Just like the nearly-invincible cyborg villains that it features, the Terminator franchise is notoriously difficult to kill. Despite several failed attempts to revive the glory of the original two films, Hollywood is intent on squeezing all the money it can out of the tired story. After both Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys flopped, the third time might have been the charm for the Terminator franchise, especially with its creator, James Cameron, returning to produce the film.
Sadly, this is not the case with the franchise’s latest installment, Terminator: Dark Fate. Dark Fate was always meant to be a reboot, a passing of the torch to a new generation of characters and a true sequel to Terminator 2. Juggling all of these requirements ended up detracting from the film.
The opening shots of Dark Fate completely negate everything that happened in Terminator 1 and 2 when yet another T-800 turns up and kills John Connor. The film then jumps forward to the year 2020 and follows Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a soldier sent from the future, and an older Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as they attempt to keep a young Dani (Natalia Reyes) from being killed by a new terminator model sent from the future called the Rev-9 ( Gabriel Luna).
The film uses a ton of CGI, ranging from the spectacular—such as the de-aged Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the start of the film—to the outright awful, which is the case whenever Rev-9 is moving rapidly or jumping around. The action scenes, however, are quite well done for the most part.
Unlike a lot of modern films that use quick takes and a shaky camera when cutting together fight scenes, those in this film actually have weight to them, thanks to longer more stable shots, although during the more chaotic moments, it can be hard to tell where characters are in relation to one another.
Prior to the film’s release, it looked as if Terminator was going to be the latest Hollywood film to ‘get woke go broke,’ that is, a film that ham-fistedly attempts to push progressive politics, fails and loses the support of fans. These worries stemmed from Director Tim Miller’s comments before the film’s release that misogynists would be afraid of Mackenzie Davis’ character. His words were perceived by some to be Miller trying to protect Davis’ character from any legitimate criticism.
Additionally, Natalia Reyes said the film would focus on the situation at the Mexico-U.S. border. This is not the case. Davis and the rest of the cast all deliver strong performances throughout the film. Linda Hamilton shines as Sarah Connor, who fans of the franchise will enjoy, as well as the return of Schwarzenegger playing an aged T-800 once again.
Davis plays a character modeled after the original film’s Kyle Reese, Grace, this time sent back to protect Dani. Davis steals the spotlight with a performance that combines super soldier strength with human vulnerability. Gabriel Luna also shines with his portrayal of a Rev-9 and is quite intimidating on screen. While the border is part of the film’s setting, Dark Fate simply uses it as a logical place for the narrative to happen rather than attempting to lecture the audience with a political message.
The cinematography was decent throughout, but the score composed by Junkie XL was largely forgettable, despite the callbacks to the original movies, which only serve to hurt Dark Fate more by reminding the audience of those films.
The narrative also has a number of odd contrivances that never get explained, such as the T-800 being able to know when other terminators will arrive back in time despite its own creator, Skynet, no longer existing. It’s also unclear why Grace has a power source inside her yet also needs to make medicine to boost her energy levels periodically. The fact that Grace is augmented and thus part machine herself is never addressed more than once or twice in casual passing, which is a huge missed opportunity by the film, as it could have made for an interesting plot point. Terminator: Dark Fate is a passing-of-the-torch film. While nothing it does necessarily harms the franchise, it has all been done better elsewhere. The narrative, rather than pushing things forward, ends up setting the franchise right back to where it was at the conclusion of the first film. It might be time for Hollywood to just let the Terminator franchise rest.
Featured Image by Orion Pictures