressively too, is how meaningless Sarah and the Terminator are… In fact Sarah has a totally bizarre conflict with newcomer Grace, they are literally the same archetype, they have no reason to distrust each other. While the Terminator is just there. He’s just muscle. Both Schwarzenegger and Hamilton look like they are bored.

Spoilers ahead.

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Rumours early on announced that Edward Furlong, who played young John Connor in T2, was returning. Well, surprising no one, he did… only to immediately die. With some impressive de-ageing technology, we see Sarah and John as if from 1991, having ended Skynet and the Terminator threat… only for a Terminator to come and kill John.
First of all. As mentioned earlier, T2 is too good. Like with Terminator 3, Dark Fate needs to throw a cynical reversal on the second film’s hopeful, emotional ending to even deserve to exist. Apparently “No fate but what we make” is not true.
But this throws a wrench into its own narrative. The future that replaces the one Sarah knows, the future that comes from Skynet’s erasure, belongs to Legion, a military defense AI that takes over the world (read: Skynet). Legion is the new antagonist with Grace as the Kyle Reese and Dani as the John Connor (they even put this last comparison in the script, several times).

So, the question is: if Sarah, John and the Terminator defeated Skynet in 1991, stopped the future war with Skynet… how did another Terminator get sent back from a future that doesn’t exist?? After the supposed Judgement Day??

This doesn’t just debunk the entire story, it also debunks Arnold’s involvement, because… yes… the Terminator that kills John is the Terminator helping them. Turns out, killer robots who aren’t reprogrammed can “grow a conscience” by being exposed to human relationships. This is utterly ridiculous.
While you are reeling from this absurdity, despite the film’s grittier tone we still get Arnold being the funny man, because its Arnie. Seriously, a Terminator film with him as the villain again would have been fascinating, but we will never get it because formulaic writing rules the day at Hollywood.

Honestly, a lot of the film is hit and miss. But the more one thinks about it, the more this franchise feels utterly lost, meandering and stupid. If this is the best we can do at this stage, it is all the more embarrassing. Genisys was a hamfisted regurgitation, Dark Fate is a more subtle… regurgitation.

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Additional Marshmallows: Don’t fall for “James Cameron is involved in this movie”, he still isn’t directing it, and he is still the same man who thought Genisys was a faithful follow-up.

 

 

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