By: BabyRuth (Four Beers) –
The Terminator (1984) was a groundbreaking sci-fi-action-horror hybrid that changed the face of blockbusters forever, solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as a movie star, and is still regarded as a benchmark of films of its kind more than thirty years later.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) managed to top the first, introduce revolutionary special effects, and was as emotionally moving as it was action-packed. It was a perfect sequel, as well as conclusion to the story.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was a decade-plus-later third entry into the franchise and the first without creator and director James Cameron who had jumped ship (get it, get it?) to focus his attention on those blue people. At best, it was fine, if unnecessary. At worst, forgettable and dumb.
After that, there was the short-lived television series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008), and two more sequels, Terminator: Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015). By this point, most fans of the franchise had tapped out and poor critical reception certainly didn’t help things. Each sequel veered further and further away from what made the first two films so great and felt like lazy and desperate attempts to squeeze every last dime out of a franchise that would have been better left alone after the first two installments.
Then, in what seemed out of nowhere, an announcement was made that there would be yet another Terminator sequel, but this one would be different. James Cameron was back!
Well, sort of… He wouldn’t be directing (those duties would go to Deadpool’s Tim Miller), but he’d be a producer and just that he was willing to put his name on the project was enough to give longtime fans hope. But then came the clincher: Linda fucking Hamilton would return as Sarah fucking Connor. That was all I personally needed to get excited about this one.
The film would be a direct sequel to Judgement Day, all those others explained away as “alternate timelines.” Sure, why not? This is one of the few film series where that excuse is perfectly reasonable (this, The Matrix, and the Sex and the City movies).
The wait is finally over and Terminator:Dark Fate is here!
It’s hard to go into a synopsis without revealing major spoilers, but the main gist is that Dark Fate is pretty much The Force Awakens to the first two films. We meet another young woman, Dani (Natalia Reyes), whose life is quickly changed forever when a cyborg from the future, a model called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna, lacking the menacing presence of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 or the creepy aura of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 ) is sent back to, well, terminate her. The new terminator is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Well, he’s kind of like the liquidy T-1000 mixed with Venom, so maybe we have seen it before (with the exception of Venom because not too many people saw that.)
There is another time-traveler, this one to protect Dani, a female named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Grace is not a terminator, but an augmented human which means she has super-strength, but because she’s human she also feels pain and requires medication and rest to recover (too bad that stuff couldn’t be augmented with robot parts too).
Along the way, Dani receives some additional help from the one and only Sarah Connor, to Grace’s chagrin, because we can’t have three female leads in a movie without some girl drama! They also get some more assistance from an unexpected source (which you can probably figure out).
From there, there are car chases, plane chases, and a final battle in an industrial building with lots of conveniently placed metal and platforms.
But wait, how did terminators get sent back from the future if Skynet was stopped and doesn’t exist in said future? Well, in perhaps the most realistic aspect of this film, it is revealed there was yet another AI company (likely among many others) called Legion. Because as Sarah says, “humans never learn.”
(Why are the terminators Legion makes almost exactly like the ones the non-existent Skynet made and why is the technology to send them back in time identical? is probably the question you want to ask instead.)
The biggest mistake that the post-2 Terminator sequels made was forgetting that this is Sarah’s story. Dark Fate corrects this and brings Sarah, the real Sarah, back into the forefront. And it’s wonderful to see her again, even more badass nearly three decades later. Hamilton is great as the hardened, no-fucks-left-to-give Terminator-hunter, gets the best lines (“I’m wanted in a few states…Fifty to be exact.”) and at 62 years old, is a brutal force to be reckoned with.
Mackenzie Davis adds yet another brilliant performance to her growing resume and fits well into the Terminator universe. Her physicality and vulnerability make both her robot and human sides convincing.
It’s refreshing to see a film with three strong female leads—well, two strong female leads and another female (sorry, Natalia Reyes and/or the character of Dani is a bit of a weak link) and for the most part, doesn’t feel like a forced agenda (though the reveal about Dani’s future is treated as a big and surprising moment, and you can pretty much figure it out the first time she is introduced).
The action starts right away and hardly ever relents. There are some entertaining set-pieces (an early road chase is the best one), however though they are well-shot, they tend to get more and more absurd as the film goes on. Unfortunately, they also rely mostly on CGI, so while fun to watch, the danger never feels very real.
There is seriously a moment that looks like this.
The writing, well, it’s not good.
All this time to come up with an original continuation of the now classic first two films and what do the three screenwriters (plus three “story by” contributors, Cameron included) come up with? A soft reboot with nearly all the same beats. Someone important to the future is once again hunted by a killer robot sent back in time, while being protected by another time-traveler on the good side. Rinse, repeat.
But the one thing lacking in their attempt to play paint-the-numbers is most important: heart. Terminator and especially T2, made the audience care. The action was perfectly balanced out with moments that invested viewers in the fate of the characters. Of course no one wants Dark Fate’s protagonists to die and our future taken over by the machines (too late for that!), but aside from Sarah Connor—which is mostly due to the original films, it doesn’t seem to really matter that much what happens. That’s a problem.
Where in Deadpool, Miller successfully mixed in intense action with lighter comedic moments, the attempts at comic relief in Dark Fate mostly fall flat. There are a few exceptions thanks to Hamilton and Schwarzenegger’s delivery, but the shift from the bleak tone to corny one-liners never transitions very well.
Reflecting back on the film after seeing it, so many timeline issues and paradoxes start to pop up into my head and nag at my brain like that stupid Baby Shark song. I’m not even going to go into those, partially for spoiler reasons and also because then this thing would be way too long. But it’s definitely a case of too many cooks.
Okay, here goes.
There is a moment that many fans will find to be an unforgivable slap in the face. Then a punch in the gut. Then a giant dump taken on top of your writhing body.
It happens in the first five minutes and it royally pissed me off so much that I almost wanted to walk out of the theater. Still, in a universe where time-travel is a real thing, I hoped that somehow, it would be resolved and reversed.
But it isn’t. And it invalidates pretty much everything that was important about the first two films.
Worst of all, it was James Cameron’s idea (I would source this, but it contains the spoiler, so feel free to Google after you see the movie. Or if you do not plan to.) This is the worst thing that James Cameron has ever done. Even worse than when he said “I’m the king of the world!” at the Oscars.
Arnold needed to come back of course, but the writers had to figure out a way to shoehorn in yet another T-800, even though Skynet no longer exists. The solution they came up with is feasible, I guess, though again, it makes no sense when you think really about it (which I did for way too many hours). On top of that, it’s super ridiculous. (Though I admit, I laughed a couple times. Then I hated myself because I did.)
Wow, was this a major disappointment. Not only a disappointment but upsetting. This film had everything going for it – Cameron and Hamilton back on board, the director of Deadpool, and the good sense to retcon everything after the first sequel. It could have been amazing, but instead it was just a lazy rehash of the original plot with some new players. The title is quite fitting, given where the characters are left at the end, no doubt leaving the franchise open to yet more unnecessary sequels.
I hope that doesn’t happen.
I hope they won’t be back.
In my mind, this is just another one of those alternate timelines, one that I’m going to believe is not what really happens.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when a character says “I’ll be back.”
Take a Drink: for every flashback
Take a Drink: whenever Grace is weakened and needs her medication
Take a Drink: whenever Sarah yells “Take Cover!”
Take a Drink: every time the Terminator theme plays
Do a Shot: for THAT scene (you’ll know it when you see it) Do as many more: as you need after the movie when you think about it